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Dutch PM leading position for NATO secretary general: Issues standing in his way revealed

Dutch PM leading position for NATO secretary general: Issues standing in his way revealed Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (Photo: Getty Images)

Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, who is stepping down, is considered the favorite for the position of the new NATO chief. However, opposition arises in the United States due to his government's insufficient spending on Alliance defense, and the idea that "it's time for a woman at the top" is also not in his favor, according to Politico.

The agency writes, citing two European officials and a diplomat who wished to remain anonymous, that Rutte is considered a firm favorite.

"He's certainly a heavyweight, he's a very good candidate," said the Polish Ambassador to NATO, Tomasz Szatkowski.

One official reported that Rutte has secured the support of "senior U.S. and German officials."

France, another country that plays a crucial role, also supports Rutte, primarily due to his relationship with President Emmanuel Macron, one of Rutte's early supporters in his quest for a higher position in NATO.

"That Macron and Rutte appreciate each other is no secret," said a French diplomat.

Other candidates

However, some U.S. lawmakers strongly oppose Rutte because the Netherlands cannot consistently meet NATO's defense spending target of 2% of GDP.

This puts him at a disadvantage compared to Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who expressed her interest in working for NATO during her visit to Washington last week. Her government has agreed to increase defense spending to 3% of GDP by 2024-2027 from 2.85% this year. Tallinn also actively supports Ukraine in terms of armaments.

Among the candidates is also Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins, whose statement on Sunday about running, according to a diplomat, even surprised some in Riga.

As Politico specifies, the candidacies of Kallas and Karins irritate some Western Europeans who are "still smarting from the intense criticism they faced from Baltic nations that they are insufficiently supportive of Ukraine and too fearful to challenge Russia."

U.S. position

According to the publication, the White House has evaded questions about whether U.S. President Joe Biden prefers Rutte.

"We're not going to get into internal deliberations over the next secretary general. We look forward to working closely with allies to identify a secretary general who can lead the Alliance at this critical time for transatlantic security," said a representative of the National Security Council.

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska and senior Senate Armed Services Committee member, said that Rutte "should be unequivocally disqualified" because of "his country's record on NATO burden sharing." He said, "deep bipartisan frustration in the U.S. about NATO members not pulling their weight."

Politico notes that "the Netherlands has a poor track record," citing figures. In 2014, they spent only 1.15% of their GDP on defense, while the Alliance aims to spend at the 2% level. This year, The Hague will spend 1.7% of GDP and has agreed to pay 2.03% in 2024 and 2.01% in 2025.

Some members of Biden's Democratic Party also believe that it is time for a woman to lead NATO.

"I’ve long thought it was time the allies appoint the first woman NATO secretary general. That said, it’s critical that support for NATO remains strong and bipartisan in the Senate, and for that to happen, the successor for this important position should hail from a country that is meeting the 2 percent defense spending commitment or has a robust plan in place to meet that goal, which was agreed to by all allies in Vilnius," said the co-chair of the NATO Observers Group in the U.S. Senate.

NATO's Eastern Flank candidate

As NATO coordinates its members' efforts to assist Ukraine in its struggle against Russia, calls are also being made for someone from the Alliance's eastern flank to become the next leader.

"Maybe at some point, it is also [the] right time for the alliance to look at the region of Eastern Europe. So my preference ... would be at some point to see [a] secretary general representing Eastern Europe," said Ukraine's Ambassador to NATO Natalia Galibarenko, responding with "why not" to journalists' questions about Kallas's candidacy.


Stoltenberg has repeatedly stated that he does not want to remain NATO secretary-general, but a worthy replacement has not yet been found.

NATO member countries discussed various options for Stoltenberg's successor. Among the possible contenders was the U.K. Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace. However, his candidacy was not supported in the U.S.

There were also rumors about appointing the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez as NATO secretary general.

In June, it was reported that Stoltenberg will likely stay in his position for another year.