Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Will Be NATO’s Next Secretary-General

Romania was the last of the 32 NATO members to endorse the Dutch premier for the alliance’s top job.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Will Be NATO’s Next Secretary-General
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks at a news conference in Amsterdam on April 12, 2023. (Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters)
Bill Pan

Mark Rutte, the outgoing prime minister of the Netherlands, is set to become NATO’s next secretary-general after the only remaining opposition candidate withdrew from the race.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who had sought leadership of the military alliance, officially declared that he was no longer interested after a meeting of Romania’s Supreme Council of National Defence on June 20. At the same meeting, the council approved the donation of a Patriot air defense system to Ukraine, which Kyiv had been pleading for.

According to the council, Mr. Iohannis has asked council members to throw their support behind Mr. Rutte’s bid. It also said that Mr. Iohannis had informed NATO late last week of his intention to withdraw his candidacy.

The move clears the final hurdle for Mr. Rutte’s ascension to the position of NATO chief. On June 18, Hungary and Slovakia announced their support for Mr. Rutte, leaving Romania as the last of the 32 NATO members yet to endorse the Dutch premier.

Turkey had also objected to Mr. Rutte’s bid but lifted its veto in April.

Mr. Iohannis joined the race at a late stage; when he declared his candidacy in March, the majority of NATO allies had already sided with Mr. Rutte.

Throughout his three-month campaign, Mr. Iohannis advocated unconditional support of Ukraine’s war effort. Under his leadership, he said, NATO would provide Kyiv with “all necessary support for however long it takes” until the country prevails in its war against Russia.

“Russia will remain the most significant and direct threat to the Alliance for the foreseeable future,” Mr. Iohannis wrote in an op-ed in Politico’s European edition. “We also have a moral, political, and strategic obligation to make sure Ukraine advances steadily on its path toward future NATO membership, as well as its EU accession.”

NATO’s secretary-general is responsible for steering the process of consultation and decision-making in the alliance, representing the organization on the world stage, and supervising the staff at its headquarters in Brussels.

The secretary-general is appointed through informal diplomatic talks behind closed doors, and a final appointment is made when all members reach a consensus.

Current Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, former prime minister of Norway, will step down on Oct. 1 after serving a decade in the post. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins also had expressed interest in the job.

As the war between Russia and Ukraine rages on with no clear end in sight, Mr. Rutte emerged as a more favorable candidate than those from Romania and the Baltic states, which come under direct military pressure from Russia because of their proximity. In fact, no one from a country that was once in the Warsaw Pact—NATO’s communist counterpart in Eastern Europe—has ever served as NATO chief.

Mr. Rutte is his kingdom’s longest-serving prime minister and the second longest-serving leader in NATO after Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

In July 2023, Mr. Rutte announced that he would retire from Dutch politics after his cabinet collapsed on the issue of refugees. He stayed in the post as a caretaker prime minister following the November 2023 general election, in which his political coalition lost a total of 37 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives.