Detail from "The Will to Lead" book cover
Detail from "The Will to Lead" book cover

The Will to Lead: America's Indispensable Role in the Global Fight for Freedom

Sep 29, 2016

"The world is on fire," says Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former secretary general of NATO and former prime minister of Denmark. He goes on to make a strong case for the U.S. to be world policeman to restore international law and order: "I don't see any capable, reliable, and desirable candidate for that function other than the United States."

JOANNE MYERS: Hello and welcome to this podcast, which is coming to you from the Carnegie Council in New York.

I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs programs, and we are delighted to have as our guest Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

As a big defender of American leadership, he has written a book that clearly and forcefully makes the argument for American leadership. His book, The Will to Lead: America's Indispensable Role in the Global Fight for Freedom, is the focus of our discussion today. In it he argues that, whether we like it or not, America is the world's indispensable world leader and must act as the world's policeman.

He has been at the center of European and global politics for three decades. He served as Danish prime minister from 2001 until his election in 2009 as secretary general of NATO. This was a position he held until September 2014. Anders is a fierce defender of freedom and a public figure who is unafraid to speak his mind.

Thank you for joining us today.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Thank you. You're welcome.

JOANNE MYERS: I'd like to begin our discussion by referring to the first line of the first chapter of your book. You write: "Our world has reached the tipping point." What do you mean by this?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I mean that the world is on fire. Wherever you look you see problems, upheavals, conflicts, civil wars—in Syria; in North Africa, Libya has actually become actually become a failed state; you see the Russian attacks on Ukraine and Eastern Europe; you see China flexing its muscles in the South China Sea; you see the rogue state North Korea threaten its neighbors and also the United States with nuclear weapons. That requires a world policeman to restore international law and order. I don't see any other capable, reliable, and desirable candidate for that function than the United States.

JOANNE MYERS: You make a very strong case for American leadership. But what if the next American president decides to retreat? What is the supporting evidence that America must lead?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I feel sure that if the United States retreats, or even is perceived to retreat, the United States will leave behind a vacuum that will be filled by the bad guys. We see clearly in Eastern Europe, while America and Europe slept, President Putin exploited the situation. He attacked Ukraine; he annexed illegally Crimea into the Russian Federation. So it is a clear example then that when the United States retreats the bad guys will advance.

JOANNE MYERS: Yes. You say that the world needs America to be the world's policemen. But what if America doesn't feel it's in their self-interest to do that? Why should it be in America's self-interest to lead the world?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I do believe that it is important that the Smith family in Peoria clearly understands that it is in America's self-interest to demonstrate that leadership. Firstly, because if you do not strike the enemies on their soil, then the enemies will hit America here. You saw that on 9/11. Prevention is less expensive than cure also when it comes to security policy. So it is in America's interest to knock down conflicts while they are still small and manageable.

Finally, it is in the United States' self-interest to uphold the world order that the United States so successfully created after the Second World War. Among other things, the United States created the World Trade Organization that also today serves as a generator of prosperity and growth, job creation.

So for all these reasons, I do believe that it is in America's self-interest to act as the world's policeman.

JOANNE MYERS: But, in your view, why hasn't Europe been better able to forge a strong foreign policy? I mean we've given you the Marshall Plan to rebuild; we've invested in your security. Why couldn't this be sort of a power sharing? What is preventing that from taking place?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, in fact, there is nothing that prevents it. But I do believe that the mentality in Europe is different. Europe as a whole is not geared to exercise such a global leadership. This is also a reason why I think that the only way forward for Europe is to engage in a very close relationship with the United States.

Actually, I also think that that the Europeans should pay more for our common security. Today the United States pays more than 70 percent of the total bill for our common security. I think Europeans should pay more. Within NATO we fixed a 2 percent benchmark according to which all allies should invest at least 2 percent of their GDP in defense. Only five out of the 28 allies fulfilled that 2 percent benchmark. But the good news is that at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014, all 28 allies pledged that within the next decade they will reach the 2 percent benchmark. In concrete terms, the Europeans invest more in defense in 2016 than they did in 2015, and I am sure that trend will continue.

JOANNE MYERS: Well, that's very positive.

Since you brought up NATO—I was going to get to that a little bit later—I was just very curious. I don't know if you listened to the debate last night, but there was mention of NATO taking a role in fighting terrorism. Do you think that NATO's original purpose has shifted?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No. But it has broadened, I would say.

The classical purpose of NATO is territorial defense of its allies. After the Russian aggression against Ukraine, it has been even clearer than before how important territorial defense still is. So no doubt that collective defense, territorial defense, is still very important. This is also a reason why NATO has increased its presence in Eastern Europe.

At the same time, terrorism has evolved as one of the new threats. Of course, NATO should also begin to address that security challenge. Personally, I do believe that NATO should engage much more in addressing terrorism on the southern border, in the Middle East and North Africa.

JOANNE MYERS: Yes. And it has also increased its emphasis on the importance of human rights and protecting democracy. So I guess, as you say, it has broadened its purpose in some ways, which is a good thing, adapting to the changes in the world, growing from what it was originally.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:Yes, absolutely. Already in 2010 we adopted a new strategic concept within NATO according to which we have defined three core tasks for NATO:

  • Firstly, of course, territorial defense, as I said.
  • Secondly, crisis management. That is actually what we did in both Afghanistan and Libya.
  • Thirdly, what we call cooperative security, which is to create partnerships with like-minded countries across the world.

These three core tasks are today NATO's primary purpose.

JOANNE MYERS: When you mention partnerships with like-minded nations, in your book you also talk about the need for fresh new thinking on the theories and political practices of a global and regional balance of power, and you suggested forming an Alliance for Democracy.

Could you talk a little bit about what you mean by this and what you see that being, as distinct maybe from the United Nations and from NATO and from other alliances?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes. We need determined American global leadership. But obviously, the United States shouldn't be alone in exercising that task. This is the reason why I suggest that the American president uses his or her convening power to create this Alliance for Democracy, which would be led by the United States and joined by democracies around the world—that is, not only democracies within NATO and in the North Atlantic area, but also democracies across the world, like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and not least India of course, and many other democracies across the world.

The main purpose of this Alliance for Democracy should be to strengthen democracy in the world encountering autocracy and terrorism. So this Alliance for Democracy should address security challenges of common interest, and it should also be attractive by developing strengthened economic cooperation. Among other things, I strongly believe that free trade agreements would be to the benefit of democracies in the world.

JOANNE MYERS: But in some ways wouldn't this be competing with the United Nations or diluting the effectiveness of the United Nations?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I would say on the contrary. In fact, we still need the United Nations as a framework for a dialogue between countries across their political observance. I mean you need a forum where democracies and autocracies can actually discuss things.

But it is also a fact that the United Nations today isn't as efficient as we would like. And when it comes to peacekeeping, it is ineffective, partly because Member States won't finance such peacekeeping operations; they won't provide people and personnel for such operations. And, faced with these challenges, I do believe that the world's democracies should coordinate their efforts to reform profoundly the United Nations.

So I would see the Alliance for Democracy as complementary to the United Nations.

JOANNE MYERS: Also in your book you devote three chapters to three American presidents: Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. Could you talk a little bit about why you chose these three presidents and what they stand for in your mind?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I chose these three presidents because they have all passed away, so that's one thing. But I see them as beacons of freedom.

President Truman created the framework for what eventually became the Cold War, but also an American-led global framework that has created an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity. It is an international order within which international institutions play a central role. The IMF (International Monetary Fund), the World Bank, WTO (World Trade Organization), UN—all these institutions are still alive and they are still the framework for peaceful cooperation between the world's nations. So his effective conduct of these policies should be appreciated.

I mention President Kennedy because he was an eminent communicator and a very inspiring communicator. In his inaugural address from 1961, he really expressed American global leadership, saying that the United States will pay any price and bear any burden to defend friends and liberty. So his inspiring communication should also be highlighted.

Finally, President Reagan had a very firm conviction that American exceptionalism and the strength of capitalism would eventually mean the collapse of communism—and he was right. So during his tenure as president the dissolution of the Soviet Union started, and we saw a peaceful end to the Cold War.

This is the reason why I point to these two Democrats and one Republican president, also to stress that for me this is not a question about a Republican or a Democrat in the White House; it's a question about the will to lead. These three presidents had the will to lead.

JOANNE MYERS: Well, I can only hope, after listening to your optimistic view of America and American presidents, that the next president will also have the will to lead and not retreat.

Whether the next president chooses to engage with the world, I want to thank you for providing a very strong and thoughtful argument for why America should lead and why the world needs American leadership. Thank you very much, Anders. It was very inspirational.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I thank you. It was a great pleasure for me. Thank you.

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