Published: 14:28, June 21, 2024
Rutte seen landing top NATO job
By Julian Shea in London

Outgoing Dutch PM expected to replace Stoltenberg as head of Western military alliance

The Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte attends a press conference with NATO secretary general and some leaders of Nato members (not in the picture) in front of the Catshuis, official residence of the Dutch prime minister, in The Hague on June 27, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

Mark Rutte, the outgoing Dutch prime minister, is on course to become the next secretary-general of the NATO military alliance, replacing Jens Stoltenberg, the current chief, media outlets, including Dutch national broadcaster NOS, reported on June 18, after Hungary and Slovakia backed Rutte.

Speaking at a news conference alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, Stoltenberg neither confirmed nor denied the media reports.

“With the announcement 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,” he told reporters, while praising Rutte.

“I think Mark is a very strong candidate … He’s a close friend and colleague, and I therefore strongly believe that very soon, the alliance will have decided on my successor,” Stoltenberg said.

Orban had announced that he had no objection to Rutte’s appointment.

Hungary’s close ties with Russia left Orban in a position of significant influence when it came to the appointment process.

Hungary has been at odds with other NATO countries over its ties with Russia and refusal to send arms to Ukraine, with Hungary’s foreign minister last month labeling plans to help Kyiv a “crazy mission”.

Orban’s backing means that, of the 32 members of the military alliance, only Romania has yet to give its backing to Rutte, support that is expected soon.

Turkiye and Slovakia have also changed course on Rutte’s bid, with Ankara saying in April it would support him and Slovakia announcing its support on June 18.

Rutte will step down from the domestic role he has held for 14 years once the new Dutch coalition government is formed.

Under his leadership, the Netherlands has ramped up defense spending above the 2 percent threshold of GDP required of NATO members, providing F-16 fighter jets, artillery, drones, and ammunition to Kyiv as well as investing heavily in its own military.

During a trip to China in late March, Rutte held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang. Rutte emphasized that his country values its friendly relations with China, and that the Dutch government stands ready to better facilitate the exchange of personnel and enhance cooperation in the economy, trade, and cutting carbon emissions.

Rutte is also regarded as being one of the most successful figures from within the European Union in dealing with former US president Donald Trump, who is standing for reelection.

At last year’s Munich Security Conference, Rutte told world leaders they should stop “moaning and whining about Trump”, and spend more on their own defense and munitions production.

Stoltenberg’s term will end on Oct 1, 10 years after taking office in 2014 with extension of his term four times. NATO’s annual summit will be held in Washington next month, after which Rutte could be taking over.

After Rutte gained the backing of nearly all alliance members, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on June 19 that he would address, at a state defense council meeting on June 20, whether he will continue his bid to become the next chief of NATO.

“After (the meeting) I will tell the public. I can assure you that … you will be fully informed,” he said.

Agencies contributed to this story.