Daniel Bodirsky

Who’s Next? Potential NATO Secretary-General Candidates

Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s term as NATO Secretary-General will come to an end in August of this year. During his five-year tenure, the former Danish prime minister has steered the Alliance through tumultuous waters – winding down NATO involvement in Afghanistan and intervention in the Libyan civil war.

NATO’s next Secretary-General will enter the office with a full plate: withdrawal from Afghanistan, the third year of the Syrian civil war, deteriorating relations with Russia over Ukraine, and seismic shifts in international power distribution. He or she will face the arduous task of managing global security  crises on a scale unseen since the Cold War, all while trying to determine the future role of the Alliance. Given the work ahead, it is pertinent to know some of the front-runners tipped for the position.

Thomas de Maizière

German Defence Minister

Current frontrunner for the position of Secretary-General. Though Mazière has faced domestic criticism over a botched contract for surveillance drones and hugely expensive Eurofighter jets, the 59-year-old seems well-poised to take the mantle of Secretary-General. Germany is a key member of the Alliance, and has a long track-record of supplying troop numbers. Any potential leadership bid has the tacit support of the German Chancellery, and the country is the second-biggest contributor to NATO after the US. However, Germany has played a weak role in the Alliance of late – stringent requirements placed on German defence ministers by the Bundestag have limited German operational ability in Afghanistan, and Berlin’s refusal to join the NATO intervention in Libya both provide fuel for detractors.


Mazière would be the second German to head the Alliance, the first having been Manfred Wörner from 1988 to 1994.


Dr Liam Fox

Former British Defence Secretary

A medical doctor by training, Dr Fox served as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence with the Conservative party from 2005 to 2010, and as Secretary of State for Defence from 2010 to late 2011. His name has been tipped by senior Tories as being the UK’s leading candidate for the position. Dr King’s personal conviction concerning the transatlantic alliance – he’s known as NATO’s biggest supporter in the Commons – together with his connections to the top echelons of European security, make him a likely candidate for the position of Secretary-General.


Pieter de Crem

Belgian Minister of Defence

De Crem has served as Belgium’s defence minister since 2007 with the Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V) party. He has long been an advocate for defence cooperation, pushing for deeper integration during Belgium’s presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2010. He is known as a strong supporter of Belgium’s involvement in international operations, specifically in Libya and Mali. Though a strong candidate, de Crem’s hopes could be thwarted by another Belgian’s securing a top EU job.


Radosław Sikorski

Polish Foreign Minister

Sikorski has an impressive repertoire:  he studied at Oxford, worked as a war correspondent, and spent years working in the world of Washington think-tanks, burnishing his intellectual prowess and networking with top foreign policy players. Since becoming Poland’s foreign minister in 2007, Sikorski has forged stronger links with both Germany and Russia, as well as increased Poland’s commitment to NATO.  He is the embodiment of “new Europe”, a region which has so far been shut out of the Alliance’s top positions. He sought the position of Secretary-General in 2009, losing out to Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Since then, he has built a reputation as a shrewd and efficient diplomat, making him a strong contender for the position in 2014.


Traian Băsescu

Outgoing President of Romania

Băsescu has been tipped as NATO’s first potential Secretary-General from a newly-joined member state. Though his office has officially denied any such candidacy has been submitted, Băsescu is a contender, enjoying the support of both Washington and certain European capitals. Romania’s involvement with NATO has deepened after years of Romanian troop commitment to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. Băsescu is not the only Romanian potentially vying for the job. Mircea Geona, former ambassador to the United States and failed presidential candidate, is also said to be seeking candidacy.


Abdullah Gül

Turkish President

Turkey has been a staunch NATO ally since the country joined in 1952, and fields the second-largest army in the Alliance. Many feel that it is high time a Turk reached the highest echelons of the organization, and Turkish President Abdullah Gül could be just the ticket. Though Gül himself has never commented on the prospect of being a candidate, a Turkish Secretary-General would be a huge leap forward for Turkey’s international image. It could represent not only Turkish modernisation, but NATO’s shifting its gaze eastward as part of its reassessment of priorities. However, the dangerous border with Syria and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s worrying moves against the Turkish judiciary and police forces will likely torpedo any Turkish candidate’s prospects in 2014. 

Daniel Bodirsky
Daniel is an Asia-Pacific Research Analyst with the NATO Association of Canada. He is currently an MSc candidate in Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. Daniel was previously based in Hanoi, Vietnam, where he wrote freelance for a number of online publications and tutors English. Daniel’s research interests concern security in the Asia-Pacific, specifically the rise of China-balancing coalitions in Southeast Asia and Canadian interests in the region. He is a former Program Editor at the NAOC. Daniel received his BAH from Queen’s University, where he majored in Political Studies with a Minor in World Languages (German, French, Japanese). Contact: danielbodirsky@gmail.com Twitter: @danbodirsky