Denmark’s Rasmussen To Head NATO

You likely missed it in the thick series of happenings and photo-ops that have flooded the world’s front pages since Barack Obama first took flight last Tuesday for London, but there was a bit of a mini-crisis brewing at the NATO summit (his next stop after the G20 meeting in London) even as he addressed all those German and French students in Strasbourg at that “town hall” meeting on Friday. It wasn’t very complicated: the current Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was lined up to succeed Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO Secretary-General at the summit, but there was a serious monkey-wrench in the works: the top Turkish leaders did not want Rasmussen in that post, and they were ready to insist that he not get it and so exercise the effective veto they and every other one of NATO’s 28 members have on such a top position. (The Turkish complaints against him related to the late 2005/early 2006 Danish cartoons affair, plus a Kurdish-language TV station – “Roj TV” – that broadcasts in Denmark.) Things even reached the point that – horrors! – the news conference scheduled for 1:00 PM on Saturday afternoon did not happen until a good two-and-a-half hours later, which is when De Hoop Scheffer could finally appear on the stage shaking hands with his Danish successor.

As befitting its status as one of Denmark’s best-regarded daily newspapers, Berlingske Tidende has some good coverage of this affair (NATO’s declaration-of-confidence in Denmark), written by Ole Bang Nielsen. First off, Nielsen makes it clear just what this appointment means to the Danes themselves, namely a recognition that Denmark is no longer just a “footnote-nation and hesitant member of NATO,” as well as a personal vote of support to Rasmussen himself. To get there past the Turkish opposition, though, truly took a tremendous diplomatic full-court press – “the large European NATO lands finally threw in all their political ballast against Turkey,” as Nielsen writes. Breaking up that NATO meeting without having Rasmussen in place as the Secretary-General would have been a humiliation – especially for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who basically had announced the day before that Rasmussen would be named – so those European countries did indeed throw in everything, including Turkey’s prospective EU membership. Yes, EU matters generally do not belong being linked to NATO issues (the memberships of the two organizations don’t match very exactly, anyway), but Nielsen writes that certain threats were made nonetheless against Turkey’s EU membership process should it continue to hold out against the Dane. It seems even that the EU enlargement commissioner (Olli Rehn, a Finn) was on-hand personally to utter authoritative remarks toward the Turks such as “This does not look good from a European perspective, if Turkey does not give way.” There you have it: ordinarily Rehn did not even belong there at the NATO meeting at all, since he is an EU official, and because Finland is not a member of NATO anyway.

Does the Emperor Have No Muslim Clothes?

So the issue was finally resolved, and Rasmussen is the man. (Der Spiegel’s Matthias Gebauer even credits Barack Obama with resolving the impasse – that piece is in Der Spiegel’s on-line English edition.) But there still may be an “Emperor-has-no-clothes” element here: when everyone agrees that one of the new Secretary-General’s main tasks will be building better relations for NATO with the Muslim world, how indeed could the Danish prime minister, who handled that “Danish cartoons crisis” in an unyielding manner that resulted in anti-Denmark riots across the Muslim world, be a good choice to undertake that? Make no mistake: I applauded at the time Rasmussen’s principled refusal not to be intimidated into yielding on the fundamental principle of freedom of expression, and I still do (and indeed, had I been keeping up EuroSavant at that particular time, you would have been able to read about this opinion even as I kept you up-to-date on Danish and other foreign coverage). But one can still wonder whether, in light of this, he’s the right man for this particular job.

(There was another minor but interesting aspect of Rasmussen’s statement as he accepted the position. Let me give you here Berlingske Tidende’s quote of what he said: “I consider NATO’s tasks as some of the most important in modern times. As NATO’s coming Secretary-General, Fogh Rasmussen will build up trans-Atlantic relations and improve cooperation between the EU and NATO when it comes to international tasks like Afghanistan.” That’s right; I was back-tracking to check to see where the quotation-marks began and where they ended, but if this quote is accurate then it seems that Rasmussen likes to refer to himself in the third person!)

Interestingly, there are further interesting perspectives on Rasmussen’s naming to the Secretary-General post to be found in the Dutch quality-newspaper, NRC Handelsblad (Naming of Rasmussen a “blessing for Denmark”). This is mainly because NRC journalist Joop Meijnen has managed to swing some telephone interviews with two Danish political experts, namely Prof. Peter Viggo Jakobsen from the University of Copenhagen and Hans Mouritzen, director of the Danish Institute for International Studies. Both these gentlemen have great sympathy, in fact, for the Turkish resistance to Rasmussen’s appointment because of what in their eyes was his faulty handling of the cartoons affair. Mouritzen:

He gravely underestimated the sensitivity in the Islamic lands, operated in a much-too-passive manner, and refused to receive ambassadors from those lands. That is a disturbing handicap when you become chief of an organization which finds its crucial task in an Islamic land, Afghanistan. We don’t know how that will turn out.

In fact, Mouritzen goes on to say that Rasmussen would not have gained the post if there had been any other serious candidates on offer at the just-concluded NATO summit. But there simply were not. As for Jakobsen, he maintains that Rasmussen had been trying to line up some international job for himself for some time, to finally get out of Danish politics, but that his first choice was that of the one-man European Council president in office for two-and-a-half years established by the Lisbon Treaty (as opposed to the six-month national rotating EU presidencies we have now). Of course, the Lisbon Treaty is not yet ratified, and in fact there are growing doubts that it ever will be, so Rasmussen settled instead for another, more securely-established role on the international stage.

Turkish Hit Men

Finally we have the murky subject to take up of just what was promised to the Turkish prime minister and/or Turkish president (both of whom were present there at the NATO summit) to make them finally cease their resistance to Rasmussen’s appointment. One thing we know for sure was that a Turkish official would be named as Vice-General-Secretary. But there was other talk – coming mainly from the Turkish press – that Rasmussen had pledged to apologize for the Danish cartoons affair and to shut down the offending Roj TV. But, as we can all see in this English-language article from the website of another great Danish daily, Politiken, it looks like that is not going to happen. In fact, from the Danish opinion newspaper Information we already have word from an article entitled “Fogh in a difficult religious balancing-act” that, even as he flew from the NATO summit straight to Istanbul – what an amazing coincidence! – to attend a UN conference there on “Alliance Between Civilizations”, Rasmussen still publicly insisted on such principles as “freedom of expression as decisive for [the] open dialogue” that is needed between different religions and cultures – all of this couched, though, in the appropriate toned-down, moderate language that you’d expect Rasmussen to have to adopt whenever he happens to find himself in Istanbul – if he ever desires to get out of there alive, that is.

Speaking of his being able to keep body and soul together . . . maybe the photo that Information has at the top of that article gives us a clue why Rasmussen now wants to take pains to be conciliatory: as he smiles towards the turbaned fellow opposite him on the conference stage, he’s standing there with his right arm in a sling, having dislocated it (according to the caption) by falling down the stairs of his Istanbul hotel! What an amazing coincidence! Please, not that old “fell down the stairs” excuse which has served from time immemorial to cover up violence, whether domestic or otherwise, which people would prefer to keep hidden! I mean, in Scandinavia the public officials are famous for thinking nothing of just going walking in the city streets with their fellow citizens, so you’d have to assume that Rasmussen’s Danish security detail cannot be too intimidating; it looks like the Turks were ultimately at least able to send in their hit men to work out some of their frustrations over his appointment.

(Whoops: one final comment, back to Denmark, which now that Anders Fogh Rasmussen has gone off to NATO has a new prime minister. Yes, it seems Danish politics is a strange thing. You can be a free-market conservative, you can be a Marxist, or you can even come upon the scene at the head of the free-love-and-free-beer party, but to make it to prime minister there is but one requirement: you need to have three names, the last of which is “Rasmussen.” Let me introduce you here to one Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who was Danish prime minister until Anders Fogh succeeded him in 2001 . . .)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.