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Jul 14, 2024

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Great Care Should Go Into Choosing NATO Head

By Dr. Lucja Swiatkowski Cannon
Friday, 21 June 2024

Next month’s NATO meeting in Washington will appoint its new secretary general, chosen by a consensus of the 32 members of the alliance. The most powerful countries are supporting Mark Rutte, former prime minister of the Netherlands.

At the beginning, there were voices saying it was time to appoint the NATO secretary from the Eastern flank of NATO. Some names were mentioned, such as Kaja Kallas, prime minister of Estonia, and Klaus Iohannis, president of Romania.

It seems that the Eastern flank countries have the most at stake in the environment of war in Ukraine and threats to their homelands. They were right about the threat posed by Putin’s policies in Europe; they have the highest level of defense spending and did the most to assist Ukraine in weathering the initial attack; and they would be most effective in leading the anti-Putin coalition to secure a fair peace for Ukraine and negotiate a new security order in Europe.

But Western countries do not want them. Germany, France, Britain and the United States picked Rutte as their candidate because they do not want anybody who could be considered hawkish on Russia. Mark Rutte is anything but.

Until recently, he was considered the face of pro-Putin policy to make Europe dependent on Russian natural gas through Nord Stream pipelines. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline was inaugurated in 2015 after the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Further, Rutte discussed extension of these pipelines to the Netherlands and Great Britain. He was the most enthusiastic supporter, next to Angela Merkel, former chancellor of Germany.

These pipelines provided large quantities of natural gas to Germany, which acted as a hub for distribution across Europe. What were the political consequences of this project, aside from spreading Russian influence and economic dependence?

The most obvious losers were Eastern European countries, especially Poland, Belarus, Slovakia and Ukraine, whose own pipelines would be driven out of business. They would lose their transit fees, which were significant sources of income, become isolated and weakened, and be subject to extreme Russian pressures.

But this would be just the beginning. Germany would get even richer at the expense of Eastern Europe, which would lead to greater political polarization, threatening the European Union.

Further, earnings from gas served as a war chest and allowed Putin to buy arms to threaten the independence of Europe as a whole, not just Eastern Europe. Many in both Western and Eastern Europe recognized this.

“It is us — the Russian gas-consuming Europeans — who are helping finance Russia’s wars in Ukraine and Syria, its military occupations of Crimea, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria, and provocative maneuvres by Russian jets in the Baltic region and elsewhere. The more gas and oil we burn, the more money will go to Putin and his armies — those in uniform as well as armies of trolls — to wage hybrid wars against Europe,” writes Juraj Mesík, climate and energy adviser at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association.

Some considered existential issues, according to Mesik: “Are Germans serious about peace? Then they should stop financing Russian militarism — the only real external threat to Europe. They should import less, not more, gas from Russia!”

The German government and Mark Rutte did not listen to these warnings and therefore, they have a direct hand in the creation of conditions that resulted in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In 2014 supposedly, Rutte changed his mind after the Russian separatists shot down the Malaysian Airlines jet with mostly Dutch tourists on board over Donbas. But it was found that he seemingly misled both the public and the Dutch Parliament in 2017.

Secretly, he was still involved in discussions of constructing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Despite widespread condemnation, he suffered no consequences. His nickname is: “Teflon Mark,” never bearing responsibility for his scandals.

Further, under Rutte’s leadership, Netherlands continually did not meet its obligation under NATO guidelines to spend 2% of GDP on defense and is only scheduled to meet this obligation this year for the first time. The Dutch government repeatedly ignored warnings against dependence on Russian gas and had no plans to reduce it when the Ukraine war broke out.

This attitude of not spending enough on defense, while paying enormous sums for cheap gas to Russia, which used them to arm itself to attack Western interests, infuriated the United States.

Even though in the last year Mark Rutte made an effort to assist Ukraine in defending itself, his record on Russia of over a dozen years raises major red flags and gives him no credibility as a leader of NATO.

How can he be a leader of the anti-Putin coalition when his record is appeasement and partnership with Putin? He telegraphs weakness and evasion.

One cannot help but wonder if the choice of Mark Rutte means something beyond his own skillful promotion campaign. Does it mean that Europe is contemplating a return to a partnership with Russia, including large imports of energy as in the past, even in the face of explosions of Nord Stream pipelines in 2022 in the Baltic Sea and the prolonged war in Ukraine?

If it is true, it is a mistake that might have grave consequences for Europe.


PHOTO: French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, Nord Stream Managing Director Matthias Warnig, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev congratulate one another after turning a wheel to symbolically start the flow of gas through the Nord Stream Baltic Sea gas pipeline on November 8, 2011 in Lubmin, Germany.  (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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