© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Banners displaying the NATO logo are placed at the entrance of new NATO headquarters during the move to the new building, in Brussels, Belgium April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
By Andrew Gray
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The race to be the next NATO boss is heating up. But it is a race run largely in the dark, with no sign of a winner yet.
Jens Stoltenberg, the transatlantic military alliance’s Norwegian secretary-general, is due to step down at the end of September after nine years in post.
Many alliance members would like his succession settled at, or even before, a NATO summit in Lithuania in mid-July.
That does not give NATO’s 31 nations, spanning from the United States through new member Finland to Turkey, much time to forge the consensus needed to pick a new leader. They could also ask Stoltenberg to extend his term for a fourth time.
Whoever takes the reins will do so at a critical time, facing the twin challenges of keeping allies together in supporting Ukraine while guarding against any escalation that would draw NATO directly into a war with Russia.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace declared last week that he would like the job. But, as some governments push for a first female NATO secretary-general, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is also emerging as a serious contender.
Though a very public role, the contest is extremely opaque, played out mainly in consultations among leaders and diplomats. Those consultations continue until all NATO members agree they have reached a consensus.
Jamie Shea, a former senior NATO official who served with the alliance for 38 years, said leaders will be looking for a highly skilled politician, communicator and diplomat.
“Keeping the family together, keeping everybody on board constantly, being in touch with all of the allies to make sure that you’re addressing their concerns, is an important part of the job,” said Shea, now with the Chatham House think tank.
WALLACE AND FREDERIKSEN
Many diplomats see Wallace as a long shot for the job, although he is widely respected across the alliance. The desire to pick a woman counts against him with some members.
Many would also prefer a former prime minister or president to ensure NATO’s boss has top-level political clout. Stoltenberg, 64, was prime minister of Norway.
And some, notably France, want someone from a European Union country, hoping for closer cooperation between NATO and the EU.
Frederiksen meets all of the above…
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