NATO members choose Mark Rutte as new Secretary General

Dutch Prime Minister wins unanimous support for top NATO post

by Faruk Imamovic
NATO members choose Mark Rutte as new Secretary General
© Getty Images/Patrick van Katwijk

On Wednesday, members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) made an important decision on the future leadership of the organization. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has been elected as the new Secretary General of NATO, succeeding long-time leader Jens Stoltenberg.

Appointment at a crucial time

Rutte's election comes at a time of important geopolitical challenges for NATO. Currently, the alliance is facing a war in Ukraine, which has shaken the security situation in Europe. Also, there is tension about the future attitude of the United States towards the transatlantic alliance, which further emphasizes the importance of this appointment.

Reuters reports that Rutte's appointment became certain after his only rival for the position, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, withdrew from the race last week. Iohannis failed to secure the necessary majority of support among NATO members.

"The North Atlantic Council decided to appoint Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as the next Secretary General of NATO, succeeding Jens Stoltenberg," NATO said in a statement. "Mr Rutte will assume his functions as Secretary General from 1 October 2024, when Mr Stoltenberg’s term expires after ten years at the helm of the Alliance," it added.

Support and challenges

Last year, Rutte voiced his interest in this high position in NATO. He quickly gained the support of key alliance members, including the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany. This early support from influential countries greatly strengthened his position in the race for Secretary General.

However, the path to the appointment was not without obstacles. Some NATO members, especially the countries of Eastern Europe, were reserved for Rutte's candidacy. These countries believed that the position of Secretary General should go to someone from their region, arguing that it would contribute to a better understanding of the security challenges faced by the countries on NATO's eastern flank.

Despite the initial hesitation, in the end all the members stood behind Rutte. His reputation as a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a strong ally of Ukraine played a key role in winning the support of Eastern European countries. These views are considered particularly important in the current geopolitical context, where NATO seeks to provide strong support to Ukraine and deter potential threats to stability in the region.

Selection process and consensus

NATO makes decisions by consensus, which means that Rutte's appointment required the support of all 32 members of the alliance. This principle ensures that each member country has a voice in key decisions of the organization, regardless of its size or military power.

Rutte, who is retiring from Dutch politics after nearly 14 years as prime minister, brings a wealth of experience in international diplomacy and managing complex negotiations. These skills will be invaluable in his new role, where he will have to balance the interests of various member states and lead NATO through a turbulent geopolitical period.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg assessed that Mark Rutte is a strong candidate for his deputy, after the outgoing Dutch Prime Minister received the support of Hungary and Slovakia.

Mark Rutte
Mark Rutte© Getty Images/Sedat Suna

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization makes decisions by consensus, so the candidate must get the support of all 32 allies. Only Romania still opposes Rutte's candidacy, given that its president Klaus Iohannis also wants the position.

The Dutch broadcaster NOS announced, citing sources familiar with the matter, that Rutte will succeed Stoltenberg, who is leaving office in October, after almost ten years at the helm of the Alliance.

"Mark is a true transatlanticist, a strong leader, and a consensus-builder," he said. "I know I am leaving NATO in good hands."

"With the announcement of [the support of Hungarian] Prime Minister [Viktor] Orban, I think it's obvious that we are very close to a conclusion to select the next secretary general, and I think that's good news," Mr Stoltenberg told reporters, while praising Mr Rutte.

Nato's next secretary general will face the challenge of sustaining allies' support for Ukraine's fight against Russia's invasion, while guarding against any escalation that could draw the military alliance directly into a war with Moscow.

Support from Hungary

"I think Mark is a very strong candidate. He has a lot of experience as prime minister. He's a close friend and colleague, and I therefore strongly believe that very soon, the alliance will have decided on my successor," he said. "And that will be good for all of us, for Nato and also for me."

Hungary supported Rutte after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán met with Stoltenberg last week, where the two sides agreed that Hungary would not block NATO's decision to support Ukraine, but that it would not participate in it either.

"PM Mark Rutte confirmed that he fully supports this deal and will continue to do so, should he become the next secretary general of Nato," Mr Orban wrote on X.

"In light of his pledge, Hungary is ready to support PM Rutte’s bid for Nato secretary general."