Interview with Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Rasmussen has recently launched a non-profit foundation called the Alliance of Democracies. It will hold its first Democracy Summit in Copenhagen on the 22nd June and features such speakers as Joe Biden, Nick Clegg and Felipe Calderon. The website is


In the lead up to the European elections next year, Liberals around Europe are busy preparing their campaign. What are your expectations for the 2019 European elections?

A huge amount has changed since the last European Elections, especially with the migration crisis and the departure of the UK. At the moment it is difficult to say for sure how that could translate into votes for political parties at the European elections. One thing is clear: this is a big test for the European mainstream, and for the liberal family. I believe that liberals will succeed if we listen to voters and really work to connect their concerns to liberal solutions, whether that be in areas like living standards, the environment, or concerns over immigration. We cannot have no-go policy areas, and I believe we can develop sound, classical liberal policies that resonate well across the Continent and return more Liberal MEPs and Commissioners to Brussels and Strasbourg.

As a member of the ALDE Party’s Manifesto Drafting Committee, you joined the ELF Expert Forum on Security and Defence in Warsaw. What priorities did you convey for a liberal defence and security policy?

We’ve heard the aim of developing ‘A Europe That Protects’, but at present we face security challenges from the east, south and from within. They range from traditional threats through to asymmetrical hybrid tactics and information warfare that sow confusion and undermine our institutions. In short, our open societies are in danger of being weaponized and turned against us. In that context, the challenge is to develop solutions that protect, but do not undermine the values we stand for.

In my view the liberal platform should focus on four areas. Firstly, how we increase defence capabilities both by raising spending and improving our collaboration. Secondly, how we tackle hybrid warfare such as cyber-attacks, and highly partisan misinformation campaigns that are growing increasingly sophisticated in comparison to the ‘fake news’ campaigns we witnessed a few years ago. Thirdly, we should look at ensuring our open markets are not turned into a weakness by state-dominated economic actors making strategic investments in hi-tech or dual-use technologies. And fourthly, we need to take a more strategic and political approach to our Eastern neighbourhood. I have an interest here as an adviser to the President of Ukraine, but in that work I have begun to witness both a Ukraine fatigue in Brussels, and – worryingly – a growing EU fatigue in Kyiv. People have begun to question whether the painful reforms will bring the European future that they desire. I understand that EU membership is off the table, but countries that seek a European future should be given milestones to work toward, or they will quickly backslide, to everyone’s detriment.

You previously spoke in favour of an international and legally binding treaty to prohibit the production and use of autonomous lethal weapons. What would such a treaty look like? And what steps need to be taken to address this issue?

AI and automation have great potential to improve our lives and disrupt our economies for the better. They can also disrupt diplomacy and warfare to the point that it becomes unrecognizable. We need to adapt to this new reality, for example by speeding up our decision-making processes. When NATO decided to intervene in Kosovo the decision took around six months. When we intervened in Libya to prevent the slaughter of its people, the decision took six days. In the future we may have six minutes to take such decisions. This presents one challenge. However, the development of AI and cyber weapons as part of wider ‘hybrid warfare’ strategies has muddied the waters around the traditional rules of engagement. I believe this increases strategic instability around the world and we need to address that.

But the fundamental ethical issue you mention is over who gets to make life and death decisions. At the moment, a human is either in the loop, or they are on the loop and have the ability to intervene to stop an attack. Fully autonomous weapons are likely to take these decisions in a fraction of a second and remove the human element entirely. The current AI arms race has been compared to the Blitzkrieg tactics of World War Two, i.e.  whoever cracks the technology first will have a significant strategic advantage on the battle field. I fear that this race could quickly get out of control unless we lay down some clear international ground rules now to guide the development of these weapons. The EU can begin to advocate for such a treaty, but the USA and China are the real protagonists here and bringing them on board will be difficult; but we should try.

In the context of increasing defence cooperation at the EU level, the discussion on EU-NATO cooperation is back in the spotlight. How do you see this developing in the future?

The EU should not rival NATO; but greater European cooperation – if focused in the right way – can help to increase the capabilities of European allies, which in turn strengthens NATO. European allies are beginning to increase their defence spending to meet the NATO pledge of spending two percent of GDP by 2024. Many still have a way to go, but even with this extra spending, European allies lack some basic capabilities. In particular, Europe cannot move its forces easily, either because of administrative obstacles on our internal borders, or due to a lack of heavy lift hardware. If, by working together at the European level, we can create these new capabilities then European action in this field will be welcome. So far this seems to have been where the EU’s Permanent Structure Cooperation has been leading, and I hope it will continue to focus on collaborative projects and strengthening capabilities, and not be tempted by new HQs or hollow structures.

The EU will also continue to play a major role in internal security. By that I mean the fight against terrorism, trafficking, data sharing, cyber security, and other elements of hybrid warfare where the EU has legislative tools. As security challenges become more complex, our response must rise to that challenge and use every lever at our disposal across NATO, the EU and other alliances.

I also believe that EU cooperation should not be at the expense of continued Europe-wide cooperation, including with the UK. After all, once the UK leaves the EU, 80 percent of NATO’s defence spending will come from non-EU countries. This is why a strong security treaty with the UK is essential. Here, I am growing concerned. There is clearly political will on both sides for a strong security agreement, but the issues to be agreed are often highly technical and will take time to negotiate. Even if there is an Article 50 deal and the transition period takes effect, I worry about running out of time. If there is no Article 50 deal and a brutal Brexit then that’s another issue that, on the security front, could be quite disastrous.

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