The new Secretary General of NATO, the same as the old one? – POLITICS

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As war rages in Europe, the race to find the next NATO leader is on.

Jens Stoltenberg was a steady hand as Western capitals rushed to help Ukraine fend off invading Russian troops. But as his term expires in September, speculation is growing over who could succeed him.

Could it be a woman? Someone from Eastern Europe?

The Moscow war greatly complicates the decision, which requires consensus among the leaders of the 30 NATO member countries.

The next Secretary General will have to strike a difficult balance between encouraging capitals to continue supplying arms to Ukraine and strengthening NATO’s defenses, while remaining formally out of the conflict. Few candidates succeed for this highly sensitive role.

The “general feeling”, said a senior NATO diplomat, is that it is “time to breathe some fresh air”.

But the allies might end up playing it safe after all and sticking with Stoltenberg.

The Stoltenberg map

A senior European diplomat has summarized the buzz around the names into three levels, ranked by intensity of chatter.

An extension of Stoltenberg’s term is the most mentioned option.

A second tier includes Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

A third group of less frequently mentioned names, the diplomat said, includes Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen of Germany.

Jens Stoltenberg was a steady hand as Western capitals rushed to help Ukraine fend off invading Russian troops. But as his term expires in September, speculation grows over who could succeed him | Valeria Mongell/AFP via Getty Images

As all NATO Secretaries General so far have been men, there is pressure in the ranks to appoint a woman.

“It’s time for a female Sec Gen,” said the top NATO diplomat. “If men try to keep their jobs forever, fair representation of women won’t stand a chance.”

And some allies have pushed for more regional diversity. Stoltenberg, who has held the post since 2014, is a former prime minister of Norway. Its most recent predecessors were Danish, Dutch and British.

The term of the current Secretary General was quickly extended last March after Russia invaded Ukraine. Many officials now believe another extension for Stoltenberg, however short, is a serious possibility.

The longtime leader is considered a pair of safe hands. Although some delegations would rather see a new face soon, Stoltenberg is still seen as a rare high-ranking official who can maintain his composure – and stick to the script – even in the most dire of crises.

“Stoltenberg wants to stay,” said the top NATO diplomat.

But granting Stoltenberg a short extension could see a future replacement decision collide with the competition for the EU’s best jobs in 2024, let alone the upcoming US presidential election – an outcome some allies would rather avoid. .

A NATO spokesman declined to elaborate on Stoltenberg’s future aspirations. Asked about the issue in December, the current secretary-general told the BBC: “I am now concentrating on my responsibilities.”

“I’m not speculating,” he added, “about what will happen after I’m in office.”

The Eastern Front

Some see candidates from Eastern Europe as particularly suitable.

Already before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there was momentum for the alliance to choose a general secretary from the east. Some officials in the region say the war has since strengthened the case for someone from a country like Estonia or Lithuania.

“For years, countries on the eastern flank have been warning about the Russian threat,” a Baltic official said.

Countries in the region, the Baltic official said, were the first to increase military spending and push the alliance to improve its defences.

“It would be very logical and sobering,” the official continued, “to have someone who has experience in dealing with Russia and who understands Russian logic and mentality, to lead the North Atlantic Alliance”.

Slovak Čaputová ticks both boxes as an Eastern candidate, although her name is mentioned less often in alliance circles.

A spokeswoman for Čaputová said she was focused on her current job, but said the possibility of a Slovak being appointed to the NATO post was “a strong reflection of our foreign and security decisions”.

Another figure possibly in the running is Klaus Iohannis, the Romanian president. But he could face obstacles from neighboring Hungary and opposition from those who would prefer a female candidate.

Some Western capitals, however, would not support such candidates at the moment, seeing the east of the alliance – and the Baltic states in particular – as too warmongering when war rages next door.

Estonian Kallas herself has played down expectations, telling local media in November that “the likelihood of an offer like this being made” is “extremely low”.

The western option

Western NATO countries are for some allies a reliable source of fallback for possible leadership.

Wallace, the British Defense Secretary, is highly respected and has previously said that NATO would be a “good job”. However, many European capitals – particularly Paris – are expected to oppose a London name and insist on an EU candidate.

A possible compromise proposed in Brussels is yet another Secretary General of the Netherlands. Dutch politicians have traditionally been a popular choice for the role, previously holding the post for three terms spanning 21 years over the past six decades.

The Dutch are seen as serious about defense but not as warmongering as the Balts – and the names of current Prime Minister Rutte, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag and Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren are all circulating as possible candidates.

Asked about the speculation, Rutte said he wanted to “get out of politics completely and do something completely different”. The two Dutch ministers have shown no interest in the post.

Commission President von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, is a candidate who could win support from Western capitals nervous about an eastern flank leader, but it’s unclear whether she’s interested in it. the role. “We never comment on such speculation,” a Commission spokesperson said.

Although her reputation in security circles is mixed, von der Leyen is seen as a strong possible candidate regardless – if the timing aligns and she does not secure a second term as President of the European Commission. .

Other floating female politicians include the highly respected Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, Chrystia Freeland, and Foreign Affairs Minister, Mélanie Joly. Still, officials say, while the alliance is focused on strengthening its defences, Ottawa’s low defense spending and non-European status mean a Canadian is unlikely to get the job.

Amid all the speculation, some within the alliance are dismissing the name game out of breath.

“It’s more of a basket of names that came to anyone’s mind,” said a second senior European diplomat, adding: “I guess: Stoltenberg.”

Jacopo Barigazzi and Cristina Gallardo contributed reporting.


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