NATO’s intervention in Libya may have resulted in the successful toppling of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, but it also raised awkward questions about the alliance’s future. Could it – and should it – carry out similar missions in the future?
Amid pressure to cut national defence budgets and protracted operations in Afghanistan, euronews spoke to the NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Paul Hackett, euronews: ‘‘The Libya campaign has been deemed a success, the final outcome, but there were lots of questions asked about this campaign, about Europe’s ability to fight a war without US help. It exposed a lot of frailties with European defence, didn’t it?’‘
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General:
‘‘I think (about) the positive stories about European leadership. In fact, it was the first time in the history of our alliance that European allies and Canada took the lead – of course with strong support from the United States – but it is a significant step in the history of the alliance that such an operation could be conducted under European leadership. And that was actually a response to a strong call from the Americans that the Europeans take on more responsibility and they stepped up to the plate.’‘
euronews: ‘‘Sure, but when the out-going former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates says NATO faces a ‘dim and dismal future’ if Europe doesn’t do enough, if it doesn’t do more, it’s not good is it? He’s right, isn’t he? Europe isn’t pulling its weight.
‘‘The Libya operations is an example that Europe can pull its weight and Europe has the will to do what is necessary when it is needed. So that’s the positive story. But having said that, it is of course a problem that we have seen an increasing gap across the Atlantic between America and Europe.
euronews: ‘‘That gap is going to get bigger isn’t it? Barack Obama, at the beginning of this year, said America’s focus is going to switch to the Asia-Pacific region. America doesn’t have any interest anymore in defending the periphery of Europe?
‘‘Actually, the Americans stated at the same time that they will remain committed to the transatlantic relationship and we shouldn’t be surprised that the United States will focus more on the Asia-Pacific region, taking into account the rise of emerging powers like China and India. I think it’s very much for the Europeans themselves to demonstrate that they take the transatlantic alliance seriously.
euronews: “What do they need to do now?
“That’s exactly what I’m going to put a lot of focus on in the run up to the NATO summit in Chicago. Realistically speaking we can’t expect a significant increase in the defence budgets in the coming years taking into account the economic austerity.’‘
euronews: ‘‘Well no, Britain recently announced it was going to make five billion pounds of cuts. There are huge cuts, across Europe and in the US. So what’s the solution?’‘
‘‘We have to make more efficient use of the resources available. The key is what I call, ‘Smart Defence’, a smarter way of spending money, through pooling and sharing of resources, cooperating, helping each other, multi-national projects instead of purely national solutions. That’s the way to do business in the future.’‘
euronews: ‘‘That’s easier said than done, isn’t it? There will be a lot of defence ministers, defence departments. They don’t want to lose sovereignty. They’re not going to be willing to pool everything, the pooling that you are talking about.’‘
‘‘But we have good practical examples of ‘Smart Defence’. The bi-lateral defence agreement between France and the United Kingdom is an excellent example of how two countries can work together, save money, and at the same provide the necessary military capabilities.’‘
euronews: ‘‘The Libya operation had a NATO flag on it, but it was very much a coalition of the willing – compared to Afghanistan. How relevant was this mission to NATO’s future relationships with North Africa and the Middle East?
‘‘First of all, let me stress it was not a coalition of the willing, it was a NATO operation with the participation of partners. And that’s a very important point.
euronews: “Germany didn’t want take part though, did it?
“Yes, but Germany participated through common funding systems, and in other ways actually. So all 28 allies participated. Some directly, some indirectly. But all 28 allies participated. And that’s a very important point. It was not a coalition of the willing, it was a NATO operation.’‘
euronews: ‘‘But what does this mean for the Middle East?’‘
“Exactly, I think what we have seen in North Africa and the Middle East will contribute to strengthening our partnership with countries in the region. I think we should take this opportunity to strengthen our partnerships with countries in the region. Some of them participated directly in our operation and we can build on that.’‘
euronews: ‘‘If NATO doesn’t intervene in Syria but does intervene in Iran – we’ve heard that Iran is threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz – what message is that going to send out to the Arab world? It’s going to say that we’re just defending our oil interests, isn’t it?’‘
‘‘But let me stress, that NATO has no intention whatsoever to intervene, neither in Syria nor in Iran. As far as Syria is concerned we do believe that a regional solution is the best way. We appreciate the efforts demonstrated by the Arab League. As far as Iran is concerned we support the international, political and diplomatic efforts to find a solution.’‘
euronews: If Iran does block (the Strait of Hormuz) and NATO is asked to do something, it will won’t it?
‘‘It’s a hypothetical question, and once again let me stress we have no intention whatsoever to intervene. But of course we urge the Iranian leadership to live up to its international obligations, stop the enrichment programme and also allow free navigation in the Strait of Hormuz
‘‘The Libya operation seriously undermined relations with Russia. Where is this relationship going? Is it just a political one or is anything fruitful going to come out of it?
‘‘We have our disputes with Russia, but these disputes should not overshadow the fact that during the last two and a half years we have seen significant progress in our relationship. We have enhanced cooperation on Afghanistan, counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, counter-piracy. We decided in Lisbon in November 2010 to develop a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia. In concrete terms we have tried to develop cooperation on missile defence. In that respect we haven’t seen as much progress……’‘
‘‘How confident are you that you will get a deal in Chicago in May?’‘
‘‘I still think there’s a fair chance, but we have to work hard.’‘
‘‘You need to make serious concessions to the Russians, don’t you? You need to say that we’ll give you the guarantees that you are asking for, so that your deterrent won’t be undermined.’‘
‘‘The Russians have requested guarantees that our system is not directed against Russia. It is not. And the best way the Russians could get a guarantee would be to actually cooperate, so that they could see with their own eyes that our system is not directed at them.’‘
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