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Updated Jun 20, 2024, 1:31pm EDT
Europe
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Semafor Signals

New NATO head is most likely ‘Trump whisperer’ Mark Rutte

Insights from International Affairs, Politico, and Bloomberg

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Mark Rutte and Jens Stoltenberg
Yves Herman/File Photo/Reuters
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Mark Rutte is set to become the next NATO secretary general, the alliance’s top job, after receiving the backing of all 32 NATO member states. Romania confirmed on Thursday that it is backing the Dutch prime minister’s candidacy, after Hungary and Slovakia announced their support on Tuesday.

Rutte is expected to take over in October when Jens Stoltenberg’s term as NATO chief ends. His four-year term will start amidst a crucial moment in the alliance’s history, as Western officials warn of the growing threat of Russian aggression against NATO and the US presidential nominee Donald Trump has warned that he could limit American engagement if elected.

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Appointment could test Rutte’s ‘Trump whisperer’ credentials

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Sources:  
iNews, International Affairs

Trump’s suggestion that the US would not come to the aid of NATO countries that do not spend enough on defense has sparked concern among European NATO members. Yet Rutte could be well suited for managing Trump if he returns to the White House for a second term. Rutte earned the nickname “the Trump whisperer” after a successful backroom charm offensive in 2018 that assured the then-US president that Europe was boosting its defense spending. Throughout the first Trump presidency, the NATO secretary general’s flattery and ability to build a rapport with Trump played a key role in preserving the alliance, a researcher argued in International Affairs. Rutte could repeat the trick.

Rutte appointed despite Eastern European reservations

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Source:  
Politico

Mark Rutte could face an uphill battle to gain the confidence of Eastern Europe. While he will be the fourth Dutch NATO chief, Eastern Europe has yet to have any (several Eastern European contenders ultimately dropped out of the race for the top job this year after being perceived as too hawkish and focused on Russia). On top of that, Rutte failed to bring Dutch defense spending up to NATO’s 2% spending target throughout his 14-year stretch as prime minister, although the country is on track to hit that threshold this year. “What moral credibility does this guy have?” former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves told Politico.

NATO split on what to offer Ukraine at upcoming summit

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Sources:  
CNN, Bloomberg

Before Rutte takes the reins, NATO’s focus is on an upcoming summit in Washington in mid-July, where the alliance will likely announce a series of new policies to boost military readiness and support for Ukraine. While the UK and several Central and Eastern European countries support pledging that Ukraine’s path to NATO is “irreversible,” the US and Germany are in favor of a more moderate commitment of a “bridge” to membership, CNN reported. Meanwhile, NATO is pushing for allies to spend at least $43 billion per year on aid to Ukraine, which would be in line with the average support since Russia’s invasion, after a more ambitious plan for a larger NATO fund fell through.

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