TALLINN – The behind-the-scenes jockeying for who should succeed Jens Stoltenberg as the secretary general of NATO has begun, with a focus on women, and the potential candidates include Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, a article by Steven Erlanger in the New York Times says.
With the tenure of NATO's current chief scheduled to end next fall, the jockeying among allies for who should replace him has begun in earnest, and the battle lines in the contest are already beginning to form, according to American officials familiar with the debate. With the risks of escalation and a wider war, the person who gets the job will undoubtedly take over at one of the most critical junctures in the 73-year history of the alliance, the article says.
While the officials cautioned that these are early days, and very often the names that surface first do not survive the bargaining among NATO's 30 members, they said one prime candidate has surfaced in Washington: Chrystia Freeland, 54, the Canadian-Ukrainian deputy prime minister and finance minister of Canada. Freeland's chances are undermined by the fact that although she is a strong supporter of Ukraine and its fight against Russian aggression, Canada is a NATO laggard in how much it spends on defense -- far from the 2 percent of gross domestic product that member states cited as their goal by 2024.
The European Union, not surprisingly, would like the next NATO head to be from a member country -- 21 of its current 27 states belong to the alliance. And presuming Sweden and Finland are approved for NATO membership, the European Union would have 23 of 32 members. One of the candidates named in the article is Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.
Although the Europeans have yet to coalesce around a single candidate, they have several strong contenders who are women, apart from the 45-year-old Kallas. These include Zuzana Caputova, 49, the president of Slovakia; and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, 54, who was president of Croatia from 2015-2020, was Croatia's ambassador to Washington and has worked at NATO as assistant secretary general for public diplomacy.
Britain, which has left the European Union but not NATO, has a contender in Ben Wallace, 52, its defense secretary.
The United States does not put forward an American candidate, since an American general is traditionally the Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
The article points out that Kallas has been strong in support of Ukraine and very vocal, raising her international profile, but it is possible that anyone from the Baltic nations or Poland, no matter their qualities, would be considered too fiercely anti-Russian for the rest of NATO. Kallas has opposed any negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has accused Russia of genocide in Ukraine.
According to the article, where any of the candidates come down on support for Ukraine in the war against Russia will be a critical factor. However strongly opposed they are to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, countries of Western Europe, like France and Germany, want to look past the day the war ends, one way or another, and will want someone willing to try to create a new, more stable relationship with Moscow.
There are issues with all of the possible candidates, and it is also possible, a NATO official suggested, that member states could agree to extend Stoltenberg's term by another year. Stoltenberg, 63, had asked for a two-year extension because of the war, and was given one year, or until next September.
The choice could also be made more complicated by elections in spring 2024 that will select new leadership for the European Union. In general, a NATO official said, Washington wants to avoid the possibility that the next NATO leader is seen as getting a consolation prize for not securing a major EU post, so it would prefer that the choice is made before that election. Both Washington and Brussels want a conclusion before the next American presidential election in November 2024.