Image Source : REUTERS Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who will become the next NATO Secretary-General.

Brussels: The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on Wednesday selected Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as the new Secretary-General of the political and military alliance of European and North American countries, replacing Jen Stoltenberg in the role. Rutte’s appointment comes amid the Western bloc’s increasing rivalry with Russia over the war in Ukraine and uncertainty of the future involvement of the United States in NATO.

Rutte’s appointment became a formality after his only rival for the post, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, announced last week that he had quit the race, having failed to gain traction. Rutte will take over on October 1 from Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, who is stepping down after a decade in the post.

“It is a tremendous honour to be appointed Secretary-General of NATO. The Alliance is and will remain the cornerstone of our collective security. Leading this organisation is a responsibility I do not take lightly. I’m grateful to all the Allies for placing their trust in me,” said Rutte in a post on X after his appointment.

Rutte’s path to become the next NATO boss

After declaring his interest in the post last year, Rutte gained early support from key members of the alliance including the United States, Britain, France and Germany. However, others were more reluctant, particularly Eastern European countries which argued the post should go to someone from their region for the first time.

They ultimately rowed in behind Rutte, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a staunch ally of Ukraine. Orban dropped his opposition to Rutte’s candidacy after the outgoing Dutch PM gave written guarantees that he would not force the country to take part in the military alliance’s new plans to provide support to Ukraine.

It could also allow NATO to put on a major show of unity and demonstrate solidarity with war-ravaged Ukraine when US President Joe Biden and his counterparts meet in Washington on July 9-11. The summit is to mark NATO’s 75th anniversary. Stoltenberg, who is due to step down in October, clinched a deal with Orbán to ensure that Hungary would not block NATO’s plans for Ukraine.

Challenges for Rutte

Rutte will face the challenge of sustaining allies’ support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion while guarding against NATO’s being drawn directly into a war with Moscow. He will also have to contend with the possibility that NATO-sceptic Donald Trump may return to the White House after November’s US presidential election.

Trump’s possible return has unnerved NATO leaders as the Republican former president called into question the US willingness to support other members of the alliance if they were attacked. The former US President sparked a major row by mentioning that he would encourage Russia to attack NATO countries if they don’t spend enough on their defence.

As US president from 2017-21, Trump often lambasted NATO and its members such as Germany, accusing them of not paying enough for their own defence and relying on Washington to protect them. He openly questioned the collective defence principle. Shocked by Trump’s earlier remarks on NATO, the governments of Poland, France and Germany vowed to make Europe a security and defense power with a greater ability to back Ukraine.

NATO takes decisions by consensus so Rutte, who is bowing out of Dutch politics after nearly 14 years as prime minister, could only be confirmed once all 32 alliance members gave him their backing. “Mark is a true transatlanticist, a strong leader, and a consensus-builder,” Stoltenberg said on Rutte’s appointment. “I know I am leaving NATO in good hands.”

(with inputs from agencies)