UK

Britain backs outgoing Dutch premier Mark Rutte for Nato secretary-general

The alliance is looking for a replacement to succeed long-serving chief Jens Stoltenberg.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has the UK’s backing to be the next Nato chief
Mark Rutte Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has the UK’s backing to be the next Nato chief (Victoria Jones/PA)

Britain has given outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte its backing to be the next Nato chief.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Mr Rutte has “serious defence and security credentials” to be the alliance’s next secretary-general.

Nato is looking to appoint a successor to Jens Stoltenberg, who by October will have been in the job a decade.

Mr Stoltenberg had his tenure as the organisation’s top civilian official extended by a year in July, with Nato leaders opting to keep him in place during a period of global instability.

The former Norwegian prime minister’s term was due to expire in 2022 but he was kept on in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Moscow’s forces crossing the border in February of that year.

His successor will be handed the task of ensuring Nato support for Kyiv remains resilient while at the same time keeping the alliance out of a direct fight with Moscow.

They potentially might also have to deal with the return of Donald Trump — who has voiced scepticism about continued Western financial support for Ukraine — as US president.

Mr Rutte, the Netherlands’ longest-serving premier, announced in July he would leave politics following the collapse of his coalition government.

He has remained caretaker Prime Minister while talks over establishing a new government in the aftermath of the country’s November general election drag on.

Rishi Sunak’s spokesman told reporters on Thursday: “Nato is the bedrock of our collective defence and we pay tribute to Jens Stoltenberg for his leadership over the past nine years.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has been in post for almost 10 years
Jens Stoltenberg Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has been in post for almost 10 years (James Manning/PA)

“From the UK perspective, we want a candidate who will keep Nato strong and deliver on the alliance’s Nato 2030 vision.

“The UK does strongly back Dutch PM Mark Rutte to succeed Jens Stoltenberg as Nato secretary-general.

“He is well respected across the alliance, has serious defence and security credentials, and will ensure that the alliance remains strong and ready to defend and deter.”

Reports suggest US president Joe Biden has also endorsed Mr Rutte, with about two-thirds of Nato’s 31 member states said to back his candidacy.

He has long been tipped as a favourite to succeed Mr Stoltenberg, with Washington’s support emerging last year.

If he is selected, he would become the fourth Dutchman to serve in the role.

Rishi Sunak had initially backed Ben Wallace, now a former defence secretary, for Nato chief
Sudan unrest Rishi Sunak had initially backed Ben Wallace, now a former defence secretary, for Nato chief (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Mr Sunak last year offered his support for the then-defence secretary Ben Wallace to become the first Briton to lead the alliance since 2003.

The proposal failed to gain the necessary support – particularly from the US, the largest military power in Nato.

The Prime Minister and Mr Rutte are known to have a cordial relationship, with the pair holding lengthy catch-ups during international leaders’ summits.

The diplomacy over electing the next Nato chief comes as Defence Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Thursday the UK will send 200 more anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron also set out a sanctions package containing 50 measures aimed at diminishing Russia’s military power, with the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine set to enter its third year on Saturday.