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Former NATO Chief Warns Against 'Axis of Autocracies'

FILE - Chairman of the Copenhagen Democracy Summit and former NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, talks to journalists during a news conference at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 15, 2023.
FILE - Chairman of the Copenhagen Democracy Summit and former NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, talks to journalists during a news conference at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 15, 2023.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen served as secretary general of NATO from 2009 to 2014, after nearly eight years as the prime minister of Denmark. Rasmussen sat down with VOA’s Natalie Liu during a visit to Washington this week to make the case for continued strong support for Ukraine, while urging the free world to counter the advances of autocracies “led by China, joined by Russia, Iran and North Korea.”

Here are some highlights of their interview. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

VOA: Are you in Washington this time to help push for more consensus on supporting Ukraine?

Rasmussen: One of the purposes of my trip to D.C. this time is to meet with members of Congress who are skeptical about continuing their support for Ukraine. I would tell them that it is in the American national security interest to ensure a Ukrainian victory and a Russian defeat. I would tell them that the Europeans are doing their part.

It would harm the American national security interest if Putin wins in Ukraine. It would encourage Xi Jinping to take Taiwan. It would strengthen the axis of autocracies under the leadership of China, but joined by Russia, North Korea and Iran, and it would weaken the alliance between the U.S. and Europe.

If we cannot trust American leadership, then it would fuel those voices in Europe that argue for a more independent European role as a mediator between Washington and Beijing. I think that would be a dangerous weakening of the transatlantic alliance. We should stand together with the United States. This is what is at stake.

VOA: Some argue that the United States shouldn’t direct so many resources to Ukraine and needs to ensure there are sufficient resources for potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific [caused by Chinese aggression].

Rasmussen: Obviously resources are limited, but we should never forget that the world's democracies represent more than 60% of the global GDP. If we stand together, if we are united, then we represent a formidable force, that [in turn] would create a lot of respect in Beijing.

We are faced with an array of adversaries at its strongest and most dangerous since the Second World War. We have seen an axis of autocracies emerge led by China, but joined by Russia, Iran, North Korea. Iran and North Korea are supporting Russia with missiles, with drones and in other ways. We have seen how Iran, how the proxies of Iran create instability in the Middle East. We've seen Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis who are threatening free navigation in the Red Sea. All these represent an axis of autocracies.

We in the free world have a clear interest in uniting, in standing together and countering these advancing autocracies.

VOA: How realistic is Ukraine’s prospect of getting an invitation to join NATO at the organization’s summit to be held this July in Washington?

Rasmussen: Well, I know it would be an uphill battle. We have to discuss it carefully. We have to prepare the details, and that's why I'm in Washington, D.C., because the U.S. will be a decisive actor in all this. Without American support for this idea to invite Ukraine, it’s not realistic. So, we have to discuss it with American legislators.

VOA: You mentioned you’ll be meeting with members of the Freedom Caucus [in Congress]. What are your hopes in communicating with them?

Rasmussen: I hope to convince them that it is in the national security interest of the United States to continue to support Ukraine. It's in their interest to ensure defeat of Russia, to challenge China, which they rightly consider a major global challenge.

And I know that's domestic politics, but I hope Democrats and Republicans could agree on a package which includes support for Ukraine, support for Israel, support for Taiwan, and an agreement on dealing with the border issues and immigration issues in the United States. A package that includes those four elements, I think, would be a very, very strong political signal to the whole world.

VOA: Some say that it’s not just some Republicans who are concerned about sending large sums of additional aid to Ukraine, but the Biden administration is not keen on entering into hot war with Russia. What are your observations as to how Washington thinks at this moment?

Rasmussen: My observation is there is a lot of skepticism across the board in NATO. That’s why we have to work hard.

Very often I hear the argument we cannot invite Ukraine to join NATO as long as the war is going on. That is an extremely dangerous argument to use because [in doing so] you are providing Putin with a de facto veto. That is also an incentive for Putin to continue the war to keep Ukraine from joining NATO.

Finland and Sweden concluded that neutrality in the traditional sense of the word does not exist, that gray zones are danger zones; this is the reason why they applied for NATO membership, and we should make exactly the same conclusion as far as Ukraine is concerned. That is a prerequisite for a more permanent peace and stability on the European continent.

Eventually, that would also free up resources both in the U.S. and Europe, to confront the real long-term global challenge, namely China.

VOA: The commander of Ukraine’s Azov special forces [Denys Prokopenko] recently wrote on Twitter [X] that he and his soldiers are realizing that they must be prepared to not only commit their youth, but their whole lifetime to fighting on the frontlines for the defense of their country. Is there a point in halting the war?

Rasmussen: There is a fair chance that Ukraine can win this war, provided that we are willing to give the Ukrainians all the assistance they need, all the weapons they need.
We should immediately lift all self-imposed restrictions on our delivery of weapons.

Until now, we have given a lot to the Ukrainians. But we have given them only enough to survive. What we should do now is to give them enough to win the war. You cannot win a war by the incremental, step-by-step approach we have pursued so far. If you want to win a war, you must overwhelm and surprise your adversary. And that's exactly what we should do.