Support for NATO Chief Conceals Bitter Behind-the-Scenes Battle



MIA „Rosiya Segodnya“




Sputnik International


MIA „Rosiya Segodnya“

Sputnik International


MIA „Rosiya Segodnya“

jens stoltenberg, ben wallace, nato, secretary general, general secretary, ukraine, russia, north atlantic treaty organization, behind-the-scenes, politics

jens stoltenberg, ben wallace, nato, secretary general, general secretary, ukraine, russia, north atlantic treaty organization, behind-the-scenes, politics

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced in February that he would leave the job after his term expires in October. Last week, amid reports of a deadlock regarding his replacement, Stoltenberg said he might stay on. Behind the scenes, a hidden transatlantic feud risks bubbling to the surface.

UK Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace, seen by media as the top candidate to replace Stoltenberg when he resigns as NATO chief, announced Wednesday that he has no plans to put his hat in the ring for the job. “It’s not going to happen,” Wallace said, suggesting the alliance may “want a prime minister” for the NATO chief role instead of a career military man like himself.
British media reported earlier this month that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak planned to personally lobby Wallace’s candidacy to US President Joe Biden as Stoltenberg’s replacement. Stoltenberg, who became NATO chief in 2014, is the second-longest-serving secretary general in NATO’s history, behind only Dutch-born NATO chief Joseph Luns, who held the post between 1971 and 1984.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, another figure mentioned as a possible challenger to Stoltenberg, also brushed off her possible candidacy this month, saying she’s not looking for a job and is “happy to be prime minister of Denmark.”
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Wallace’s comments follow reports late last week that the US had expressed unspecified “reservations” about the British defense chief’s candidacy, with some US military officials reportedly “unhappy” with his “forcing the pace” on the crisis in Ukraine.
Formally, NATO’s rules require consensus of all 31 of its members to choose a new general secretary. In place of a vote, members simply discuss potential candidates until a mutually-agreeable name can be found. In practice, major bloc countries like the US, UK, and France, as well as Germany, have more influence on the decision. An American occupies the bloc’s top military position – the post of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), at all times, hinting at where the real power lies.

Alongside Wallace and Frederiksen, other names floated to replace Stoltenberg have included Canada’s hawkish former Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, who now serves as deputy prime minister, and Ursula von der Leyen, the former German defense minister now serving as president of the European Commission.

In his remarks Wednesday, Wallace mentioned that whoever the next NATO chief is, they’re “going to have to please both [French President Emmanuel] Macron and Biden.” Those comments came after UK media reported last week that Paris had communicated to Washington and other NATO allies that France sought someone from the European Union to take up the job, and opposed Wallace’s candidacy. Norway, Stoltenberg’s home country, is not a member of the European economic bloc, and the UK left the EU in 2020.
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Stoltenberg Status Quo

“I don’t think that the Americans ‘prefer’ Stoltenberg,” Matthew Gordon-Banks, former Conservative MP and senior research fellow at the UK Defense Academy, told Sputnik in an interview.

“I think the Biden administration wishes to maintain the status quo up until the next US presidential elections in 2024, and it seems until then, US policy will continue to press Ukraine for further attempts at offensives in the meantime,” the observer said.

“The easiest thing for the US, who largely control NATO, is to keep Stoltenberg in place even longer as arguably the British government will not wish a parliamentary by-election were Ben Wallace to resign to take up the role of head of NATO,” Gordon-Banks said.

As for President Macron’s reported desire to see an EU official in the job, Gordon-Banks said he doesn’t see “any high caliber candidates” mentioned so far who could rival Wallace in terms of political skills, military experience and support from Washington. Even if Wallace did take up the job, it would continue to be “business as usual” within the alliance, with the British defense chief “fully-paid up to the Western NATO narrative,” the observer said.

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Only One Voice That Matters

Dr. Deepti Bisht, founder of UNIT – a UK-based defense and intelligence analysis resource, agrees with Gordon-Banks’ assessment on the insignificance of French wishes as far as the NATO gen-sec post goes.

“The shots are being called by the United States. And frankly, unless there is a big decisive factor that Macron is putting forward, I don’t think the US would listen to Macron on such an important matter,” the observer told Sputnik. “Decisions of [this] sort are made in the United States keeping US interests in the center. Whether EU states like it or not,” she added.

“What’s going on behind the scenes is something difficult to gauge. But I guess the most important decision-making factor would be to see what Stoltenberg is representing. The Russia-Ukraine situation is primarily a European situation and Stoltenberg being a European, experienced in diplomacy and being the head of NATO for several years is the natural choice in this particular time,” Dr. Bisht said.

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