NATO's Next Leader: Serious Times Need Serious Leaders
now is not the time for self-referential virtue signaling
Regardless of how seriously you take national and alliance security issues, never forget that both are worm-ridden with unserious people who only see defense structures as an exceptionally pliable organization with lots of money that can be used for other purposes.
Always remember this. If you forget, they will remind you. Case in point today.
After the Cold War, NATO remained in place for a couple of reasons. First was that the major nations of the West had over the decades developed a comfortable habit of 80/20 meshing our security concerns and capabilities together. Institutional inertia, yes - but more than that; in fits-and-starts we saw a stability almost unheard of in Europe for its history as there was more of a focus on working together with the powers on the other side of the Atlantic, than finding reasons to distrust or ignore each other.
Secondly, even with the Soviet Union gone - national memory did not forgot that it was just the Russian Empire under new leadership and though some of its captive nations managed to get free of Moscow's orbit - the Russians were still here. NATO was a good hedge.
So we find ourselves three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union where, as expected, the Russians are once again on the march of conquest they have been on after pushing the Mongols back east.
In a position not dissimilar to the USA from 1939-41 against the Axis powers, NATO nations today are bankrolling and arming the Ukrainians in the defensive war against a Russian imperial war of conquest in the mindset that it is best to fight the Russians with Ukrainians on the Dnieper than with Poles and Americans on the Vistula.
In spite of a couple of tight moments in the Cold War and even a spark or two at the end of the last century in the Balkans, 2022 finds NATO at its greatest moment of threat of stumbling in to war due to our support for Ukraine. Well meaning people can argue the wisdom of this, but we are we are - and it will continue.
The public lead of NATO is the Secretary General, presently my older and less good looking doppelgänger Jens Stoltenberg, the former Prime Minister of Norway. He's been in the job for 8-years and is looking to move on to a new position. He may extend for a year, but there is a move to replace him - even at this critical moment.
The position of Secretary General requires a deft combination of good coalition political experience, peer respect, personability, and a turn-key knowledge of alliance and European security issues. It is not a place for on the job training, figureheads, or personalities who don't understand the exceptional complexity of European politics.
This is why the present Secretary General was a former Prime Minister. He predecessor was Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Prime Minister of Denmark who held the job for over five years. Before him, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, former Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, in addition to the individuals mentioned above, we had a former British Defense Minister, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and a German former Defense Minister.
Do you see a common thread there? Of course, a serious organization of such importance has to be led by serious people who are ready for the job on day-1. This is not a NGO or think tank - you screw this up and you can help start of world war.
So, via NYT, as a war wages in Eastern Europe and NATO is looking for a new Secretary General, what is the focus?
The behind-the-scenes jockeying for who should succeed Jens Stoltenberg has begun in earnest, with a focus on women.
Here's the CV:
While the officials cautioned that these are early days, and very often the names that surface first do not survive the bargaining among NATO’s 30 members, they said one prime candidate has surfaced in Washington: Chrystia Freeland, 54, the Canadian-Ukrainian deputy prime minister and finance minister of Canada.
Ms. Freeland, 54, a former journalist (who is married to a reporter for The New York Times), has also been Canada’s foreign minister. Her advantages are considerable: she speaks English, French, Italian, Ukrainian and Russian; she has run complicated ministries; she is good at news conferences and other public appearances; and she would be the first woman and first Canadian ever to run NATO.
The fact that word is on the street that the primary filter here is if someone is XX vs XY would be laughable if not so destructive. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a woman being Secretary General, but that should have nothing to do with the decision. The fact is leading with that as the first criteria, any woman selected as Secretary General this round, would - rightly - always have a shadow over them for this simple fact that they did not get the position on merit - but simply an attempt to signal virtue to ... well ... fellow members of the woke left in the West, I guess. NATO's potential enemies will only be encouraged by such an act.
This does nothing for NATO or women - and it degrades both by the process.
That being said, as her name is being floated, let's look at Freeland. Many US citizens may recognize her from her very undiplomatic interactions with the Trump Administration. It wasn't just Trump, but something worse that seeps out. Even during the Biden Administration, her not-so-subtle sniffs of standard issue leftist Canadian anti-Americanism crops up on a regular basis. It only gets worse when she deals with Americans to the right of Bernie Sanders.
In NATO, you need someone who is a subtle politician - again with experience working in a vigorous multi-party coalition with highly different views, priorities, and goals. That is why Europeans make such good Secretary Generals. While Canada also has a parliamentary system, it and its parties are VERY different than the European model. Freeland only gets partial credit here.
There is also the issue of temperament. Read the links above. Freeland likes to pick fights, often in public. Worse, she seems to enjoy - again as most standard-issue Canadian leftists do - in making snide comments about the government and people of the alliance's largest monetary and troop contributing nation - the United States of America.
The Secretary General of NATO has to be someone by temperament and habit seen as a non-partisan person toward the USA so that they can work with American administrations from all political parties. Freeland has significant issues with the American Republican Party in general and American conservatives in particular. That alone should be enough for serious alliance nations from Poland to Great Britain to be against her as a possible candidate. In summary; Freeland does not possess the skills or temperament for the position.
Now is not the time for such frivolity.
The last reason - and the most important reason for me - that Freeland should not be the Secretary General will be recognizable to regular readers here. It has nothing to do with her as a person, but her nation, Canada.
I love Canada and Canadians - but this is not personal, this is business. Serious alliance business. Simply by the numbers, Canada has not earned the position.
Review my post from September if needed, but Canada spends ~1.3% of her GDP on defense. This is WELL below NATO's 2% minimum. Only Slovenia, Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg spend less.
We are well past being polite to alliance members who refuse to pull their fair share of the burden. Canada simply has not put herself in the position to reward any of her political elite with the position of Secretary General, man or woman.
If anything, a public point should be made that the nationals of nations below the 2% threshold will not be taken in to consideration for this or any other high-level uniformed or civilian role in NATO.
If a security alliance wants to send a signal to the world about its serious understanding of place and time, then first we would want to pick a person from a nation who has earned a spot. Secondly, that nation should have a perspective useful in this time and place - pick an experienced Polish politician.