The Battle For NATO Chief

After NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced in February that he would leave the job after his term expires in October, a battle for choosing the next NATO chief ensued.

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.”

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.

According to Acting Kherson Governor Vladimir Saldo, Ukraine’s military has conducted strikes on bridges near the village of Chongar on the border with Crimea.

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