A Compelling Case for American Leadership

By: Andrew Johnian, Reporter

Photo Credit: New Eastern Outlook

The United States has championed an active role in international affairs over the past century, placing itself in the forefront of global security. From its commitment to fight imperialism, fascism, and communism in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, to its rejection of global terrorism in wake of 9/11, the United States has consistently displayed a will to lead and promote peace. Recently, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Danish prime minister and Secretary General of NATO, visited Georgetown University to comment on his most recent book, The Will to Lead: America’s Indispensable Role in the Fight for Freedom. Mr. Rasmussen spoke about the United States’ role in shaping the rules-based international order and the importance of maintaining that commitment.

In just three years, the United States assembled NATO, which serves as the largest collective security alliance in history and is a crucial vehicle for transatlantic cooperation. The United States also helped establish the United Nations to give every country a seat at the negotiating table and to outline international norms, values, and standards. In short, threats by nefarious actors with ambitions of regional and global domination were mitigated by American intervention and engagement in world affairs.

Mr. Rasmussen acknowledged the historical legacy of the United States and touched upon a number of crises facing the international system at the moment, including the rise of non-state actors and terrorist groups such as Islamic State, Russian incursion in the Ukraine, an aggressive China, and a rogue North Korea. He was resolute in his call for American global leadership despite domestic political constraints. Many Americans now feel the new global economy is responsible for fewer opportunities with jobs going overseas, surging trade and national deficits, and costly wars that have brought limited success. However, despite these sentiments, Mr. Rasmussen spoke of the United States’ indispensable role in restoring law and order and serving as the world’s “policeman.” He mentioned that Europeans want a stronger America as they struggle to sustain the flow of migrants and refugees from war-torn areas in the Middle East and North Africa, a surging terrorism problem, and the challenges posed by Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union. Having served as the 12th Secretary General of NATO from 2009-2014, Mr. Rasmussen has seen the capability of American leadership and he spoke to the importance of fulfilling obligations in the present and future.

Mr. Rasmussen also discussed some of the underlying reasons that make the United States a powerful nation. Among them is broad international support from countries with diaspora communities located in the United States. The global reach of these communities has created a certain level of trust and confidence between the United States and other countries, attracting more people to the US than any other nation. While he recognized the difficulty of balancing internal and external political issues as global superpowers often do, he noted that exceptional nations have exceptional responsibilities.

Mr. Rasmussen went on to make the case for why he believes the United States must be engaged. First, he said an inactive and complacent United States that refuses to confront threats directly will end up with a conflict or war on the homeland. He spoke of the need to address threats while they are still small in order to mitigate violence and expenses in the future. He used the United States’ hesitancy to intervene or act in Syria and Ukraine as examples where inaction early on led to more resources and higher costs down the road.

Second, he mentioned that the United States is the only nation with the capability to protect the rules-based international system. Of chief importance is the need to uphold treaties and agreements that serve as strong preventive measures against conflict and war. This strategy applies to working with partners in the fight against terrorism and deterring nations from human rights abuses, violations of territorial sovereignty, and weapons proliferation. He also spoke of supporting institutions such as the World Trade Organization, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund to facilitate global development and provide a landscape for peace and prosperity.

In summary, Mr. Rasmussen admitted that it is not easy to be the leader but it is a necessity in the case of the United States. He urged the country to maintain its leading role in upholding the world order, but realized that even great nations cannot be great without friends and allies. He characterized this moment as a time where autocrats and terrorists are “testing the determination of the free world and America” and spoke of the need for heinous acts to suffer severe consequences. In light of this, Mr. Rasmussen, like many other leaders, is trusting and calling on the United States to “protect democracy, liberty, rule of law and fundamental values.”

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