Slovakia and Hungary Support Mark Rutte for NATO Secretary General

It is now almost certain that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will replace Jens Stoltenberg as NATO Secretary General

by Sededin Dedovic
Slovakia and Hungary Support Mark Rutte for NATO Secretary General
© Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Hungary has withdrawn its opposition and given the green light to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his candidacy for NATO Secretary General, the Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported today after the outgoing Dutch Prime Minister and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban met on the sidelines of the EU leaders' meeting in Brussels.

To support Rutte, Hungary had its own demands, including guarantees that Hungary would not have to provide financing to Ukraine or send its soldiers to the war-torn country. This condition was met last week by Stoltenberg, Reuters reports.

This year, the United States, Britain, France, and Germany supported Rutte’s candidacy to succeed Stoltenberg, who will step down as NATO Secretary General in October. Turkey told its allies in April that it would also support Rutte.

New member Finland also supports his candidacy, which was evident at the Munich Security Conference. Finland's incoming president Stubb says he wishes Rutte "good luck" in the position. Romania, which had its own candidate, still needs to give its support.

NATO makes decisions by consensus, so each candidate needs the support of all 32 allies. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis announced his candidacy for the top NATO position in March, claiming that Eastern European countries need better representation in Euro-Atlantic leadership roles.

U.S. President Joe Biden hosts Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office at the White House on May 07, 2024 in Washin© Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Today, Slovakia also announced its support, and now we might definitively have the new NATO Secretary General.

Slovakia supports the proposed appointment of Mark Rutte as the next NATO Secretary General, Slovak President Peter Pellegrini said today on national television. Slovakia is one of the last countries in the alliance to support the outgoing Dutch Prime Minister.

Slovakia preferred a geographically closer candidate from Central and Eastern Europe, such as Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who was also a candidate, but now supports Rutte, Pellegrini said after the EU summit in Brussels.

After a final discussion with Mark Rutte and consultations with the Slovak government, Slovakia can envision Mark Rutte as NATO chief and will support him, Pellegrini said live on the news. Slovakia, which borders Ukraine, emphasized the need for the next NATO chief to help protect Slovak airspace, Pellegrini said, after the previous Slovak government donated an S-300 system to Ukraine and allies withdrew the Patriot system that was temporarily stationed there.

US support was of crucial importance

Stoltenberg's successor, when he steps down in October, will take office at a key moment, tasked with maintaining NATO members' support for the costly defense of Ukraine against the Russian invasion, while avoiding any escalation that would draw the alliance directly into war with Moscow.

“President Biden strongly supports Prime Minister Rutte’s candidacy for the next NATO Secretary General,” said an unnamed US official quoted by AFP. “Prime Minister Rutte deeply understands the importance of the alliance, is a natural leader and communicator, and his leadership would serve the alliance well at this critical moment”.

Depending on the outcome of the US presidential elections in November, the next NATO chief may have to face a second term of Donald Trump, who previously drew fierce criticism from Western officials for questioning his commitment to defending NATO allies if re-elected.

President Donald Trump (R) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte pose for photographs after talking to reporters in the Oval Offic© Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Founded in 1949 to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War, NATO is a political and military alliance of North American and European countries.

Article 5 of the founding treaty contains the principle of collective defense—the idea that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. The longest-serving Dutch leader, 57-year-old Rutte, had good relations with various British, European, and American leaders—including Trump—during his tenure.

Rutte recently called on European leaders to “stop whining and complaining” about Trump and instead focus on what they could do to strengthen defense and help Ukraine. Supporting Rutte, the British Foreign Office said that he is a highly respected figure across NATO with serious defense and security credentials, and someone who will ensure that it remains strong and ready to defend against any need.

A senior French official said that Paris also supported Rutte, adding that President Emmanuel Macron was an early supporter of appointing the Dutchman to this role after he expressed interest in the position last year. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also supports Rutte, said a government spokesperson.

With public support from Washington, the predominant force in the alliance, and the three major European nations, now with the support of Hungary and Slovakia, we can almost certainly say that the Dutch Prime Minister will replace Stoltenberg in October.

However, it still depends on Romania, whose president Klaus Iohannis was Rutte's biggest rival, but as was the case before with the appointment, support will come last.