Citing a United Nations mandate for military action, NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a May 11 visit to campus that air strikes on Libyan government troops are justified to protect civilian lives.
“NATO took responsibility because the United Nations has so requested,” he said, answering questions from the audience after his address. “Furthermore, we have strong support from the region.”
The event, hosted by the Harris School of Public Policy Studies and the International House Global Voices Program, concluded the secretary general’s four-city tour of the United States to promote the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to a wider American public. Similar events were held in Atlanta, Austin and Washington, D.C.
Founded in 1949, NATO is a political and military alliance of 28 member countries from North America and Europe. Based in Brussels, Belgium, its primary role has been to protect the freedom and security of its members, but it has increasingly moved to intervene in other crises around the world.
“More than 60 years after its creation, NATO remains the vital link between the United States and Europe to protect and promote the core values of American and European civilization—freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” said Rasmussen.
The secretary general’s 15-minute remarks centered primarily on NATO’s relationship with Russia and the continued importance of partner nations.
“[I]t has been a longstanding, strategic objective of NATO to help create a Europe that is whole, free and at peace,” he said. “We have made great progress, but we are not there yet, and I maintain that Russia plays a key role if we want to achieve it.”
Among other examples, Rasmussen pointed to the New START Treaty, which was signed earlier this year to reduce the number of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, as a milestone in post-Cold War cooperation. These two countries, he said, hold more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, obligating them to work together on future nuclear issues.
Harris School Dean Colm O’Muircheartaigh moderated an extended Q&A session, in which audience questions ranged from the legitimacy of NATO air strikes in Libya to NATO’s relationship with other countries like China, Afghanistan and Syria.
“NATO strongly condemns the brutality of the Syrian regime,” Rasmussen said in response to a query about the ongoing political uprising in the country. “The only way forward is to accommodate the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.” The secretary general distinguished the Syrian case from Libya, however, noting the lack of a regional or international consensus favoring intervention in Syria.
Before stepping into his role as secretary general of NATO in 2009, Rasmussen served eight years as prime minister of Denmark. His trip to the University of Chicago was part of NATO’s first tour intended for the American general public in more than a decade.