Nato: Dutchman Rutte to succeed Stoltenberg

In difficult times for security policy, the Dutchman Mark Rutte will become the new Secretary General of NATO. Trouble during his term in office is not only looming because of Russia.

The outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has been officially appointed as the next Secretary General of NATO. The 57-year-old is to succeed the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg at the beginning of October, the defense alliance announced after a meeting of the permanent representatives of the 32 NATO states at the Brussels headquarters. Stoltenberg (65) will then have held the top post for ten years.

Stoltenberg said of the personnel decision: “I very much welcome the fact that NATO allies have chosen Mark Rutte as my successor. Mark is a true transatlanticist, a strong leader and someone who builds consensus.” He wished him every success and knew that he was handing NATO over to good hands.

Rutte’s contract initially runs for four years. The Dutchman is considered to be an extremely experienced foreign policy maker. He was most recently head of government of the Netherlands for almost 14 years, longer than anyone before him, making him one of the longest-serving in the EU.

First reactions

Rutte said it was an enormous honour to be appointed Secretary General and thanked the alliance partners for their trust. “Leading this organisation is a responsibility that I take very seriously,” he promised. He will take up the post in October with great enthusiasm.

Heads of state and government of other NATO countries congratulated the Dutchman. Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for example, wrote on Platform X: “Dear Mark Rutte, congratulations! And good luck as NATO Secretary General. Our alliance has rarely been as important as it is today. Your experience, security policy expertise and diplomatic skills are in the right place. A good choice for freedom and security.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was confident Rutte would continue Stoltenberg’s outstanding work to keep NATO strong and united. Ulf Kristersson, Prime Minister of new NATO member Sweden, called Rutte an “outstanding leader.”

The main task of the Secretary General of NATO is to coordinate the political coordination processes between the Allies and to ensure that consensus can be reached even on difficult issues. Because he can also make suggestions for action, he plays a crucial role, especially in times of crisis or conflict. The Secretary General also represents the defense alliance at the international level and, as the highest administrative official, heads the NATO headquarters.

The war and the Trump scenario

The new job will be particularly challenging for Rutte if Donald Trump returns to the White House after the US presidential election in November. Statements by the Republican in the past have raised doubts as to whether the US would fully adhere to its commitment to assistance under his leadership.

During his term in office from 2017 to 2021, Trump had repeatedly railed against what he considered to be too low defense spending by European allies and at times even threatened to withdraw the United States from the alliance.

Even if Trump is not re-elected, Rutte will be under great pressure. This is mainly because Russia’s war against Ukraine is completely changing the security environment, but the allies are not in agreement, for example, about whether or not Ukraine should be given a clear perspective for joining NATO at this time.

Countries like Germany and the USA are against it because they fear that such a step could lead to Russia continuing its war even more aggressively. Countries like Poland or the Baltic states, on the other hand, do not see the risk.

Long blockade by Hungary and Romania

Rutte’s appointment was preceded by a months-long blockade of the appointment by member states such as Hungary and Romania. Only last week did they give up their opposition to the Dutchman, thus paving the way for the necessary consensus in the North Atlantic Council.

Hungary gave in after Rutte agreed to Hungarian demands. One of these was that Hungary wanted to be sure that it would not be pressured into participating in a planned NATO mission to coordinate arms deliveries to Ukraine.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government fears that the project could push the alliance into direct confrontation with Russia. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis had himself been a candidate for the post. However, after Orban’s decision, he officially withdrew his application.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz had already publicly backed Rutte in February. Further support also came from the USA and Great Britain.

Alliance circles considered the background to the hopeless candidacy of the Romanian Iohannis from the start to be his uncertain professional future. It was assumed that Iohannis was primarily interested in being offered some other top international position as an alternative. The Romanian’s second term as President ends in the autumn and he will then no longer be able to run for office in Romania.

Stoltenberg contract runs until 1 October

The current contract of the incumbent NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg runs until October 1. The 65-year-old had announced several times in the past that he wanted to give up the post. Last summer, however, attempts by member states to agree on a successor failed again.

At the time, possible candidates to succeed Stoltenberg included Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and the then British Defense Minister Ben Wallace. Stoltenberg is now the second longest-serving Secretary General in the history of the alliance. The longest-serving Secretary General was the Dutchman Joseph Luns, the highest international official in the alliance. He served from 1971 to 1984.