ERKKI KOORT Moscow's voice having a say in choice of NATO's new secretary general

Erkki Koort
, security expert
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Photo: Ludovic Marin
  • Moscow has an indirect influence in the selection of NATO's secretary general.
  • The reasons for preferring Mark Rutte are pragmatic.
  • Estonia's political influence has grown.

Without a doubt, the next NATO secretary general will be the prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, and in this process, there are both positive and slightly less positive aspects, writes Erkki Koort, security expert at Postimees and the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences.

Strange as it may sound, Moscow, too, has a say in the choice of the NATO secretary general. Of course, none of the candidates has been the Kremlin's choice, and of course Russia's representatives will not be sitting at the table when the vote is taken. Yet Moscow has an indirect influence in the process.

Mark Rutte is a politician with a long and illustrious background. His 14 years as prime minister include many trials and tribulations that serve as prerequisites for understanding the Russian threat. At the extremes of this list are the opening of the Nord Stream gas pipeline with Dmitry Medvedev and the downing of Malaysian flight MH17 by Russia.

Where initially there were many candidates, including Kaja Kallas (Reform Party), in the end, only two remain – Mark Rutte and the opposing candidate. We have reason to be proud. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (and previously President Kersti Kaljulaid) were talked about as actual candidates for NATO secretary general, and even an April Fool's joke on this topic was so convincing that several foreign media outlets fell for it.

A significantly more important reason for a Western European candidate is the pragmatic need to sit at the same table with Russia at some point in the future.

The candidates began to fall off, one after another, for various reasons. This was due to past scandals, sluggish campaigning, and the lack of bargaining strength. In cases like this, there is active bargaining between countries, in which practically everything can be asked for in exchange for support. There are, of course, countries that do not ask.

Many countries stopped backing the president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis. We, too, do not support the Romanian. True, rationally speaking, it's that there are just more and larger countries behind Rutte, but in terms of geopolitical preferences, this leaves a poor impression. This shows that we do not even believe that the new NATO secretary general could come from Eastern Europe. How happy would we have been at a similar choice by Romanians?

A significantly more important reason for a Western European candidate is the pragmatic need to sit at the same table with Russia at some point in the future. Looking at the attitudes of several countries, it is seen as more suitable for Russia to sit at the same table with some Western country. Moreover, eastern Europeans may be more rigid, and the past and society's pressure may at least theoretically become an obstacle to progress.

What is there for us to garner from this process? We are glad that Estonia's political influence has increased. We will believe more in Eastern European candidates ourselves. We will keep in mind that with this process, a «delicate red line» appeared on the map, which Putin tried to draw in 2021, referring to NATO membership before 1997.