JUST OVER TWO MONTHS into Europe’s biggest war in decades, Newsweek sat down with former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to discuss a wide range of issues, as the alliance he led during Russia’s initial incursion into Ukraine eight years ago takes unprecedented measures against Moscow following its fullscale invasion. Rasmussen believes that democracies across the globe must form a coalition of their own to beat back a growing rival bloc dominated by autocratic powers.
Prior to heading NATO from August 2009 to 2014, Rasmussen served as prime minister of his home country of Denmark. Today, he leads the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, an organization he founded in 2017 with the goal of strengthening the democratic nature of nations as well as the bonds between them.
Rasmussen feels this goal is more important than ever at a time when Russia is waging open war against a country seeking to join NATO, and as a rising China presents a new challenge to Western aspirations in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. And with tensions rising between two emerging geopolitical blocs, he also asserts that the economic ties that have long served as a motivation for world peace may soon be strained to the point of total collapse.
The former NATO chief argues that the division of the international community into a democratic camp and an autocratic camp will not only dominate the future of geopolitics for years to come, but also play a leading role in defining the world order.
The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
In the face of Russia's war in Ukraine, we're seeing substantial unity among Western countries, especially the United States, NATO and the European Union, regarding the use of sanctions and other measures. Will this unity last, especially given the different economic effects of these steps on individual countries?
Yes, indeed, this unity will be challenged. And there will be a lot of attempts to split the U.S. and countries within Europe. But my conclusion is that it will last. We will resist all attempts to divide.
Let me take energy as an example. By cutting exports to Poland and Bulgaria, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has demonstrated to the whole of Europe that it’s his intention to use energy as a weapon. So his own acts are now provoking this strengthening of unity and solidarity within Europe. I think under [continued] pressure from Russian aggression, this unity will last.
I'm sure that's the hope of many people, including U.S. President Joe Biden, who is suffering from poor approval ratings at home when it comes to perceptions of his leadership and his administration. How would you evaluate Biden's performance thus far on foreign policy?
There is often a discrepancy between the view among foreigners and the view of the domestic audience when it comes to political leadership. Seen from a European perspective, Biden has done quite well. It’s not least thanks to his leadership that we have created and maintained an unprecedented unity and solidarity across the Atlantic. I don’t have any complaints about his performance in that regard.
Furthermore, he has spoken his mind a couple of times. The last time was a speech in Poland where he actually went beyond his manuscript and spoke deeply from his heart. In Europe, we consider that refreshing. People sense that, in addition to being a professional leader, he’s also a human being, who just wanted to speak his mind, as he did previously on Taiwan, when he indicated that he would be willing to defend Taiwan if China were to attack. The State Department and diplomats were very quick and eager to backtrack. But the president spoke his mind and in Europe, we find it quite refreshing.
Is Europe worried about how the domestic situation politically in the U.S., with the upcoming midterm elections and the future presidential election in 2024, could affect the transatlantic alliance?
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