ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, recently declared the NATO operation in Libya one of the most successful in the history of the alliance. The former Danish prime minister is in Washington for a day of high level briefings, and he joins us from the White House Lawn. Welcome to the program.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: You're welcome. Thank you.
SIEGEL: The success in Libya is obviously that Moammar Gadhafi and his regime are gone, but the operation did underscore some apparent weaknesses of the alliance. First, it appears that without U.S. air support, the European allies are incapable of conducting an air campaign as nearby as Libya. Should that be rectified?
RASMUSSEN: Actually, the Libya operation demonstrated the strength of our alliance. The United States provided unique and essential assets. European allies and Canada led the strike operations. Partners from the Arab world and beyond participated from the start, and NATO's command structures merged all these actors into one successful team.
SIEGEL: But, Mr. Rasmussen, if there are to be big defense cuts here in the United States, will other NATO allies, particularly the Europeans, be prepared to increase their spending or increase their forces to make up for conceivable U.S. reductions, or is that politically out of the question in this day and age?
RASMUSSEN: Well, that's quite another question. And obviously, the Libya operation also made visible that some European allies lack critical capabilities, in particular within intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and air-to-air refueling. And I urge those allies to focus their defense investments in these areas to acquire the needed capabilities.
SIEGEL: Are you encouraged by what you're hearing, or is that simply not where Europe's politics are now?
RASMUSSEN: Well, we're going to discuss this at the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago. I have launched a project called Smart Defence, a smarter way of spending defense money. And the smarter way is to go for multinational solutions, instead of purely national solutions, to help each other, to go for collective solutions, to pool and share resources. That's a more efficient way of spending defense money. I think that's the way forward during a period of economic austerity.
SIEGEL: One question raised also by Libya is if it worked there, if it was so successful, why shouldn't it or why wouldn't it work in Syria? What's the big difference between Libya and Syria?
RASMUSSEN: Libya and Syria are two different countries. And we took on the responsibility for the operation in Libya because we had a very clear United Nations mandate to protect the civilian population, and we got clear and active support from a number of countries in the region. None of these conditions are fulfilled in Syria.
SIEGEL: But to be fair, the leading members of the alliance haven't gone to seek that support of the United Nations. What if they did?
RASMUSSEN: I think they have. But until now, it's not been possible to pass a resolution in the United Nations Security Council. But let me stress that NATO has no intention whatsoever to intervene in Syria.
SIEGEL: Just one other question, Secretary General Rasmussen, and that is are you concerned about the levels of U.S. defense cuts that you're hearing about on this visit to Washington and that could be very possibly part of the big budget agreement that might be a reached this year?
RASMUSSEN: All defense cuts are a matter of concern. But of course, as a politician, I also realize what is facts of life, namely, all governments are faced with economic austerity, and they have to take severe measures. And I also have to say that sound fiscal policies are also sound security policies because countries with mounting debts and growing deficits become very vulnerable and dependent. So it is essential also from a security point of view that our allies bring down their deficits, and that's why also defense must contribute. But, of course, there's also a lower limit as to how much you can cut defense budgets and still have the necessary capabilities.
SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Secretary General, thank you very much for talking with us today.
RASMUSSEN: You're welcome. Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's Anders Fogh Rasmussen who is the Secretary General of NATO. He spoke to us from the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.