21.07.2021 – 08:30
By David M.Herszenhorn Politico.eu
NATO allies have been analyzing various officials in their countries in search of Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s successor. Stoltenberg, the former Prime Minister of Norway, has served in this post since October 2014.
The Allies extended his term until September 2022, leaving more than a year to appoint his deputy. At the alliance headquarters, formal discussions on the issue have just begun, and Stoltenberg’s successor is expected to be introduced at a NATO leaders’ summit in Madrid in late spring or early summer next year.
But speculation in Brussels and other capitals is already rampant. Some officials, diplomats and analysts say that after 72 years it is time for the alliance to appoint a woman at the helm for the first time. Others say that given the ongoing confrontation with Russia, the choice of an Eastern European would send an important signal to Moscow.
If you combine these 2 criteria, then at the top of the list are 3 names: former presidents Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović of Croatia and Dalia Grybauskaitė of Lithuania; and current Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid.
Grabar-Kitarović, who was Croatia’s first female president from 2015-2020, has the advantage of working at NATO headquarters as Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy from 2011-2014.
Critics say Grabar-Kitarovic, who built her political career as a center-right conservative, tarnished herself when she co-operated with the Croatian far right during the failed 2019 re-election campaign against the center-right former prime minister. left, Zoran Milanovic.
But Grabar-Kitarović boasts one of the most impressive CVs among potential future NATO chiefs. She has also been Croatia’s Minister for Europe and Minister of Foreign Affairs. It has played a major role in the country’s successful EU and NATO membership processes.
She has also been Croatia’s ambassador to the US during 2008-2011, establishing strong ties in Washington, which will have a crucial impact on NATO’s final decision on Stoltenberg’s replacement.
Former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in 2004-2009, was previously the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. De Hoop Scheffer was succeeded in this post by former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Some NATO interior officials said it was hard to imagine NATO allies electing someone who has not served in senior positions as head of state or government. This preference for a former national leader has led to recent speculation about former British Prime Minister Theresa May as a possible candidate.
Even Mark Sedwill, who has been cabinet secretary and national security adviser under Ms. May and briefly under current Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has been mentioned as a potential candidate.
A former influential ambassador to NATO said there was a general expectation that Britain would aim to have the post of Secretary-General as a way to demonstrate its continued influence in post-Brexit Europe.
But diplomats say qualifications will be far more important than nationality, and the emphasis will be on leadership, management and communication skills. This may exclude Ms. May, whose managerial and communication skills were heavily criticized during the Brexit process.
Sedwill, meanwhile, has never been Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense, two positions seen as a minimum requirement for any NATO chief. The United States, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom have traditionally been seen as the most influential allies in the Secretary-General’s selection process.
But in conditions when EU countries that form an overwhelming majority of allies
NATO – 21 out of 30 members – Britain after Brexit may find it difficult to garner support for such a prominent post. And some EU countries, especially Italy, believe they are capable of taking the top NATO post.
Federica Mogherini, a former Italian foreign minister and former EU foreign policy chief, has previously expressed interest. But diplomats said she would not have the support of Washington, and that Enrico Letta, the former Italian prime minister from 2013-2014, would be a more likely Italian candidate.
“The British are very interested in having a strong role in Brussels. The Italians will say it is their turn. “Eastern Europeans say the same thing,” said a former senior NATO official. Other Western European officials mentioned include Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is currently working to form a new governing coalition, and Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès, a former caretaker Prime Minister.
Some NATO analysts say the election of a secretary general from the Baltic states, especially Grybauskaite from Lithuania, could be seen as a highly hostile gesture to Moscow, at a time when US President Joe Biden is trying to stabilize relations between Russia and the West.
Another factor that will affect is whether the country of origin of a particular candidate is meeting NATO’s goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. This could increase the chances of Kaljulaid, the current president of Estonia.
Romania is another NATO ally that meets the 2 per cent threshold, giving President Klaus Iohannis a chance. France will not offer its candidacy but will use its veto, some NATO officials said, and that rules out any chance of Turkey claiming such a post.