The North Atlantic Council, NATO's highest decision-making body, this afternoon approved former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg as Secretary General designate. Stoltenberg, leader of the Norwegian Labor party, will take up his post on 1 October, succeeding Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a Dane who has been NATO Secretary General for the last five years.
Stoltenberg will be the first Norwegian to occupy the post and will be the second NATO secretary general who has been the leader of his country, as opposed to the former ministers who held the position before Rasmussen. One of the reasons Rasmussen, who was Prime Minister of Denmark before becoming NATO Secretary General, was choosen was to provide strong leadership of the alliance at the height of its involvement in Afghanistan.
Stoltenberg will lead the alliance at a time when it faces a resurgent Russia and his strong leadership will be required to deal with this situation. Rasmussen said on Twitter, "The Ukraine-Russia crisis shows need for continued strong & determined leadership of NATO." Coming from a country that directly borders Russia, Stoltenberg will be in a good position to understand and reassure jittery eastern allies which feel threatened by events in Ukraine.
Stoltenberg's nomination demonstrates once again that the initial front runners for the post of NATO secretary general do not actually get the post. He beat out former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, German Interior Minister and former Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, and Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Pieter De Crem.
On a lighter note, Stoltenberg went undercover as a taxi driver last August to promote what turned out to be a failed bid for reelection in September (see video). Maybe he will be the first funny NATO secretary general since George Robertson occupied the post in 1999-2003, as I was reminded by the story Robertson told during last weekend's German Marshall Fund of the United States' Brussels Forum about the French ambassador to NATO's reaction to a speech in which he had called the European Union "an economic giant but a political pygmy": "You must remember, Mr. Secretary General, that anthropologically speaking a pygmy is fully developed and has achieved his total size. The European Union has not yet done so."