16.2 C
Saturday, September 30, 2023
HomeEconomyNATO returns to Jens Stoltenberg amid division over successor

NATO returns to Jens Stoltenberg amid division over successor


NATO leaders are leaning towards extending Jens Stoltenberg’s term as secretary general amid growing pessimism about the military alliance agreeing on a successor ahead of next month’s summit in Lithuania.

Stoltenberg, who met with Joe Biden in Washington on Tuesday, has led the alliance since October 2014. While he has publicly stated “no intention” of renewing his mandate, the former Norwegian prime minister has not unequivocally ruled out continuing.

“In the interests of continuity, it makes sense,” said a senior Western diplomat who discussed the possibility of an extension with him. ‘He would. He is a man of duty.”

The intensifying debates over who should succeed Stoltenberg, whose current mandate expires in October, come at a testing moment for NATO. Russia is showing more belligerence to the west and has occupied about a fifth of Ukraine, there is internal division over Kiev’s future relationship with NATO and China is growing as a global military power.

That complex background and the difficulty of finding a candidate who will satisfy all 31 alliance members mean that the possibility of asking Stoltenberg to extend his mandate for a fourth time has emerged as a short-term compromise that postpones the decision until next year , officials involved in the discussions told the Financial Times.

“Stoltenberg has been an excellent secretary general, and I see no point in rocking the boat now,” said a NATO foreign minister.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and US President Joe Biden meet Tuesday at the White House in Washington © SAMUEL CORUM/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

While the US is the main power in NATO and an American is always the military commander of the alliance, the Secretary General is always from a European member state.

The option to extend Stoltenberg comes after bids from Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace have so far failed to gain unanimous support despite a wide variety of demands from member states.

Many capitals have expressed support for electing the alliance’s first female secretary-general, while others say a candidate from Eastern Europe would reflect the growing importance of the region and the significance of the war in Ukraine.

Most countries, including the US and most of the alliance’s largest members, believe the role should go to a current or former president or prime minister, multiple officials said. The US is looking for a candidate who will receive broad support, believing that a current or former head of government is most likely to win unanimity.

Selection is also complicated by the requirement that candidates almost certainly need the support of their home country’s government.

France and Germany rallied behind Frederiksen and presented her as Europe’s preferred candidate, despite misgivings in some Eastern European states, officials said. But Biden did not lend Frederiksen his full support during their meeting at the White House last week, two people aware of the talks told the FT, cutting the momentum of her candidacy.

“Who is the next Secretary General? There doesn’t seem to be a handbook on how to pick one,” Wallace said Tuesday, adding that there are “an awful lot of good candidates out there” when asked about his own aspirations for the role.

Wallace suggested the decision could even be delayed until after the summit next month. “Who knows?” he told reporters. “That is possible in Vilnius. It could be in October. It just depends.”

White House spokesman Karine Jean-Pierre said Stoltenberg had done a “great job” in bringing NATO together. But she added that Biden “has not yet made a decision” on a successor.

Extending Stoltenberg’s term would also give him more time to complete the task of securing Swedish membership in the alliance, which is being held back by Turkey. Stoltenberg has personally taken on that task and it is still unclear whether President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will override his veto before or during the summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

At least another seven months in office would also mean that the task of appointing a new secretary-general falls under Biden’s leadership of the next summit, due to take place in April in Washington, which will come with the added splendor of the 75th anniversary of the alliance.

“We are all aware that at some point we have to let Stoltenberg go, there will have to be a successor,” Kajsa Ollongren, the Dutch defense minister, said on Tuesday, without commenting on candidates or timetables.

According to people close to the secretary general, Stoltenberg, who is about to see senior lieutenants leave NATO this summer, is becoming increasingly agitated at not having a clear message about his future.

Members of his team in Brussels have already taken steps to return their families to their home countries, adding to the complications over his long-standing state of uncertainty.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

Latest stories