Jens Stoltenberg to retire in September: Who would be the next NATO boss?

The fight to become NATO’s next chief is heating up. But it’s a race that’s mostly being run in the dark, with no clear winner yet. Jens Stoltenberg, the Norwegian secretary-general of the transatlantic military alliance, is set to retire at the end of September after nine years in office.

Many alliance members want his replacement decided at, or perhaps before, the NATO summit in Lithuania in mid-July.

That does not allow NATO’s 31 states, which range from the United States to new member Finland to Turkey, much time to reach an agreement on a new head. They might possibly request a fourth extension of Stoltenberg’s mandate.

Whoever takes over will do so at a crucial juncture, confronting the dual task of keeping allies united in support of Ukraine while avoiding any escalation that might bring NATO straight into a confrontation with Russia.

Last week, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace expressed interest in the position. However, as some states press for the first female NATO Secretary-General, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is emerging as a viable contender.

Despite being a very visible position, the competition is fairly opaque, taking place mostly through conversations among leaders and diplomats. These conversations will continue until all NATO members feel they have achieved an agreement.

According to Jamie Shea, a former senior NATO official who worked with the alliance for 38 years, leaders will be evaluated.

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“Keeping the family together, keeping everybody on board constantly, being in touch with all of the allies to make sure that you’re addressing their concerns, is an important part of the job,” Shea told Reuters. 

Wallace vs Frederiksen

Many diplomats regard Wallace as a long shot for the post, despite his high regard within the alliance. Some members view his desire to choose a lady negatively.

Many people would also prefer a former prime minister or president as NATO’s leader to assure top-level political clout. Stoltenberg, 64, was Norway’s prime minister.

Some countries, most notably France, want someone from the European Union, hoping for better collaboration between NATO and the EU.

Frederiksen fits all of the requirements listed above. Although she has stated that she is not a candidate, she has not stated that she is uninterested in the position. NATO diplomats claim she is being seriously evaluated behind the scenes.

If Frederiksen got the job, she would be the third NATO chief in a row from a Nordic country.

(With inputs from agencies)

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