Earlier this year, Anders Fogh Rasmussen completed his 5-year term as NATO Secretary General. The career politician had previously served as Prime Minister of Denmark from 2001 to 2009. Rasmussen is the focus of today’s featured Big Think interview, in which he discusses NATO’s approach to dealing with terrorist threats such as the so-called Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS or ISIL), which he calls “a terrorist organization that has carried out horrific acts”:
Rasmussen drives home several key points with regard to how he believes NATO and the rest of the world need to approach ISIS:
1. Wariness of home-grown would-be jihadists
“One issue of particular importance right now is the threat stemming from what we call foreign fighters. National citizens who travel to Syria or Iraq and maybe join the so called Islamic State and then afterwards return to our countries and they constitute a continuous terrorist threat. And NATO member states have taken steps to reinforce measures against that threat.”
ISIS has made efforts to recruit residents of both North America and Europe. You may remember the story from a few months back of the three teenage girls from Denver, Colorado who were apprehended trying to join the fight in Syria. There are many different buzzwords used to identify these folks: “self-radicalized,” “foreign fighters, “home-grown terrorists,” etc. Whatever you want to call them, Rasmussen explains that they represent a security threat even after they return home to the U.S. or Great Britain or Denmark.
2. Islamic State is a terrorist organization
Rasmussen explains that, despite its name, the Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state. We’ve heard these same exact words out of President Obama’s mouth in recent months, the point driven home that “no religions condones the killing of innocents.” This rhetoric is designed to accomplish two goals. First, to delegitimize ISIS as a perceived caliphate. Second, to disassociate ISIS’s pursuits from the Islamic religion. The hope is that you can dissuade the aforementioned “foreign fighters” from heading to Iraq and Syria by explaining that ISIS’s cause is one of senseless slaughter, not jihad.
3. Military efforts are needed, but only by request
The western world is still smarting from its most recent military boondoggle in Iraq. It’s not eager to jump right back in. Rasmussen believes that “determined military action” is needed to fight ISIS and that air operations alone won’t be enough. This is a fight that requires ground troops:
“The question is only which ground troops and I think countries in the region should engage in that respect. As far as NATO is concerned we have decided at the recent NATO summit that NATO stands ready to assist the Iraqi government in building a better defense capability if they so request.”
Rasmussen supports restoring the NATO training program of Iraqi defense forces that ended in 2011, but emphasizes that the resumption of the program could only come about via a formal request from the Iraqi government. The real challenge appears to be in convincing the regional forces to take up arms against the ISIS threat. Regardless of how it’s done, Rasmussen believes the eventual removal of Islamic State is a shared responsibility:
“It is a pure terrorist organization and I consider it an obligation for the whole of the international community to fight that terrible terrorist organization.”
What’s your take on Rasmussen’s views of ISIS and the international community’s obligation to fight it? Do you agree with his three points? Let us know in the comments below.