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Dutch Foreign Minister Slated to Head NATO

Career diplomat Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is likely to take over the NATO reins in December after Secretary-General George Robertson steps down at the end of his four-year term


De Hoop Scheffer: The man of the moment, now the Netherlands just has to propose him.

Although the Netherlands hasn't even formally proposed Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for NATO secretary-general, the cards seem to be falling the foreign minister's way. NATO insiders in Brussels on Wednesday confirmed a German newspaper report that alleged the Dutch diplomat was the top candidate to lead the North Atlantic alliance after the current head, the Scot George Robertson, completes his term in mid-December.

The United States in particular is expected to support de Hoop Scheffer's nomination. The Netherlands shored up Washington in the Iraq war. "If it had been up to him the Dutch would not only have bolstered [the Americans] politically but also militarily," the Dutch de Volkskrant newspaper recently wrote.

Canada and France, however, are still thought to have reservations about de Hoop Scheffer. Canada has put in its own bid, Finance Minister John Manley, a former foreign minister, who is regarded as the only real competition since Norwegian Defense Minister Kristin Krohn Devold announced she would not pursue the top NATO position last week.

A European edge

NATO Hauptquartier

NATO headquarters in Brussels

But Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has a strong edge over Manley: he's European. Europe has always provided the alliance with secretary generals, while the NATO supreme commander in Europe has traditionally been an American.

France has denied its reservations stem from the desire to avoid putting a man in office who supported the war in Iraq and the United States. It has signaled its willingness to drop its reservations in a gesture of European solidarity, the DPA news agency reported.

Germany is also thought to favor the Dutchman at NATO's helm. And both the Belgian government and Norwegian defense Minister Devold have given their endorsement.

A career in diplomacy

De Hoop Scheffer has been his country's foreign minister since July 2002. Although his military experience is limited to two years mandatory military service in the Dutch air force in the 1970s, which he completed as a reserve officer, it is his diplomatic career that makes him qualified for the top civilian position.

The native Amsterdamer studied law at the University of Leiden, and joined the diplomatic service after finishing his military service. From 1978 to 1980 he became acquainted with NATO structures while working for the Dutch delegation in Brussels.

De Hoop Scheffer had been tipped as a possible candidate for the next prime minister of the Netherlands, where he's a member of the Christian Democratic Alliance. If elected to head up NATO, the 55-year-old would be the third Dutch secretary general out of a total of ten in the alliance's fifty-year history.

NATO Generalsekretär George Robertson

Outgoing NATO Secretary General George Robertson

But the name of the next secretary general will not actually be made official until the alliance's 19 member states have submitted their nomination and the NATO council, the alliance's top decision making body, has approved it -- a process Washinton's envoy in Brussels has said is as arcane as electing the pope.

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