North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has defended the reputation of NATO - insisting that despite military budgetary pressures, geopolitical shifts and increasing instability across the world, the organisation was stronger than ever. Speaking during an informal question and answer session at the Brussels Forum
, hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States think-tank, the secretary general answered allegations that NATO was losing its relevance on the world stage by referring to the successful operation in Libya. The former Danish Prime Minister claimed that this had demonstrated "strength and solidarity in practice"; even resulting in persistent questions about when NATO would intervene in Syria.
Asked about the criticism by some commentators, who suggested that NATO was an outdated western alliance at a time when emerging eastern powers – and bilateral relationships with them - were becoming more important, Fogh Rasmussen said: "The doom and gloom debate is interesting because a number of countries are queuing up to become members of our alliance," he added. "NATO is as strong and active as ever." Going further, Fogh Rasmussen claimed that the austerity restricting member state budgets meant that NATO's relevance would grow along with the need for military pooling and sharing. "We all have to find new ways to do business because high-tech military equipment is becoming more expensive and proportionately costing more of national budgets at a time when we are facing austerity, resulting from the economic crisis. That is the reality in today's world."
Indeed, between 2008 and 2011 some 20 NATO nations reduced their defence spending – against the trend in the rest of the world, with Russia and China both boosting military budgets dramatically. And this year, defence spending in Asia is set to outstrip Europe for the first time ever. Earlier at the event, Fogh Rasmussen had addressed delegates on the "NATO 2020" and "Smart Defence" agendas – to encourage greater cooperation and collaboration among alliance members as well as more efficient and productive defence procurement. "Every cut today will have consequences four our security tomorrow and what we are able to do as an alliance. This is no small matter. Yes, new powers are emerging. But the truth is that the world still needs our Atlantic community. As Libya showed, our alliance remains as essential source of stability in an unpredictable world. Europe and America have shown that when they act together, they can be a tremendous force in a turbulent world. This is a special community that we must all continue to invest in – militarily, economically and politically. We have no viable alternative."
Expanding upon his vision for "shared purpose, shared responsibility and shared leadership" through "collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security" – he promised an enhanced capacity to put together complex joint operations at short notice by way of flexible and rapidly deployable forces. Outlining the ethos of the Smart Defence programme, the secretary general said it would mean that nations pooled spending in order to "prioritise", "specialise" and "cooperate". He suggested the emphasis would be "to focus not just on what we cut, but on what we keep and to choose multinational solutions instead of unilateral solutions". So far this approach had produced the alliance ground surveillance system, the connected forces initiative and progress towards an integrated NATO-wide missile defence system to defend against the threat of ballistic missile proliferation.
"It is not just the economy that has globalised, security has globalised too," said Fogh Rasmussen. "As our economy becomes ever more integrated – local, regional and global security and stability become ever more interrelated. We all depend on a free and diversified energy supply, free and secure sea lanes and airspace. And free secure information and communication networks. That is why the global rule of law and global governance, within the principles of the United Nations' charter, remain central to stability of our world."
Acknowledging that the US had refocused its defence budget away from Europe towards the Asia-Pacific region, the secretary general insisted that America's commitment to European allies should "not be measured by the number of troops or bases here", but "by how much we do together, by where we do it and by how effectively we do it". Concluding, he said: "I have laid out my vision for NATO for the year 2020 and beyond. A vision in which the transatlantic partnership is rebalanced and in which European and North American allies' shared purpose is met through shared responsibility and shared leadership. An alliance that is even more connected with countries and organisations around the world; NATO already has an impressive history of success. We will ensure that success continues into the future, to the end of this decade and beyond."