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Dutch PM Mark Rutte set to become new NATO chief

June 20, 2024

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has withdrawn his bid for NATO's leadership, clearing the way for Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to become the alliance's secretary-general.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had gained the backing of nearly all alliance membersImage: Johanna Geron/REUTERS

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on Thursday his country's supreme defense council would support Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as the alliance's secretary-general.

Iohannis withdrew his own bid for NATO's leadership, clearing the final hurdle on Rutte's path to the top job.

What Bucharest said

"The President of Romania informed... NATO allies that he withdrew his candidacy for the post of secretary-general of the organization," the council announced in a statement.

Council members had "declared themselves in favor of Romania's support for the Dutch prime minister's candidacy," it added.

Bordering Ukraine and the Black Sea, Romania has risen in profile in terms of strategic importance since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It hosts more than 5,000 foreign troops, the biggest contingent in the alliance's southeastern region.

Dutch PM Rutte set to become next NATO head

The nomination of a new NATO head requires consensus from all 32 alliance members, and most had appeared ready to back Rutte. Hungary, however, had remained opposed until this week and Slovakia had also not given its approval. Both endorsed the outgoing premier at a European Union leaders' summit earlier this week.

A staunch backer of Ukraine, the 57-year-old staked his claim for the job last year after the collapse of his coalition. He quickly gained the support of NATO heavyweights the United States, Britain, France, and Germany.

What challenges does Rutte face?

Rutte's assumption of the role comes at a difficult time for the Western allies. Russia's war in Ukraine is still raging and Donald Trump — who has previously voiced his doubts about the alliance  — seeks to reclaim the presidency in the United States come November.

NATO plans to coordinate military aid to Ukraine

The term of current Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg ends on October 1. Voters in the United States are set to choose between incumbent Joe Biden and Trump just over a month later.

Like Stoltenberg, Rutte garnered praise for his careful management of Trump during the 2017-2021 US presidency, being dubbed "The Trump Whisperer."

Many European leaders are nervous that a second Trump term would mean decreased support from Washington for both Ukraine and NATO.

Trump fueled fears about his commitment to NATO on the campaign trail, saying he would encourage Russia to attack NATO countries that failed to meet their defense spending commitments. He has also signaled that, should he return to office, he might withdraw US support for Ukraine. 

The US Congress in April approved some $60 billion in new military funding for Ukraine. However, that came only after months of political dispute and opposition by some of Trump's Republican allies.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also routinely hindered both NATO and European Union efforts to help Ukraine

rc/rt (dpa, AFP)

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated which countries had opposed Rutte's nomination. We apologize for the error.