Some notable issues on NATO’s possible new secretary-general

Some notable issues on NATO’s possible new secretary-general

John Stoltenberg’s term as NATO Secretary General is set to end on October 1, 2024. Among the names discussed as his possible successor are Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins, and European Commission President Von der Leyen. However, the frontrunner among them all is Mark Rutte.

Rutte holds the record for the longest-serving prime minister in Dutch history, with a tenure of 13 years, making him the second in the rank in Europe after Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Rutte resigned last year ahead of the elections, which the current prime minister Geert Wilders won.

Support from the US, Germany, UK and France

On February 22, the spokesperson for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Steffen Hebestreit wrote on his social media account, “Chancellor Scholz supports the nomination of Mark Rutte as the new Secretary General of NATO” and added that Rutte is an “outstanding candidate.”[1]

The US, the UK and France are not behind Germany in endorsing Rutte. According to Reuters, a US official stated, “President Biden strongly endorses PM Rutte’s candidacy to be the next Secretary General of NATO.” The British Foreign Office said that Rutte is a “well-respected figure across NATO with serious defense and security credentials” and a senior French official shared that “President Emmanuel Macron had been an early supporter of putting the Dutchman in the role, having sounded him out about the post last year.”[2]

Helga Schmidt in the German Tagesschau makes an analysis titled “Why Rutte is the favorite for NATO Secretary General” exploring the reasons behind Rutte’s suitability for the position.[3]

If Trump becomes president again

Schmidt writes, “Rutte has been notably vocal on NATO matters, lastly at the Munich Security Conference.” Maybe the most dangerous of those “matters” is Trump’s coming back, or in Schmidt’s words, “Putin’s return to the White House”. In that case “Europe would be relatively isolated within NATO” Schmidt writes and draws attention to that Rutte’s statements on the matter. Schmidt shares that Rutte said at the Munich Security Conference in that bad scenario with Trump, “European nations would need to invest significantly more money in their armies,” however, that “should not be made solely because of Trump.”

In an article in Politico titled “Can Mark Rutte save NATO?” by Eva Hartlog and Stuart Lau, former NATO Assistant Secretary-General Camille Grand, now a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, is quoted as saying, “As one of the longest-serving prime ministers in Europe, Rutte experienced the rise and fall of Trump 1 and is well-placed to handle a possible Trump 2.”[4] It seems that Rutte’ positioning around NATO matters, like Trump’s possible presidency, raise positive expectations for some.

From the centers of global major capital to NATO

In the European press, there seems to be a consensus that Rutte is a favorable choice for the Transatlantic alliance. In the title of an analysis in the German Taz, Rutte is described as “A Transatlanticist from Holland.”[5]

The German Telepolis website published an important review, “The Strategic Choice of NATO: Why Mark Rutte is Favored”[6], One answer to the question in the title is follows: “His early experiences in multinational corporations and loyalty to Anglo-American interests give him the best prospects.” Might be crucial to understand Rutte’s popularity.

Rutte begins his career in 1992 as a personnel manager in a subcontractor of the British multinational food company Unilever and continues until 2002.

An intriguing aspect of Unilever, as identified by the Lobbycontrol association, is its membership in “the most influential transatlantic lobby organizations,” such as the Transatlantic Business Council (TBC). Unilever is described as a “strategic partner” at the World Economic Forum (WEF). And Unilever, as noted by Lobbycontrol, sits on the International Advisory Board of the Atlantic Council, characterized as “an extremely effective US think tank and lobbying organization controlled by globally active companies and former high-ranking government officials and military personnel.”

Telepolis draws parallel Rutte’s such characteristics with those of former NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg: “Under Stoltenberg’s leadership, Norway became the largest donor country to the so-called Vaccine Alliance GAVI, a public-private partnership founded in 2000 at the WEF in Davos. Consistently, between his positions as Prime Minister and Secretary-General, Stoltenberg sat on the management board of GAVI.”

Telepolis gives another evidence to Rutte’s mentioned “loyalty”. In 2022, Rutte claims that he has no knowledge of the famous 2020 publication of WEF titled “Covid 19: The Great Reset” in the Dutch parliament, however, he later contradicts himself through his correspondence with Klaus Schwab, the founder of WEF.

And another example of “loyalty”: “Rutte is said to have abolished the Dutch tax on dividends against the will of the majority in order to keep the two companies in the Netherlands at the behest of Unilever and the oil giant Shell. Rutte first tried to block the enquiry and then claimed that he could not remember the alleged collusion.”

Türkiye and Hungary: “throwing spanners” in NATO

Another matter addressed in the European press related to Rutte’s possible nomination is Türkiye and Hungary’s “heresy” within NATO. In the article in Politico, following the mention that the appointment of the new NATO Secretary General must be signed by all NATO members, it is reminded that Türkiye and Hungary “have previously thrown spanners in the alliance’s works, or at least tried to leverage important decisions.”

The article further reports information obtained from a senior European official: “Rutte had been trying to secure a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — so far without success. According to European diplomats, Turkey wants assurances that Rutte will follow in the footsteps of Stoltenberg, who comes from non-EU Norway, and not favor EU members within the alliance.”

Regarding Hungary, the article states: “The two leaders have clashed in the past over rule-of-law violations and LGBTQ rights in Hungary, with Orban accusing ‘the Dutch guy’ of ‘hating’ him and his country, and Rutte daring the Hungarian strongman to leave the EU.”

In another article in Politico, Alexander Ward, Paul McLeary and Stuart Lau touches upon the disagreements between NATO and the two countries: “Any candidate for the job must get through Turkey and Hungary, which have proven the biggest hurdles to accepting new members. Turkey has reportedly asked for reassurances before backing Rutte, while Hungary has had longstanding disagreements with the Dutch premier.”[7] Also, in the article with title “Turkey Wants Rutte’s Neutrality Promise for Backing His NATO Bid” in Bloomberg on February 13th, Selcan Hacaoğlu and Çağan Koç also discuss the same.[8]

According to the French Les Echos, the Turkish press has reported on the list of “guarantees” Erdoğan aims to obtain from Rutte: “At the forefront of these demands is the complete impartiality of Mark Rutte concerning two EU states, Greece and Cyprus. Unsurprisingly, Türkiye also seeks assurances for the complete lifting of all restrictions on arms sales to it, because Rutte had previously imposed an embargo on defense exports to Ankara following Türkiye’s military incursion in northern Syria.”[9]

A new job for Mark Rutte

Let’s conclude by quoting Thierry Baudet, leader of the Forum for Democracy Party (Forum voor Democratie – FVD), criticising Rutte in his speech at the Dutch Parliament on 13 February:

“What does the Netherlands gain by persistently aligning itself with, or to be more accurate, leading in the extremist American and Israeli policies? What does the Netherlands gain by consistently alienating itself from the new emerging economies of the East? If it’s all about securing a new job for Mark Rutte, perhaps at NATO, there are cheaper ways for that. Just state the salary you desire, and we’ll pay it, so we don’t jeopardize our national security by giving away our F-16s to be shot down in an unwinnable war.”[10]

[1] https://twitter.com/RegSprecher/status/1760715211013521862?s=20

[2] https://www.reuters.com/world/uk-backs-dutch-pm-rutte-become-next-nato-chief-2024-02-22/

[3] https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/europa/nato-rutte-100.html

[4] https://www.politico.eu/article/mark-rutte-nato-donald-trump-vladimir-putin/

[5] https://taz.de/Mark-Rutte-als-neuer-Nato-Chef/!5994189&s=rutte/

[6] https://www.telepolis.de/features/Die-strategische-Wahl-der-Nato-Warum-Mark-Rutte-favorisiert-wird-9637959.html

[7] https://www.politico.com/news/2024/02/21/biden-backs-dutch-pm-mark-rutte-for-top-nato-job-00142554

[8] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-02-13/turkey-has-list-of-asks-for-rutte-before-it-signs-off-on-his-nato-bid?embedded-checkout=true

[9] https://www.lesechos.fr/industrie-services/air-defense/les-etats-unis-poussent-le-candidat-mark-rutte-a-la-tete-de-lotan-2078770

[10] https://uwidata.com/33270-the-dutch-leader-thierry-baudet-breaks-the-mold/

Şafak Erdem

Şafak Erdem was born in Istanbul in 1993. He completed primary and secondary school in Istanbul, then studied philosophy and sociology as an undergraduate at Boğaziçi University. He is currently doing a master's degree in philosophy.

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May 2024