Next NATO Leader Should Be a Show of Support to Ukraine


An Eastern-European woman should be the next Secretary General of NATO. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Claire Bickel, Contributing Writer

The current Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is Jens Stoltenberg, the former Prime Minister of Norway. He has served in this position since October 2014 and is expected to step down in September 2023. It is vital for the diplomatic head of the most significant military treaty in the world, the largest power check on Russia, to have experience in leading complex governments. Subsequently, it could not be more critical to quickly select an experienced Secretary General, who is a strong leader with good communication skills, and who has a clear stance against Russia. 

While NATO is, first and foremost, a military treaty, it is also an important political and values alliance. During a time when the world moves further away from democracy and closer to authoritarianism, this alliance could not be more important. 

When Donald Trump was president of the United States, his statements and actions brought considerable uncertainty to NATO. Nevertheless, through Stoltenberg’s calm and disciplined leadership, NATO stayed the political course, with pro-democracy and anti-authoritarian leadership ideals. Because of this aspect of the alliance, the Secretary General position is not a military post, but a civilian one. 

The importance of the Secretary-General position at this time cannot be understated. As the war in Ukraine approaches its ninth year, and a full-scale Russian invasion approaches its ninth month, NATO cannot afford to be careless with the replacement for this position. 

Although Ukraine is not a part of the NATO alliance, it is a close NATO ally and a former Soviet country that gained its independence and turned towards democracy. NATO is heavily involved and invested in the war on a political and diplomatic level, not just a military level. This means that the Secretary General is in charge of NATO’s current response and political strategy regarding Russia. 

In addition to the importance of the Secretary General regarding Ukraine, there are also the pending admissions of Sweden and Finland. This represents the rising tensions with Russia as more countries seek NATO admittance in fear of Russian aggression. This severely limits the extent to which Russia can rebuild its empire, which it is attempting to do in Ukraine. 

With the admittance of Sweden and Finland, all countries on Russia’s Eastern border will have become a part of NATO, except Belarus and Ukraine. If Russia attacks any of these border NATO members, according to Article 5, the full force of NATO will come to their defense. 

Troops have already amassed in border NATO countries such as Poland and Romania. While troop deployment is a duty of the Supreme Allied Commander, the admittance of new countries and addressing of the political climate is a duty of the Secretary General. 

As for who should be the next NATO Secretary General, it should be a woman. In the 73-year history of the treaty, only men have led the alliance. Beyond that, as the current leading contenders become clear there are more qualified women candidates on this list than there are men. 

The next Secretary General should also be from an eastern European country to emphasize NATO’s commitment to the sovereignty of the nations most in danger of Russian expansion. Lastly, this person should have previously served in a high government position and have extensive experience with foreign policy. 

The first candidate that stands out is Chrystia Freeland, the deputy prime minister and finance minister of Canada. Freeland is Canadian-Ukrainian, which would send a message of solidarity to Ukraine. While Ukraine is not, as of now, a part of NATO, this would ensure their interests are being considered. As for Russia, it would send a similar message that NATO’s power is behind Ukraine. Freeland also speaks English, French, Italian, Ukrainian and Russian, has run complicated ministries and handles news conferences well. 

One problem that could arise if she became Secretary General is Canada’s GDP. Canada has yet to reach the 2% of GDP threshold for defense contribution to NATO — they are currently at 1.36%. In practice, Canada’s contribution to Europe’s security is minimal, which puts the prospect of Freeland as Secretary General in question. 

The second candidate that stands out is Kaja Kallas, the prime minister of Estonia, which borders Russia. She has been highly vocal about the atrocities committed in Ukraine by Russia, and under her leadership, Estonia has done more for Ukraine, relative to its size, than any other country in the world, providing the equivalent of 1% of its GDP. On top of this spending, Estonia contributes 2.28% of its GDP to NATO defense spending, unlike Canada. Kallas has also expertly articulated parallels between her country’s ordeal under Soviet occupation and Ukraine’s agony now. 

Many consider Kallas as too anti-Russian and believe anyone from the Baltic nations or Poland would be too fiercely anti-Russian to properly lead NATO. This alignment should not be a deterrent. While avoiding war with Russia is vital, we should not fool ourselves into believing that relations with Russia and NATO will ever revert to more peaceful times until there is a significant change in Russia. 

A third candidate is former Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. She was Croatia’s ambassador to Washington and worked at NATO as Assistant Secretary General of Public Diplomacy. 

However, while she is more than adequately credentialed for the role, Grabar-Kitarovic, as Secretary General of NATO, would set a dangerous course. In her 2019 re-election bid for president, she turned to the far-right. In a world where democracy is being attacked, and NATO prides itself on being a source of democratic values, it would be damaging to select Grabar-Kitarovic. Additionally, there have been numerous accusations that she is too close to Putin and Russia.

Whoever becomes the new Secretary General will have to continue the diplomatic and political work of NATO in an ever-evolving world climate while pushing back against Russia and an increase in authoritarianism. It is vital that this new leader has extensive experience in a government leadership position, is a strong communicator and has a clear stance against Russia.

Claire Bickel, FCRH ’24, is a political science and international political economy major from Branford, Conn.