Norway’s former socialist prime minister is likely to take over as NATO’s top official later this year when the term of current Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen ends, diplomats said Tuesday.
Jens Stoltenberg appears tapped to assume the top job at September’s NATO summit in Wales after securing the backing of the United States and other leading members, said two diplomats at the alliance’s Brussels headquarters, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper reported on Monday that Stoltenberg’s candidacy was supported by the U.S., Germany, Britain and France, and that the candidacy was expected to be announced at next week’s meeting of NATO’s foreign ministers.
NATO said it could not comment on the reports.
“I would refer you to the 28 member states,” said a NATO official who could not be named under standing rules. “Decisions on the appointment of the next secretary-general are taken by allies, so we can’t comment on the discussions or the timing.”
Traditionally, a European civilian heads NATO’s political office in Brussels, while an American officer commands the alliance’s military forces from NATO headquarters in Mons, about 50 miles southwest of the Belgian capital. The secretary-general normally serves for a four-year term with a possible extension of one year.
Stoltenberg, 55, served two terms as Norway’s head of government, from 2000 to 2001 and from 2005 until last year. At a time when other NATO member states were slashing defense budgets, Stoltenberg’s government steadily expanded Norway’s military spending and modernized its armed forces.
He negotiated a settlement to a marine dispute with Russia in the Barents Sea and cultivated a strong relationship with Moscow.
If confirmed by the member states, Stoltenberg would take over at a time when the alliance is due to complete the withdrawal of its combat forces from Afghanistan after an inconclusive 12-year war in which it failed to defeat the Taliban insurgents and bring stability to that nation. The appointment would also come at a time of falling defense budgets among alliance members and heightened tensions with Russia after its occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.