Rutte faces competition for NATO leadership as Estonian PM Kallas declares interest

November 15, 2023  –BRUSSELS – Outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte faces competition from Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas in the race for NATO Secretary General to succeed Jens Stoltenberg. She announced her interest in the top position of the military alliance during an event on Tuesday. 

Jens Stoltenberg, who has led NATO since 2014, will step down in October 2024, his term having been extended for a fourth time in July due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. 

Speaking at a Politico magazine event on Tuesday, Kallas expressed her interest in the top job after Stoltenberg’s departure, responding “yes” when asked about it. 

She referred to a “joke” she recently heard, suggesting that the new NATO leader should come from a relatively new member state, with their home country committing at least two percent of its budget to defense, and should ideally be a woman. “So it’s logical it should be Mark Rutte,” she said with a laugh. 

Kallas, known for her strong criticism of Russia within the EU and NATO, has been an advocate for more robust defense plans for the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which all border Russia. However, some NATO diplomats view Kallas as potentially too hawkish, Reuters reported on Wednesday. 

Frans Timmermans, leader of the left-wing GroenLinks-PvdA alliance, expressed reservations about Kallas on Goedemorgen Nederland on NPO 1 on Wednesday. He acknowledged her inspiring leadership in Estonia but pointing to the country’s border with Russia as a potential issue for her candidacy. “I think that for most NATO member states the idea is that the Secretary General of NATO is under a lot of pressure. I think they would rather go for Rutte than for her,” he said. 

Since he announced in July that he would not seek re-election, Rutte has been mentioned as a potential successor to Stoltenberg. While he first declared that he would not run for his succession, Rutte revealed two weeks ago that he would be available for the role, although he admitted that only saw a small chance of being picked for the job. 

“Such a role would be interesting as it would offer the chance to contribute for a few years on the international stage in a period of dramatic global changes,” Rutte said in an interview with radio station Den Haag FM. “But there is a very big chance, given the political support for it, that this job will go to a European woman, which would also be very good,” he added 

Mark Rutte will meet with Stoltenberg in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the war in Ukraine, the situation in Israel and Gaza, and other geopolitical developments. 

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