Outgoing Dutch leader Mark Rutte looks set to become NATO chief


BRUSSELS — Mark Rutte, the longtime prime minister of the Netherlands, looks set to replace Jens Stoltenberg as NATO secretary general, after the last remaining candidate running against him withdrew from the race, paving the way for his selection by allies.

The change of leadership at NATO, which could be formally agreed on within days, comes at a delicate moment for the 32-member military alliance. Thanks in large part to Russian President Vladimir Putin, NATO is bigger, stronger and more relevant than its been in ages, but a growing current of isolationism in some countries has raised questions about its future.

Consensus on Rutte’s candidacy comes just weeks before allies gather in Washington and as the alliance braces for the possible return of former president Donald Trump. In February, Trump said he would encourage Russia to attack NATO countries and may consider leaving the 75-year-old military alliance.

Rutte, who has been the Netherlands’ prime minister since 2010, is a veteran of European Union politics who has experience with many NATO country leaders past and present, including Trump.

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Known for his direct manner and pragmatic approach to politics, Rutte was seen by many allies as the right leader to potentially work with the former U.S. president should he be elected.

While some European leaders have voiced criticism of the presumptive Republican nominee, Rutte, while eyeing NATO’s top job, signaled a willingness to work with him. “We should stop moaning and whining and nagging about Trump,” he said at the Munich Security Conference.

“I’m not an American, I cannot vote in the U.S.,” he added. “We have to work with whoever is on the dance floor.”

There is no formal procedure for selecting the secretary general. In theory, allies talk until there is consensus. In practice, there is usually a significant steer from the United States.

The decision on Rutte comes after several months of fraught debate and deliberation that spotlighted division between allies and Hungary’s growing roll as a spoiler at NATO.

Though most allies, including the United States, France, Germany and Britain, backed Rutte long ago, allies from the east of the alliance were frustrated by the choice of a western European, particularly given Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Even after those allies got on board for Rutte, Hungary, which has been increasingly critical of NATO’s stance on Ukraine, held out.

In June, Stoltenberg told Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that Hungary could opt out of some NATO plans for Ukraine, such as an effort to have the alliance play a greater role in training of Ukrainian forces and plans to increase military support.

With just weeks to go before the summit in Washington, Rutte met Orban on the sidelines of a summit in Brussels, reassuring him that he would honor the deal. He then put the details of their agreement in writing.

“After yesterday’s meeting in Brussels, PM Mark Rutte confirmed that he fully supports this deal and will continue to do so, should he become the next Secretary General of NATO,” Orban posted on X. “In light of his pledge, Hungary is ready to support PM Rutte’s bid for NATO Secretary General.”

That left Romania, which had put forward President Klaus Iohannis. On Thursday, he withdrew his candidacy, making way for Rutte. NATO ambassadors are expected to endorse the pick next week, according to officials and diplomats.

Assuming allies make it official, Rutte will replace Stoltenberg this fall.



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