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NATO's Jens Stoltenberg to stay on as chief for another year

July 4, 2023

NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has signed a one-year contract extension, after months seeking a consensus replacement candidate failed to bear fruit. The announcement comes a week before a NATO leaders summit.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, talk during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 20, 2023.
Stoltenberg had been eying his NATO exit for two years really, but Russia's invasion of Ukraine raised the stakes surrounding his positionImage: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP/picture alliance

NATO members on Tuesday extended the tenure of the alliance's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg by one year, following failed efforts to settle on a consensus successor for the role. 

The announcement comes a week before the NATO leaders summit in Vilnius, Lithuania that is sure to be dominated by the Western military alliance's reponse to the conflict in Ukraine

"Honored by NATO allies' decision to extend my term as secretary general until 1 October 2024," Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter. "The transatlantic bond between Europe and North America has ensured our freedom and security for nearly 75 years, and in a more dangerous world, our Alliance is more important than ever." 

Stoltenberg had been planning to leave both this year and in 2022, but has now extended by one year twice in the wake of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Last year, Stoltenberg gave up a planned new post at Norway's central bank in order to remain at the helm of NATO, a decision announced just a few days after the invasion.

Ukraine's Minister of Defence Oleksiy Reznikov (C) hugs NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (2nd R) as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (R) and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US General Mark A Milley (L) look on during a meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on June 15, 2023 during a two-day meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) at the level of Defence Ministers on 15-16 June 2023.
Ukraine's government was among the first to congratulate Stoltenberg, who was embraced by Defense Minister Olesiy Reznikov during NATO defense minsiter talks in Brussles last monthImage: Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP/Getty Images

No consensus candidate in pipes

NATO's 31 members had been trying to find a consensus candidate to succeed the Norwegian former prime minister, who has headed the alliance since 2014, but had failed to make progress. 

Others seen as potential candidates for the role, such as Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, had recently dropped out of contention. 

Frederiksen appeared to meet the requirements of some European allies, being a head of state or government from an EU member; she also would have been the first ever woman to take up the role. But allies on NATO's eastern flank were pushing for someone from their region to take the reins, to underscore a tougher stance on Russia. 

Wallace, meanwhile, put his hat in the ring, only for several European countries to say they wanted a former head of state or government, and for France to say the position should go to a politician from an EU member state. The UK formally ceased to be an EU member on February 1, 2020, about three and a half years after the Brexit referendum.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had also been floated as a possible last-minute candidate, given him calling snap elections for later in July, in which pollsters currently believe he's liable to lose the head of government role. 

Aggressive neighbors? NATO exercise underway in Lithuania

US, Ukraine, Germany welcome Stoltenberg decision

Ukraine, the US, and other NATO members were quick to welcome the news. 

"With his steady leadership, experience, and judgment, Secretary General Stoltenberg has brought our Alliance through the most significant challenges in European security since World War II," US President Joe Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

Biden said NATO was currently "stronger, more united and purposeful than it has ever been."

On Stoltenberg's last visit to the US, Biden explicitly praised him for contributing to keeping divisions in the alliance at bay while deciding on responses in Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz responded to Stoltenberg's announcement in English on Twitter. 

"I look forward to continued constructive cooperation, [Jens Stoltenberg]. NATO is our strong alliance and remains the central guarantor of our collective security," Scholz wrote. 

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the extension and said that Stoltenberg had shown "strong leadership" amid Russia's invasion. 

Stoltenberg's extension is expected to be publicly reinforced at the NATO leaders summit next week. 

The Norwegian, aged 64, is already the second-longest serving secretary general in NATO's history. Joseph Luns of the Netherlands held the post from 1971 to 1984.

msh/jcg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)