Monday, 19 January 2009

Who's Next for NATO Secretary General

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will leave his post this summer after five years in the job. The International Herald Tribune reported on the discreet moves that are being made on his replacement.

Though he has not declared any interest publicly, the front-runner is Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark, an experienced and current leader, albeit of a smallish NATO nation. His closest challenger is Radek Sikorski, foreign minister of Poland. Again, Sikorski has expressed no desire for the post, though observers noted a speech he made at a recent NATO ministerial meeting with Ukraine. Sikorski spoke in French, thereby, the theory goes, answering criticism that his main weakness as a candidate for NATO's top job is a less than perfect grasp of the language of Molière.

It’s early days yet, and indeed nothing can really happen until President-Elect Obama begins to focus on the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit in early April, where the decision will be made.

Rasmussen himself has denied the rumours, but that is only to be expected. Otherwise the Danes are remaining discreetly in the background. But the Poles are lobbying hard in public, as well as in private, for their candidate. Gazeta Wyborcza recently reported Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as saying:

It would be a great opportunity for Poland if Radek Sikorski became the next Nato secretary general,' said the PM, but added that at this point the odds of this happening were 'between 20-30 percent.' Mr Tusk stressed though that Mr Sikorski had both the experience and the expertise to become the alliance's next head.

This may well backfire. If a candidate is pushed overtly it rarely helps. The choice of the next Secretary General will also reflect something of the direction that the Alliance is likely to take. The choice of Sikorski would be seen as grounding the Alliance firmly as a vehicle for European defence. Choosing Rasmussen would signal that those who have ambitions to transform NATO into a global security provider have the upper hand. It will be an interesting choice.