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NATO chief cements Australian ties

NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been in Australia, where he spoke to Jim Middleton.

First, outside of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), Australia has made the biggest military contribution to the war in Afghanistan.

Now the involvement of foreign forces is drawing to a close after more than a decade of conflict, and the United States has announced plans to shift more of its forces away from Europe and into the Asia Pacific.

No wonder NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has been in Australia cementing closer ties with this part of the world.

I spoke to him at the end of his Australian visit.

Secretary general, thank you very much for your time.

JIM MIDDLETON: The joint declaration on cooperation you signed with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard; is this a recognition that not only has economic power shifted from West to East, if I can put it that way, but also strategic significance is growing within the Asia Pacific at the expense of the Atlantic?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Not at the expense of the Atlantic, but it's a recognition of the fact that in today's world territorial defence requires a global perspective. So we need strong partnerships across the globe if we are to accomplish our security mission. And Australia is among our most valued partners and this is the reason why we have signed this agreement.

JIM MIDDLETON: Does it also suggest, though, that NATO and the nations of Europe have a greater vested interest in peace and security within the Asia Pacific?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Absolutely. But the core task of NATO is still the territorial defence of our populations and member states, but if we are to protect our societies effectively, we need to engage with partners across the globe.

And one example is Afghanistan. We are in Afghanistan to prevent the country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists who could use it as a launching pad for attacks against our societies. We need partners to accomplish that security mission and Australia is the largest non NATO contributor to our operation in Afghanistan. So it was only natural that we strengthen our partnership with Australia.

JIM MIDDLETON: And apart from issues like Afghanistan, as you point out, what other factors does or has globalisation thrust up as far as NATO's interest in having agreements with friendly countries in other parts of the world are concerned?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: That is actually the essence of our giant political agreement that our common interests go beyond Afghanistan. In a globalised economy, we are very much, all of us, dependent on or instance, free and open sea lane, communications systems, energy supplies.

We have agreed to strength en cooperation on counter-piracy, strengthen cooperation to improve our cyber security, to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, just to mention some of the areas in which we will expand our cooperation in the coming years.

JIM MIDDLETON: One of the secrets of peace in Europe over the past half century and more has been the disappearance largely of territorial disputes. You mentioned the importance of free and open sea lanes. Does it trouble you in your role as secretary-general of NATO that in a part of the world which is growing in economic importance there are so many unresolved territorial disputes, notably and most specifically South China Sea?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I think based on the experience from Europe and North America, it facilitates peaceful resolution of conflicts and disputes if you have an institutional framework to deal with that. You could also argue that in other parts of the world, it may contribute to peace and stability if you have partnerships and alliances to deal with such conflicts and disputes.

JIM MIDDLETON: Let's talk about Afghanistan for a moment.

You've expressed confidence that Afghanistan's security forces can maintain peace and security once the bulk of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) leaves in 2014. But don't the lessons of history in Afghanistan actually suggest otherwise, with the Russians, the British before them?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: There is a clear difference between our strategy and what we have seen in the past.

And the clear difference is that, when we draw down our troop presence, we will build up at the same time the capacity of the Afghan security forces, so we will not leave behind a security vacuum.

On the contrary, we have built a very strong Afghan security force. By the end of 2014, when we expect the Afghans to take full responsibility for the security, we will have around 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police. And even more importantly they will be qualitatively capable to take full responsibility. We have already seen how the Afghan security forces have dealt with security incidents in a very professional manner.

JIM MIDDLETON: You say that there will be no vacuum. But how do you go from a situation where you've had hundreds of thousands of foreign forces, billions and billions of dollars applied over a decade, to a situation where you've got a much smaller and less well equipped Afghan National Army and police? How on earth is that not a vacuum?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Because the Afghan security forces will be better equipped, better educated than what we have seen in the past.

When we end our combat mission by the year 2014, we will stay committed now in the supportive function. So the Afghan security forces will continue to receive training, assistance, advice from our training mission after 2014.

JIM MIDDLETON: One of the other functions that it's expected that foreign forces will do in Afghanistan after 2014 is via special forces. Does this suggest that counter insurgency will be something that the Afghan security forces can't achieve on their own? And if that is the case how do you guarantee the security of those remaining foreign forces without the protection of the large numbers that are there currently?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: The clear point of departure will be that combat activities after 2014 will be conducted by the Afghan security forces, including the Afghan special operation forces.

But it will be part of our training mission to also train and assist the Afghan special operation forces.

And actually I had an opportunity some weeks ago to visit Kabul and observe Afghan special operation forces in action and I was very impressed by what I saw. They operate in a very professional manner and they will be the backbone of the Afghan security forces in the future. And based on that experience, I feel confident that they will be able to take full responsibility by the end of 2014.

JIM MIDDLETON: At the recent NATO summit in Chicago, there were significant pledges of financial assistance to help keep the Afghan armed forces afloat after 2014.

Can you be absolutely sure that those pledges will be kept given the very significant budgetary pressure that most of the nations making the pledges are currently facing, particularly in Europe?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I am confident that nations will keep their promises because it's a good deal.

Economically it is less expensive to finance the Afghan security forces, to do the combat, than to deploy international troops in Afghanistan. And politically, of course, it's also an advantage to give the defence of Afghanistan a clear Afghan face. So for these reasons I think it's very easy to make the case that it's a good deal to finance the Afghan security forces.

JIM MIDDLETON: But if these countries simply haven't got the money, they won't be able to offer it and that would leave Afghanistan in the lurch, would it not?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yeah, but actually we have seen that, despite the economic crisis, nations have stayed committed to our operation in Afghanistan. And it was a very clear result of the Chicago summit that we agreed to stay in this together, to see through to a successful end, based on the principle in together, out together. And I am sure that clear political commitment also includes the commitment to finance the Afghan security forces.

JIM MIDDLETON: Secretary-general, you've been very generous with your time. Thank you very much indeed.

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