Who is in the frame to be the next NATO Secretary General?

By Nigel Chamberlain and Ian Davis, NATO Watch
The NATO summit in Wales in September will, according to Karl-Heinz Kamp, Director of Research Division at the NATO Defence College, be “bidding farewell to NATO Secretary General Rasmussen and agreeing a successor”. While there is more than likely, at the very least, a shortlist for the post under consideration, no clear candidates have emerged in public. Who might those candidates be?
In a 9th January Carnegie Europe article, Judy Dempsey wrote that NATO Ambassadors were “far from pleased” with the appointment of Anders Fogh Rasmussen to the post in August 2009. He was a serving Prime Minister while most previous NATO bosses had been drawn from national defence ministries. She added that “there is as yet no former or serving prime minister willing to throw his or her hat into the ring” and that a new Secretary General “will need nerves of steel, a bold imagination, and the tongue of an angel”.
Why is NATO’s top diplomat always a European?
NATO‘s top general is always an American and the Alliance‘s top diplomatic post of Secretary General is always filled by a European. The first Secretary General was appointed in April 1952 and since then twelve different European diplomats have served officially in the position and two others on a temporary basis. The official and somewhat tautological answer to the question is that this arrangement is intended to balance the influence of the United States, which appoints the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), NATO's top general. And hence you have a perpetual merry-go-round of European civilian leadership and American military leadership of the Alliance.
Is Liam Fox the early frontrunner?
Also on the 9th January, Tim Shipman wrote in the Daily Mail that former UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox, “probably NATO's biggest supporter in the Commons”, is being tipped for the post which carries a tax-free salary of around £180,000. Supporters suggest that the UK Prime Minister may reward Mr Fox’s loyalty, since his forced resignation from the Cabinet in October 2011, with a nomination to succeed Mr Rasmussen when it is discussed in July. This news was picked up by the Atlantic Council. The last British Secretary General was George Robertson who stood down as Defence Secretary in 1999 to take up his new post in Brussels.
And the following day, Isabel Hardman reported in The Spectator that Tobias Ellwood had been appointed as the Prime Minister’s parliamentary adviser for the NATO Summit. She noted that this was an interesting appointment as Ellwood was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Liam Fox when he was Defence Secretary and mussed whether he would also “be able to prepare the ground a little for his old boss as he works as the Prime Minister’s adviser”?
In light of the above, Liam Fox’s article in The Telegraph on 15 December 2013 might be seen as an early application for the job. He opens with his usual dismissal of any European combined forces taking responsibility for the protection of Europe other than as part of NATO. Long regarded as both a fully committed Atlanticist and Eurosceptic, his enthusiasm for promoting the Alliance is unbounded:
There is no doubt that NATO needs to reassert its political identity, as well as concentrate on its military hardware, if it is to maintain its relevance and vitality, but it’s geographically varied membership, its collective economic strength and its military capability makes it the world’s most powerful security organisation.
He goes on to recap the familiar theme of growing imbalance in transatlantic burden sharing and criticises individual European nations for “failing to bring what they promised to the table”. He concludes: “What is certain is that you cannot have a collective insurance policy and expect only a few members to pay the premiums. That is neither wise nor sustainable.”
Despite his credentials and probable interest in becoming Secretary General, it is likely Mr Fox’s outspoken commentary and abrasive manner will be deemed ‘too undiplomatic’ by the inner circle of decision-makers.
Who else might join the race?
An earlier front runner, according to Spiegel in July 2013, was the German Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière. They were informed of his candidacy by ‘unnamed sources’.Other names already thrown into the ring are Belgium Defence Minister Pieter de Crem, who Deutsche Welle believes has a good chance as he represents a small EU country, fits the proportionality criteria and may be deemed a favourable choice by the United States. However, cost overruns on the new NATO HQ during his watch may well count against him. The German newspaper also suggests Turkish President Abdullah Gul as a possibility as well as EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso who is “known to be a good friend of the United States”.
As long ago as May 2012, the Turkish European Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış stated that President Gül would be the best choice for the top alliance job, provided that Gül would be willing to take it. This followed an Atlantic Council report suggesting that a Turkish NATO Secretary General could be elected within the next 10 years, given Turkey’s exemplary contribution in its 60-year membership in the organization.
Elsewhere, Poland’s Foreign Minister, Radek Sikorski, is again being considered as a safe prospect for the post. His candidacy was supported by The Telegraph in 2009. He is married to Anne Applebaum, a Polish American journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written extensively about communism and the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe.
On 17 January, the Vienna Daily Presse reported that Franco Frattini, a former Italian Foreign Minister and EU Commissioner "has most likely won the race, and his appointment is currently regarded as almost certain”. But they don’t say by whom. Frattini laid the foundations for his candidacy in an exclusive interview with Allvoices in September 2013 during which he said: “NATO needs inevitable transformation and a new role that would be much stronger.”
One to watch for the future, perhaps even for a late run on the inside track this year, is Norwegian Minister for National Defence, Ine Eriksen Soreide. In a bullish speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on 9 January, she called for more NATO exercises, greater commitment to out-of-area operations and investment in intelligence and missile defence capabilities. Playing to her Washington DC audience, she said European allies should be more willing to address US security concerns outside Europe and she criticised the ‘Smart Defence’ initiative as no more than a slogan aimed at dressing up military spending reductions: "If you do that in an uncoordinated manner, the risk is that you end up losing vital capabilities that are crucial to the alliance and to alliance security.” Perhaps as a marker to get her name in the starting line-up, she concluded: "In a sea of instability, there is no better anchor than NATO”. However, all 12 previous incumbents have been male and this is the first sign of a Boadicea in the running.
Place your bets
Well, that completes NATO Watch’s January review of the undeclared, early runners and riders for the race to succeed Anders Fogh Rasmussen. It is likely that the real jockeying for position will get under way after the major EU appointments are made in May. If the authors of this review were betting men, we would be placing a few Euros on the dark horse from Poland (with the proviso that Mr Sikorski may just be keeping his powder dry for a shot at becoming the next Secretary General of the United Nations). However, it does look at this stage that Mr Frattini may already have his neck over the starting line.

Finally, it is worth asking again, is this 'selection process' still a good way to run a much-changed and enlarged 21st Century security organisation?  While the post is selected by consensus among the NATO member states, it seems an archaic way for an intergovernmental organisation supposedly framed by democratic values to select its leader. A more open and transparent selection process for NATO‘s top civilian job is surely long overdue.