US and UK support Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as next NATO chief | Mark Rutte

Mark Rutte

Many other members have signaled they would support the Dutch leader as the alliance faces major challenges

Thu, Feb 22, 2024, 1:17 p.m. GMT

The United States and the United Kingdom have backed Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's candidacy to become NATO's next secretary general, at a time when the alliance is struggling amid Russia's war in Ukraine and renewed questions about the future of U.S. commitment to transatlantic relations are facing major challenges.

“President Biden strongly supports Prime Minister Rutte’s candidacy to become the next secretary general of NATO,” a U.S. official told Portal on Thursday.

A British official said London “strongly” supported Rutte to succeed Jens Stoltenberg. “Rutte is highly respected across the alliance, has excellent defense and security credentials and will ensure that the alliance remains strong and ready for defense and deterrence.”

Many other NATO members have signaled they would support the Dutch leader for the post, which requires the unanimous support of all alliance members.

Rutte is one of Europe's longest-serving leaders, prime minister since 2010, and is seen as a safe man who could be well placed to meet the challenges of a potential return of Donald Trump to the White House.

However, a senior diplomat warned that Rutte's candidacy was not yet a done deal and that his support from major countries did not mean all allies were on board.

Supporters say the Dutch leader is one of the best-connected politicians on the European stage and a low-key politician known for riding his bike to meetings and teaching social studies at a local school.

A Dutch official said: “Rutte's strength lies in three things: his social skills, his pragmatic mind and his Nokia (lately an iPhone).

“A convinced Atlanticist and admirer of [Winston] Churchill, his phone book now includes two generations of world leaders beyond the borders of the Western world, with whom he has forged ties and maintains good contacts – even privately, even after they have left. [The former German chancellor Angela] Merkel and Rutte are still meeting,” the official said.

“He had a great bond with [the former US president Barack] But Obama also maintained constructive relations with Trump. And although his domestic heritage may now be questioned, his international credentials are excellent.”

After his government collapsed last year, Rutte resigned as leader of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and said he would retire from politics.

But in recent months he has served as acting prime minister as coalition negotiations dragged on and remained very active in European politics – leading to growing speculation at NATO headquarters that he was in the running for the top job.

In recent years there have been efforts to diversify the leadership of NATO, which has always been staffed by men from Western Europe. Some officials had hoped the alliance would finally have a female leader or someone from the eastern flank.

Stoltenberg, who has been secretary general since 2014, is Norwegian, while his immediate predecessor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is Danish. Dutch officials have held the office three times – 1961-64, 1971-84 and 2004-09.

Early on, as officials speculated about Stoltenberg's successor, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas was nominated for the role. Latvian Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš also recently expressed interest in the role.

Given Russia's war and the extremely sensitive nature of the job, which requires speaking on behalf of a large number of countries and building consensus, some governments have signaled that they view Baltic candidates as too combative for the role.

Romania's President Klaus Iohannis was also mentioned as a possible candidate. Other names floated at the start of the race – including Britain's Ben Wallace – failed to generate enthusiasm.


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