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How would the new NATO leader manage alliance amidst the Ukrainian conflict or Trump’s re-election?

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While traditionally conducted behind closed doors, elections for the NATO Secretary General are now facing the demands of a changing public diplomacy landscape, calling for increased transparency. As citizens of NATO member states, it’s crucial for us to be informed and engaged in these elections, given their direct impact on the security and stability of our continent.

Furthermore, public diplomacy plays a crucial role in shaping public opinion and garnering support for NATO’s mission and objectives. There’s an opportunity for NATO to generate broader public interest and understanding of its leadership decisions.

Now, let’s discuss what’s happening in simpler terms.

The upcoming NATO Secretary General election carries substantial weight for the Alliance’s future and global relations overall. Potential candidates include Mark Rutte, the acting Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and Klaus Iohannis, Romania’s President.

The process of electing the NATO Secretary General is intricate and highly diplomatic. It entails informal consultations among member countries, who propose candidates for the position. A decision is only confirmed when a consensus is reached on a single candidate. Traditionally, this prestigious position has been occupied by a prominent European political figure.

Outlined below are several personal key considerations about the challenging scenario for NATO leadership between Eastern and Western. The selection of the next Secretary General will shape the Alliance’s trajectory significantly.

“Historical Fairness”

The principle of “historical fairness” underscores the acknowledgment of past injustices and the pursuit of a more just future. Eastern European nations, long dominated by the Soviet Union, have strived for self-determination since the Cold War. A key aspect of this independence was strengthening bonds with the Western world. The NATO accession process demonstrated the mutual interests and aspirations of both Eastern Europe and the West, aiming to build a more secure and stable future.

Both Rutte and Iohannis hold historical fairness in significance. Prime Minister Rutte’s pragmatic governance aligns with this principle, while President Iohannis embodies Eastern Europe’s journey to independence. Iohannis likely advocates for NATO’s recognition of Eastern Europe’s contributions, emphasizing solidarity and mutual respect among member states.

Geopolitical Realities

Both Mark Rutte and Klaus Iohannis, as potential candidates for the NATO Secretary General position, would face significant challenges in navigating the alliance’s response to the Ukrainian conflict and its broader implications.

Romania’s strategic position along the Black Sea and its border with Ukraine (both a land and a maritime boundary) places it at the forefront of regional security concerns. President Iohannis, with his understanding of the region’s complexities and commitment to NATO’s principles, would likely advocate for measures to enhance defense capabilities and bolster NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe. This could include increased military exercises and strengthened forward presence to deter potential aggressors and reassure vulnerable allies.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Rutte’s leadership would likely prioritize diplomatic efforts to address the conflict while advocating for enhanced coordination among NATO member states to ensure a unified response.

The relationship with the USA  

Romania and the United States share a robust security and defense partnership, bolstered by key agreements and declarations. The 2011 Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership paved the way for various bilateral engagements, including F-16 operations and joint exercises like EUCOM Exercise Atlantic Resolve. Romania’s efforts to enhance cooperation among Black Sea neighbors align with U.S. stability goals in the region. Additionally, the 2005 defense cooperation agreement grants U.S. military access to Romanian bases, while the Roadmap for Defense Cooperation (2020-2030) focuses on cybersecurity, military modernization, and Black Sea operations. Both nations also collaborate on international arms control and have agreements covering classified information exchange and cross-servicing. These arrangements, coupled with the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, offer a comprehensive framework for U.S. forces in Romania.

As for the future NATO Secretary General, navigating a potential second term for Donald Trump poses challenges, given his recent remarks questioning his commitment to defending NATO allies if re-elected. Trump’s comments have drawn sharp criticism from Western officials.

Reflecting on meetings between President Iohannis and President Trump, it’s evident that the United States and Romania share a lasting friendship and strategic partnership. During a 2017 White House meeting, President Trump expressed appreciation for President Iohannis and highlighted the shared values between their nations, emphasizing the significance of their bilateral relationship, particularly as both countries commemorated the 20th anniversary of their strategic partnership.

While I haven’t closely followed meetings between Prime Minister Rutte and President Trump, a notable moment occurred in 2018. During a White House visit, Prime Minister Rutte amusingly disagreed with President Trump’s suggestion that failed trade discussions with the EU could be positive. Rutte’s prompt response indicated a differing viewpoint, emphasizing the need to find constructive solutions.

It’s evident that President Iohannis and Prime Minister Rutte possess distinct personalities and cultural backgrounds, influencing their respective approaches to diplomacy and international relations.

When considering the war in Ukraine, both PM Rutte and President Iohannis would likely approach the situation with a focus on supporting Ukraine, upholding international law, and seeking diplomatic solutions to the conflict. Both leaders have expressed solidarity with Ukraine and have called for measures to address Russian aggression in the region.

PM Rutte would likely prioritize EU unity in responding to the conflict and would support diplomatic efforts within the framework of the European Union. He would likely advocate for sanctions against Russia and support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

President Iohannis, as a leader from a country with a direct interest in regional stability and security, would likely emphasize the importance of NATO’s role in deterring Russian aggression, ensuring the security of Eastern European countries and strengthening its presence in the region. Romanian has initiated efforts to significantly enlarge the Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base located in the southeastern region of the country, near the Black Sea. Upon completion, this extensive NATO base will cover an area twice as large as the U.S. Air Force’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany. [i]

Ultimately, both Rutte and Iohannis would likely work towards finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine while upholding the principles of international law and respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty.

NATO Strategic Vision

While President Iohannis’s comprehensive document expressing his strategic view on NATO[ii] has received considerable attention, specific details regarding PM Rutte’s perspective remain notably absent from public debate. PM Rutte is renowned for his pragmatic approach to governance, often citing the late West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s remark, “Anyone having visions should see a doctor.”[iii]This ethos underscores Rutte’s prioritization of practicality over lofty ideals.

Though Prime Minister Rutte has yet to unveil a comprehensive document expressing his strategic view on NATO, he has previously emphasized the necessity for enhanced coordination among European nations, highlighting the importance of maintaining openness to the global community. While advocating for European collaboration, Rutte pointed to the enduring popularity of US F-35 fighter jets in Europe, despite ongoing discussions about the development of future European fighter jet designs.

Regarding security arrangements, Rutte echoed Ukrainian President Zelenskyy’s call to not fear a potential defeat of Russia. However, he acknowledged Russia’s lasting influence and emphasized Zelenskyy’s pivotal role in initiating peace negotiations. Rutte stressed the need for collective engagement with the US, NATO, and Russia to deliberate on future security arrangements, drawing parallels to the security dialogues during German unification in 1990. He suggested that similar discussions would be essential for ensuring stability across Europe.

In contrast, President Iohannis has articulated a robust strategic vision for NATO, advocating for a fresh perspective on the Alliance’s mission. In an opinion piece published by Politico, he highlights the valuable contributions of Eastern Europe to NATO’s discussions and decisions, emphasizing unwavering support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russia. He urges NATO countries to fulfill their obligations to assist Kyiv in its aspirations to join the alliance.

His strategic vision underscores the imperative to bolster deterrence and defense in alignment with previous decisions while adapting to the complexities of the current environment. The need to strengthen borders, particularly in the eastern and southern regions, and address security concerns in the High North and Western Balkans is emphasized. Additionally, increased cooperation with partners, especially in vulnerable regions, and collaboration with like-minded partners in the Indo-Pacific is advocated.

Furthermore, he stresses the obligation to ensure Ukraine’s progress towards potential NATO membership, highlighting the importance of supporting Ukraine in its existential struggle and facilitating its NATO and EU aspirations. The need to enhance interoperability and fortify the Alliance’s defense-industrial base while addressing past shortcomings in defense financing is also underscored. Bolstering resilience against hybrid and cyber threats to ensure collective security is deemed important.

In conclusion, the upcoming NATO Secretary General election and the war in Ukraine present significant challenges and opportunities for the Alliance and its member states. As the Alliance navigates these challenges, it must prioritize transparency, unity, and strategic vision to address evolving security threats and uphold its core principles.

Both President Iohannis and Prime Minister Rutte bring distinct perspectives and approaches to the table, reflecting the diversity of opinions within NATO. By embracing transparency in leadership elections, reinforcing democratic values, and prioritizing coordinated responses to emerging threats, NATO can strengthen its role as a cornerstone of international security and stability. As NATO citizens, it is imperative for us to remain informed and engaged in the Alliance’s leadership decisions, as they directly impact our security and prosperity.

[i] « Romanian Airfield’s Transformation Into A Giant NATO Base Is Underway » available at: https://www.twz.com/news-features/romanian-airfields-transformation-into-a-giant-nato-base-is-underway

[ii] « Romanian president: A vision for NATO’s future », available at https://www.politico.eu/article/romanian-president-a-vision-for-natos-future/

[iii]« Let’s mind our own defence, not who sits in the White House, Dutch PM Rutte tells Europe » available at https://www.euractiv.com/section/defence-and-security/interview/lets-mind-our-own-defence-not-who-sits-in-the-white-house-dutch-pm-rutte-tells-europe/