What does it mean for the Netherlands that Rutte becomes NATO president? And other questions answered

Mark Rutte was officially appointed NATO’s new chief executive this week. On October 1, he will take over from current Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. We asked what you want to know about this?

Defense specialist Dick Zandi of the Clingendael Institute answers your questions.

1. What is the job of the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO?

“Actually, this job is not precisely described anywhere. That might be a bit strange,” Zandi begins to laugh. “In any case, the Secretary-General does not have absolute power in the organization. For example, he cannot exercise veto power.”

But, according to the defense expert, the Secretary-General has several important tasks: “You can distinguish at least three: he is the president of the NATO Council, he has a public role and a mediation role.”

“As Chairman of the NATO Council, the Secretary General chairs the weekly meetings of the Council. The Council is the decision-making body within NATO, in which all member states are represented,” he explains. “The Secretary General not only chairs the meetings, but also prepares and conducts them.” To the actions that result from that.

In the general role, Zandi says the Secretary-General is “NATO’s spokesman.” “He goes to the press, explains what has been taken and answers questions. This requires a good sense of what he can say and what he cannot say, because he should only say things that all member states agree on.”

He continues, “In his mediating role, the Secretary-General is expected to bring together positions on which the allies disagree.” He added, “Decisions in NATO are only made on the basis of consensus: everyone must agree.”

Dick Zandi is a defense specialist at the Clingendael Institute.

2. How neutral should the NATO chief be?

“Actually quite neutral,” Zandi confirms. “From the moment the Secretary-General was appointed He is not in NATO to represent a member state, but has become an independent international official.”

“There is always room for mediation,” he adds. “For example, the secretary-general can announce through the press that a member state is obstructing something that other member states consider absolutely necessary. But this is a dangerous game: if things go wrong, member states can undermine the independence of the secretary-general.”

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According to him, the current Secretary General, former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, has shown that as the top NATO leader, you can be impartial. “I don’t think it’s possible to catch him making a single mistake in his press appearances. Moreover, that would have been true if he had taken initiatives that would have ended in complete failure,” he added.

“This suggests that Stoltenberg had a very good feeling about what NATO member states had in common,” explains the Clingendael expert. “And he has the quality to build, maintain and expand consensus around that.”

3. Is it possible that if Donald Trump becomes President of the United States again, he will put pressure on Rutte?

“This is definitely one of the big black clouds,” Zandi says. “You could probably say this is the most significant challenge that Rutti could face.”

He believes that “in his national role as prime minister, Rutte has proven that he can deal with Trump, and Trump knows him too, and that gives him a good place to start.” “But Trump can be destructive, and we saw that in his first term as president. He threatened several times not to support NATO allies if necessary. He also threatened to leave NATO.”

According to the defense specialist, both will “directly” affect NATO unity: “Because US involvement in NATO is crucial. One Ally is more important than the other, and the US is in the position – because of its role as a partner nation.” A global security player – head and shoulders above the rest, formally their voice does not carry more weight, but in the practice of making decisions you notice this role.

However, Zandi says the situation with Trump is different now than it was in January 2017, when he first took office as president. “At the time, a lot of NATO countries scored poorly on something it considered very important, the NATO standard that requires member states to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. The vast majority of Allies do not meet this standard.”

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4. Is the Secretary-General also conducting behind-the-scenes contacts with countries such as China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, etc.?

According to Zandi, this is “not very likely.” He added that “NATO has a number of partner countries outside the alliance, such as Japan and South Korea, and also a number of countries in the Middle East.”

“But Russia and China probably can’t count on the Secretary-General visiting at the moment,” the defense expert believes. “He won’t go there, because the United States will then put pressure on itself. Its relations with those countries are much worse.”

“There was contact with Russia, there was even a NATO-Russia Council. But at the moment this contact is frozen,” he explains. “Only when a solution is found in Ukraine, when NATO’s policy towards Russia enters new waters, can the day come when contacts are resumed.”

According to him, China is a chapter in itself: “So far there has been no contact with the country. But in the future, a NATO policy could arise that requires the Secretary General to visit China as well. But again only when all member states agree.” “

“As for North Korea and Iran, these are countries that are disrupting the international order and have no relationship with NATO allies at all,” Zandi said. “So I can’t imagine that the Secretary-General would have anything to discuss with them. Something absolutely miraculous would have to happen for this to be necessary. And as long as that wasn’t the case, the Secretary-General would effectively be out of his position if he were to visit anyway.”

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5. What does it mean for the Netherlands that Rutte will soon become NATO president?

That’s a good question, but difficult to answer, Zandi begins. He added, “In principle, it is good for the Netherlands that Rutte becomes Secretary-General, because this reflects on national glory.” Although we shouldn’t overdo it, he adds. “It is not that Norway has suddenly begun to play a much more important role since Stoltenberg became head of NATO.” However, in his view, it is a certain form of prestige. “Moreover, we are the country that is now providing the Secretary-General for the fourth time and this is unique.”

This also represents a risk, explains the Clingendael expert. “The Secretary-General must not play the Dutch role too much. Rutte must also be careful not to fall too much into his old role. This once went wrong with former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who served from 2009 to Minister General in 2014. He wanted to play the role of Prime Minister a little in front of NATO ambassadors and said many things in his public role that the member states have not yet agreed upon.

Zandi believes that Rottie is smarter and will be able to avoid this danger. “But you still have to be careful,” he says finally. “The Prime Minister of the Netherlands and the Secretary General of NATO are actually two different offices.”


The simple reason is that NATO does not intervene in Ukraine

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Denton Watson

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