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Updated Feb 22, 2024, 4:32pm EST
Europe
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Semafor Signals

The Dutch prime minister could be NATO’s new leader

Insights from The Washington Post, Bloomberg, and International Affairs

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Reuters/Johanna Geron
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The News

More than two-thirds of NATO members, including key states such as the U.S., France, and the U.K., have endorsed Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as the next NATO leader, but the process of nomination requires approval from all 31 of members. Turkey reportedly has a long list of demands in exchange for backing Rutte’s leadership bid, while Budapest has doubts about Rutte due to his criticisms about the state of democracy in Hungary.

The alliance faces an uncertain future due to U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s skepticism of collective security and the challenge of Ukraine funding, and the question of who will be NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg’s successor is of increasing importance to Europe and the United States.

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Dutch PM launches Trump charm offensive

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Sources:  
The Washington Post, Bloomberg, International Affairs

While European leaders widely condemned Donald Trump for saying that he would let Russia “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO members that did not meet their defense spending goals, Rutte has defended the former U.S. president, telling Bloomberg TV that “[Trump] was right” about European countries not spending enough. “We should stop moaning and whining and nagging about Trump,” Rutte said at the Munich Security Conference last weekend. NATO’s current chief Jens Stoltenberg was able to build a good working relationship with Trump through flattery and compromise, with one former ambassador calling him the “master Trump-whisperer.” If Trump is elected U.S president, the next NATO chief will have to live up to his predecessor’s reputation.

Dutch defense spending may be a sore spot for Rutte

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Sources:  
The Guardian, Politico

Rutte has earned the moniker “Teflon Mark” for his ability to navigate domestic scandals and turbulent moments, but the Netherlands’ defense spending under his leadership could be a liability for his nomination as NATO’s head. U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) told Politico that Rutte should be “unequivocally disqualified” due to the Netherlands’ low military spending. The Hague is expected to hit NATO’s 2% of GDP spending target this year, but has previously fallen far short of that number during Rutte’s time as prime minister.

Eastern Europe holds out for one of their own

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Sources:  
Bloomberg, The Atlantic Council’s Andrew A. Michta

The countries along NATO’s eastern flank had long hoped that Jens Stoltenberg’s successor would be the first Eastern European NATO chief, a recognition of the region’s vulnerable position and its significant contribution to defense spending, as a share of GDP, when compared to Western Europe. However, several Eastern European countries are yet to endorse Rutte, and Romania reportedly plans to nominate its president, Klaus Iohannis, as a candidate for NATO secretary general, Bloomberg reported. The next NATO chief “should come from one of the frontier allies in the Baltic-Central European theater where the risk of Russian invasion is the highest,” Andrew A. Michta, a NATO expert at the Atlantic Council wrote on X.

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