Stoltenberg's term extension exposes NATO's widening splits

(Xinhua) 09:47, July 12, 2023

WARSAW, July 11 (Xinhua) -- It seems that Jens Stoltenberg has to hang in there a bit longer as NATO's chief, a post he has repeatedly vowed to quit.

As NATO's secretary general, Stoltenberg has been embroiled in a years-long saga of selecting his successor, which, like the latest episode wrapped up this week, has ended in vain so far, because each member of the military bloc has its own axe to grind.

Having failed to reach the most basic consensus, member states have no choice but to extend his term, which was supposed to end on Sept. 30, for another year to Oct. 1, 2024.

It was the fourth time that Stoltenberg's tenure has been extended.

For such a relic of the Cold War, Stoltenberg's stay was believed to be the last resort to sustain NATO's operation, as no possible candidates could win member states' unanimous approval due to widening splits within the bloc.

Having served as NATO chief since October 2014, Stoltenberg was the former prime minister of Norway. The 64-year-old is now the second longest-serving NATO secretary general, only behind Joseph Luns, who held the position for nearly 13 years.

The term of NATO secretary general is usually four years. Stoltenberg's term was extended three times, in 2017, 2019 and 2022 respectively.

According to the NATO website, the selection of the secretary general is carried out through informal diplomatic consultations among member countries, which put forward candidates for the job, and the final choice needs to be approved by all member states.

The introduction of a new secretary general is considered a main topic of the annual NATO summit scheduled to be held in Vilnius on July 11-12. However, in recent months, NATO member states have failed to find common ground on the candidate.

As a result, Stoltenberg, though having made clear his intention to quit on various occasions, had his term refilled for the fourth time.

The failure to pick a new NATO chief reflects the differences and clash of interests within the bloc.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, for example, has been seen as one of the potential candidates.

However, her home country can be a drag in some others' eyes, considering Stoltenberg and his predecessor Anders Fogh Rasmussen are both from North Europe.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas was another popular choice. But as Eastern European countries, especially the Baltic ones tend to take a comparatively radical stance towards Russia, the United States and Western European countries are unwilling to directly confront Russia, thus quite wary of Kallas' bid.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace had also been a likely candidate to some. But he has also met with opposition from other European countries, as most NATO members are also EU members, who would prefer a NATO chief from an EU country.

In picking a new NATO chief, the bloc's top four economies -- the United States, Germany, France and Britain -- all have their decisive influence.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been calling on Europe to pursue strategic autonomy and said that he will not hesitate to veto the appointment of Wallace as NATO secretary general.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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