The North Atlantic Alliance is actively discussing the change of leadership. The choice of NATO Secretary General promises to be not just a replacement of one bureaucrat for another but a breath of fresh air.
The Alliance is expecting some reformation against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. NATO stands on the threshold of significant changes in the global security architecture.
The first names of future candidates for the post of NATO’s head are already mentioned in the media. And although it is impossible to say for sure that one or another candidate will necessarily preside over the Alliance.
Struggle between regions for leadership
The main issue around which the main discussions are going on is from which region the NATO Secretary General will be appointed. The primary choice is between candidates from North America, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. At the same time, each party is interested in such a presidency.
- North America is currently supporting a candidate from Canada. The United States does not put forward its proposals because the American general is traditionally the supreme commander of European allies. Due to this, the United States has a strong position on the continent.
- It is beneficial for the UK to get this position to strengthen the country’s activity on the European continent after Brexit and the withdrawal from the internal affairs of the European Union. The active role that the British are currently taking promises to only intensify under their presidency in NATO.
- The European Union is most interested in one of the member states of the bloc leading the Alliance. After all, unlike the United States, Britain, or Canada, the EU has a large common border with Russia, so proposals to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank can be more actively accepted under the leadership of a representative of the European Union.
Johnson and Wallace – two rocks of support for peace in the world
The United Kingdom wants to strengthen its participation in the life of Europe after Brexit and is considering the presidency in NATO. The most likely candidates from London are former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the head of the Ministry of Defense, Ben Wallace.
Johnson’s name was mentioned in this context as soon as it became known that he would be forced to leave the post of Prime Minister of Great Britain. It was expected that his candidacy would be announced immediately after the end of the cadence of the current Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg. Still, this issue was postponed for at least another year.
Boris Johnson is one of the most active in unleashing the Russian Federation’s war. His intense activity in helping Ukraine and countering Russia even forced some European leaders to wake up and not lag in international processes.
His appointment as the head of the Alliance could be as decisive as possible in Russia’s war of aggression. Still, there is a possibility that British domestic politics will not let him go.
What can prevent Johnson from leading NATO?
The fact is that the United Kingdom, after the unsuccessful premiership of Liz Truss, plunged into a political and economic crisis, and the Conservative Party, which Johnson once headed, significantly lost its position in the country.
Boris Johnson will likely decide to stay in British politics and run for the post of Prime Minister from the Conservative Party in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Considering Johnson’s uncertainty, the British are also considering the candidacy of Ben Wallace, the current British Defense Secretary. Wallace has also repeatedly spoken in favor of increasing support for Ukraine and openly called Russia a hostile state.
At the same time, as the recent primaries within the Conservative Party have shown, Wallace is quite satisfied to be engaged in defense. Therefore, even having a good rating among the Conservatives, he refused to run for the post of Prime Minister.
Considering the current direction of Wallace’s work as the head of the British Ministry of Defense, the post of NATO head may well interest him.
Canadian Minister Freeland’s power
Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is currently at the heart of discussions as a possible future NATO Secretary General. According to Western media, her name is increasingly mentioned in international defense circles, and her chances to lead the Alliance are pretty high.
Freeland is very much immersed in the political processes of Ukraine, Russia, and Eastern Europe in general and speaks many languages, including Ukrainian, Polish and Russian. Given the war and her understanding of Ukraine and Russia, Freeland could adequately assess the state of affairs in Ukraine and Eastern Europe and develop proposals that would both strengthen the Alliance and increase security.
However, such views towards Ukraine and a sharply negative attitude towards Russia may, on the contrary, create obstacles for her election to the post of the Alliance’s Chairman. The fact is that the decision will be made by consensus. And some NATO members may consider her person too provocative in this position because the Russians have included Freeland in the list of persons banned in Russia.
However, the US believes that a Canadian representative at the head of the Alliance could deepen Ottawa’s participation in NATO and bring a fresh breath to the Alliance’s policy. At the same time, Freeland herself, when asked directly by journalists about her plans to lead NATO, said that she had a lot of work to do inside Canada.
In any case, Chrystia Freeland seems to be the Western politician who could actively promote the theme of peace in the Alliance, and the promotion of her candidacy by the United States could be decisive if Freeland does plan to lead NATO.
The EU wants to promote a candidate from a member state of the bloc
In such difficult times, the person coming to the post of NATO Chairman will immediately face many challenges and the need to carry out specific reforms in the Alliance. After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has redoubled its efforts to improve its security.
There are more and more statements from EU political leaders about the need to create their internal military forces. However, strengthening positions in NATO is also necessary, especially given the accession of two more EU members – Sweden and Finland to the Alliance.
The last two heads of NATO came from the governments of EU member states, the current Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg from Norway and his predecessor Anders Fogh Rasmussen from Denmark. The European Union plans to continue this trend, which may also be a problem.
At the beginning of the year, even before the full-scale Russian invasion, there were several leading candidates for this position from the EU, including
- Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte,
- Romanian President Klaus Iohannis,
- the former head of the EU External Relations Service, Federica Mogherini,
- Estonian Prime Minister Kai Kallas.
The latter is also an ideal candidate for solving the large-scale issue of Russia’s war. Firstly, Kaja Kallas heads the government of one of the Baltic countries, which has an apparent attitude towards Russia and very close ties with Ukraine.
Most candidates are concerned about the critical issue of war in Europe
Since the beginning of the full-scale war, Kaja Kallas has been sharply negative against Russia and opposed negotiations with Vladimir Putin, whom she directly called a war criminal who should be held accountable for his aggression against Ukraine.
However, as in the case of Freeland, other Allies, especially France and Germany, may not want to appoint someone with such an unequivocal stance against Russia. They favor a future post-war relationship with Russia, and such a candidate at the head of the Alliance could undermine their efforts.
Stoltenberg may stay until 2024
There is a high probability that Jens Stoltenberg may stay as NATO Secretary General until 2024. When the war in Ukraine began, Stoltenberg was nearing the end of his term. Amid the war, he asked to extend his mandate for another two years. In the end, he was allowed to stay in office until the fall of 2023, but it seems that the election of the head of NATO will be postponed for another year.
This situation may be related to the European Union and the United States electoral cycle. The EU will elect a new leadership, so the member states of the bloc will be immersed in the internal electoral process.
At the same time, the United States will also be busy with the presidential election, which, firstly, will powerfully distract the White House from foreign policy and, secondly, can significantly change the political color of the whole country.
Given the post-traumatic syndrome of Europe from the presidency of Donald Trump, they would rather wait to know who they will have to deal with in the United States.
Thus, Jens Stoltenberg, who today looks like a man who has, not without difficulty, but still caught the necessary wave in the current political and military storm, might be the perfect compromise for everyone.
Stoltenberg simultaneously keeps NATO from escalation, which some member states fear, but also pursues a policy of strengthening eastern Europe and supporting Ukraine, which is reasonably satisfactory for the more determined countries of the Alliance.
Most member states would like to see someone in this position which is determined to end the war exhausting all countries. But most likely, the change of the head of the Alliance will take place after the war, as a result of which the Alliance’s approach to relations with Russia and Ukraine’s international position may change.