Former Prime Minister of Denmark and former Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen gave a lecture titled “American Foreign Policy: A Future of Risk and Opportunities” on Tuesday, hosted by the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics. The lecture centered around the history of the United States’ role in the international community and the future of its position as a world superpower.
Timothy Crawford, an associate professor of political science at Boston College, provided an introduction highlighting Rasmussen’s long political career, as well as his many domestic and international accomplishments and contributions. Rasmussen served as the prime minister of Denmark from 2001 to 2009, when he entered the role of secretary general of NATO, remaining in that office until 2014.
Rasmussen said that with Europe’s refugee crisis and division over Brexit, China’s expansion of power and territory, and North Korea’s political aggression, the international community faces significant problems.
“The world is on fire,” he said of the current condition of global politics.
Rasmussen outlined three salient points of the message he wished to convey: The world needs American leadership, the United States must make an alliance of democracies to oppose and combat autocrats and despots, and the United States must revitalize the Freedom Agenda that was implemented under President George W. Bush in the early 2000s.
In the history of international politics, Rasmussen said, the United States has sometimes acted as a “policeman,” while at other times, it has turned away from intervention. He provided three examples of times in which the United States chose to engage in global crises, including the War in Afghanistan, the Iraq War, and the elimination of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.
Rasmussen argued that these three examples were effective in removing autocratic and despotic leaders while also trying to promote and implement democracy. He also said that President Barack Obama’s abstention from Syrian intervention following Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons sent “a very dangerous signal” to the international community, and he cited it as one of Obama’s largest foreign policy failures. Although he believed these three instances of American intervention to be successful endeavors, Rasmussen said that there were costs, especially in regards to civilian casualties.
“Action costs,” Rasmussen said. “But I think it is important to remind yourselves that inaction also has costs.”
Rasmussen then gave three examples of American inaction that had immense civilian costs: the Rwandan Genocide, the civil war in Bosnia, and the refugee crisis in Syria.
“Superpowers don’t get to retire,” he said.
Rasmussen published a book in 2016 called The Will to Lead: America’s Indispensable Role in the Global Fight for Freedom, in which he makes similar appeals to American political leaders to promote American global engagement in conflicts. One example that he cited from his work was America’s hesitance to enter the second world war until the attack on Pearl Harbor, which revealed a lesson that he said stands true today.
“If you don’t go overseas to fight the enemy, the enemy will come to you,” Rasmussen said.
Following this sentiment, Rasmussen promoted the continuation of the new world order that President Harry S. Truman established following the second world war, which was maintained through the George W. Bush administration. As his speech neared a close, Rasmussen called upon the United States to preserve and strengthen NATO, make a coalition of the world’s democracies, and revitalize the Freedom Agenda originally implemented during the Bush administration.
“President Bush put it most forcefully in his second inauguration speech,” Rasmussen said. “‘The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.’”
Rasmussen’s final argument was that evil persists in the world when good men do nothing. He said he believes privileged societies that value freedom and liberty have a responsibility to promote democracies throughout the world. A coalition of democracies bolstered by American leadership is the way in which the international community should be governed in the future, according to Rasmussen.
“Let’s make democracy great again,” he said.
Featured Image by Emily O’Neil / Heights Staff