Denmark is not exactly a global power center, but the former leader of the small, tidy nation is about to become a major player on the world's diplomatic stage. Anders Fogh Rasmussen takes over as NATO's Secretary-General on Aug. 1 after serving as Denmark's Prime Minister. The popular center-right leader takes the reins as the deteriorating war in Afghanistan poses a serious test for the 60-year-old NATO alliance, which is managing the conflict. Rasmussen, 56, spent eight years in Copenhagen's top office, most notably shepherding Denmark through the Muslim cartoon uproar of 2005 which he called the nation's greatest crisis since World War II. An avid Facebook user, Rasmussen recently visited a special-needs classroom following an online request from the teacher, a Facebook friend. To be successful in Brussels, he'll need the support of plenty of real-world allies, as well.
Born Jan. 26, 1953. Politically active from an early age, he started a Young Liberals organization as a teenager. Earned his master's degree in economics from the University of Arhus in 1978.
Was first elected to Denmark's Parliament in 1978, at age 25. Served as Denmark's Minister of Taxation from 1987-92 and Minister for Economic Affairs from 1990-92. Held a range of top posts within Denmark's center-right Liberal party.
Elected Prime Minister in 2001 vowing to cut taxes, lower immigration and thin the government payroll. He largely accomplished these goals and was re-elected twice, in 2005 and 2007. He resigned the post on April 5.
Disagreeing with most of his nation, he supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, augmenting the effort with 500 Danish troops. Shortly before the war began in 2003, a protester attacked him in the Danish Parliament, pouring red paint over the Prime Minister and shouting "You have blood on your hands." The troops have since returned, though Denmark still has 700 fighters under NATO command in Afghanistan.
His support for the war effort aside, Rasmussen has criticized the U.S. detention of enemy combatants in Guantánamo Bay and secret overseas prisons.
Guided his country through the 2005 uproar sparked by the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad by a Danish newspaper. He maintained that religions ought to be respected, but refused to meet with diplomats from Muslim nations or apologize on behalf of his country.
Largely as a result of the cartoon controversy, Turkey opposed his selection as NATO Secretary-General, claiming he would impede support for the alliance from Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Turkey relented after President Obama personally intervened during April's NATO summit in Strasbourg, holding a private meeting with Rasmussen and Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
Has written several books on economics and politics. Enjoys running and cycling (he's biked some portions of the Tour de France, although not in competition). Fluent in English and French.
Married, with two daughters and a son. Fit and handsome, Rasmussen once prompted Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to remark, peculiarly: "Rasmussen is the most handsome Prime Minister in Europe. I'm thinking of introducing him to my wife."
"If we hadn't defended the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad ... we would have renounced the principles of European democracy. Self-censure means the end of the debate. Imagine how many museums it would be necessary to close, how many musical groups it would be necessary to silence; Galileo and Darwin would have had to abandon their research, and Monty Python would not have been able to film The Life of Brian. The EU must most vigorously defend individual freedoms, and human rights are not there to shield religions against criticism and debate."
Interview with EUdebate2009.eu, November 14, 2008
"I'm not a candidate for international posts. I have no plans to quit my job as Denmark's Prime Minister."
The Economist May 8, 2008. (He declined to pledge to complete his full term, however.)
"History has changed. And so indeed has the agenda of NATO. Let me stress: our enlargement is not directed against Russia. It is an effort to heal and integrate Europe."
Speech at a NATO summit in Prague, Nov 21, 2002
"We'll try to make Denmark a showroom. You can reduce energy use and carbon emissions, and achieve economic growth."
TIME Feb. 25, 2009
"I have confidence that he's the right man to help lead NATO during a period in which we are moving from a vision first created in the 20th century to a vision that responds to 21st century challenges."
President Obama, ABCnews.com, April 4, 2009
"It is unacceptable that NATO be headed by an individual who has in the past rudely disrespected our values and religious beliefs ... He is a problematic man."
Suat Kiniklioglu, a deputy chairman for Turkey's ruling AK party, Turkish Weekly, March 26, 2009
"Anders Fogh Rasmussen must be a dynamic leader who can rebuild NATO's unity on a number of issues, beginning with the mission in Afghanistan."
Sally McNamara, Heritage Foundation European Affairs specialist, Heritage.org, July 28, 2009
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