NATO's Rasmussen: a staunch US ally and moderniser

3rd August 2009, Comments 0 comments

With the announcement of his appointment last April, it was the first time that the military alliance had picked a serving head of government for its top job -- a sign that the post is to become much more politicised.

Copenhagen -- Former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a staunch ally of Washington and a supporter of the war on Iraq, will take up the reins of NATO as secretary general on Monday.

With the announcement of his appointment last April, it was the first time that the military alliance had picked a serving head of government for its top job -- a sign that the post is to become much more politicised.

"First and foremost, I am a political leader. That's what I was as prime minister and that's what I will also be as secretary general. It's the reason why I have been chosen," Rasmussen told the Danish monthly, Berlingske Nyhedsmagasin, at the end of June.

"My colleagues told me they wanted a NATO with a higher political profile with a politician leading it," he told the news magazine, adding he wanted to create a "vision" for the alliance that would help it achieve a set of clear objectives.

Observers say Rasmussen likes to set out a very clear agenda and sees it through until the very end.

"There will be more room for manoeuvre than the majority of my predecessors," he said, citing this new freedom as the reason for accepting the job.

The former Danish premier wants to modernise the organisation and make it "more efficient" and says better coordination between its civilian and military operations is one of his "major objectives."

Rasmussen pointed to Afghanistan as an example where military might "is not the only way to achieve peace."

"We have to accompany it with strengthening reconstruction efforts, finding alternatives to opium farming and helping to build stable democratic institutions," he said.

Rasmussen takes over the reins from Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at a crucial time: many NATO members are now questioning why they are in Afghanistan, the alliance's largest individual military operation, after several troops lost their lives in July.

Germany, Britain and France were said to be enthusiastic supporters, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel gushingly describing him as an "excellent choice" who would be a "strong secretary general."

He speaks English and French fluently, and his jovial charisma is known to rapidly dissolve into cool austerity when the situation demands. He is also renowned for an ability to reach political compromise.

Rasmussen has said his greatest achievement as Danish prime minister was agreeing a deal to usher 10 new member states into the European Union during Denmark's 2002 EU presidency, something which allowed him to build up "a strong network of friends" throughout Europe.

The 56-year-old is also a loyal ally of the United States, and did not hesitate to involve Denmark in the US-led coalition against Iraq, with a narrow majority in parliament, even though Danes were largely opposed to the idea.

Rasmussen told the Berlingske Nyhedsmagasin that President Obama had "strongly applied himself so that I would be secretary general and made an extra effort to secure my nomination" -- a veiled reference to Turkish threats to block his bid for the job over the controversy surrounding the publication of Mohammed cartoons by a Danish newspaper in 2005.

After nearly eight years at the helm of Denmark's centre-right coalition government, he is considered "a good organiser and a skilled tactician with enormous self-control," according to political analyst Hans Engell.

An economist by training, Rasmussen entered parliament in 1978, climbing the party ranks to serve as deputy Liberal party leader for 13 years before taking over in 1998.

Rasmussen is married with two daughters and a son and recently became a grandfather. He works hard to stay in shape, skiing, kayaking and running.

AFP/Expatica

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