Now is "New Cold War"
Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen held the top position from 2009 to 2014. He had to manage the organization when Russia invaded Crimea and says that the biggest challenge for NATO right now is how to face Russia.
"Russia's aggression against Ukraine has created a new security situation in Europe for the first time since the Second World War. We have strengthened territorial defense to make sure that the Russians understand that they should not even think about attacking a NATO ally."
He expressed the current situation in the world as a "New Cold War" at a conference in Tokyo in November.
"We must reinforce the voice and power of the democratic nations to counter the advancing autocracies" he said.
After the end of the Cold War, the military alliance has expanded eastwards, with the number of its member country rising from 16 to 29. Some experts say that NATO's policy of expansion was wrong, but Rasmussen disagrees:
"I think we did the right thing at the right moment and we enlarged NATO because former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe applied for membership. They wanted to join NATO. But this was not an aggression against Russia."
"On the contrary, we reached out to Russia. We did so in 1997 before the first enlargement when we offered to Russia to establish a representation in the middle of NATO headquarters in Brussels so they could see with their own eyes that we are friendly, we wanted a partnership. We did so in 2002 before the next enlargement when we started something very special, namely a NATO Russia Council, which is a forum for discussions on issues of mutual interest. So we have done what we could to reach out to Russia." He explained maintaining a firm and united stance prevents Moscow from playing games with individual allies.
However, earlier in December, discord surfaced again among member nations at a conference in London. US President Donald Trump questioned again how NATO is funded and required for some countries to fulfill their commitments.
Rasmussen acknowledged the different stance within the members.
"Militarily, NATO is much stronger than before. But politically, NATO has been weakened not only because of President Trump's statements, but also the recent statements by President Macron of France, who said that NATO is brain dead, which of course, is not true. But such statements from political leaders within the allies are weakening."
Views toward Asia
Aside from Russia, China was a key focus at the summit. Rasmussen also thinks that the greatest security threat from Asia is China, not only from its increasing defense investment and a military doctrine, but also its social system.
"Recently we have also seen President Xi Jinping turn the whole Chinese society in a more autocratic direction. So no doubt that China continues right now the biggest security threat."
And he recommends that Asia form a new organization like EU or NATO in Europe.
"Those frameworks have demonstrated a strong capability to maintain peace and to build flourishing democracies. I think you need the same in Asia. Of course, the situation in Asia is different. But still, I think Asia would benefit from creating such multilateral frameworks where you can discuss your differences."
"We have followed with great concern the Chinese aggression, the South China Sea. And I mean, in today's world, you need frameworks to ensure a more peaceful resolution of such a dispute. So China is the biggest threat, but China also represents a big opportunity. So I would argue we need incentives to engage China much more constructively."
He has worked to strengthen democracy worldwide after retiring from public office. Rasmussen has established a non-profit organization which holds discussions to advance the idea of democracy and the free market.
Asked about his views regarding the idea that an autocratic system is better than a democracy due to slower decision making in a democratic society, he said:
"There were many people, fringes in Europe who felt that dictatorship would be much more efficient because dictators could deliver what democratically elected leaders could not. But we also saw that it led to a disaster. So that's the lesson learned. It might be tempting to think that a strong man is the answer to everything, but eventually that will lead to a political catastrophe, maybe even war, conflict."
He stresses the importance of showing people the benefits of having freedom.
"We won the Cold War because we demonstrated to the people living in communist dictatorship that free societies much better could provide decent life opportunities for people."
"And we should not only protect freedom and democracy. We should all promote freedom and democracy and make sure that all people can harvest the benefits of freedom."
Rasmussen believes that free societies of the world's democracies counter the advancing autocracies in some nations including Russia and China.
"I think freedom and democracy will always prevail because freedom is the strongest force in the world. Freedom paves the way to fund innovations and support partnerships for economic progress and prosperity. But of course, it's not a God-given thing. Each generation must fight for freedom and democracy."