NATO goes Dutch with its new secretary general

NATO chose Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as its new secretary general yesterday.

The defence alliance turned to a diplomat-turned-politician who is well placed ease tensions between the United States and key European allies in the wake of the Iraq war.

After nine months of searching, ambassadors from the 19 NATO nations agreed De Hoop Scheffer will take on the alliance’s top job on January 1, after George Robertson ends his four-year term.

De Hoop Scheffer, aged 55, steered a skilful course for Dutch diplomacy during the Iraq War crisis that split NATO earlier this year. The Dutch government supported the US led war, but avoided antagonising the anti-war camp led by France and

Germany. “He has an excellent perception of the different sensibilities on both sides of the Atlantic, that’s why he is particularly well placed to promote the European and transatlantic dimensions of NATO,” said Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel.

The Dutchman’s most persistent rival for the position was Canadian Finance Minister John Manley, but he failed to muster support from European allies reluctant to relinquish their traditional hold on the secretary-general’s post.

De Hoop Scheffer’s vigorous pursuance of the Netherlands’ traditional role as supporter of both closer unity in Europe and a strong Atlantic alliance also swayed the decision.

“He is convinced of the importance of strong relations between the US and Europe,” said Fred van Staden, head of the Clingendael Institute for Strategic Studies in The Hague.

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