NYT: Estonia’s Kaja Kallas a strong contender to be the next NATO chief

The New York Times reported on 4 November that the current Estonian prime minister, Kaja Kallas, was a strong contender to be the next secretary general of NATO as the current alliance chief, Jens Stoltenberg, will step down in September 2023.

According to the article, where any of the candidates come down on support for Ukraine in the war against Russia will be a critical factor.

“However strongly opposed they are to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, countries of Western Europe, like France and Germany, want to look past the day the war ends, one way or another, and will want someone willing to try to create a new, more stable relationship with Moscow,” the newspaper says.

“The Estonian, Ms. Kallas, has been strong in support of Ukraine and very vocal, raising her international profile, but it is possible that anyone from the Baltic nations or Poland, no matter their qualities, would be considered too fiercely anti-Russian for the rest of NATO. Ms. Kallas has opposed any negotiations with Vladimir V. Putin, the president of Russia, and has accused Russia of genocide in Ukraine.”

Kaja Kallas at a NATO summit in Madrid, 30 June 2022. Photo by Stenbock House.

A Canadian favourite

According to the New York Times, another strong candidate for the next NATO chief is Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian-Ukrainian deputy prime minister and finance minister of Canada. She has also been her country’s foreign minister and speaks English, French, Italian, Ukrainian and Russian.

The United States does not put forward an American candidate, since an American general is traditionally the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, but it understandably has a strong voice in the choice, the newspaper says, noting that Freeland is one of the prime candidates in Washington.

Among the candidates that may emerge from the European Union, in addition to Kallas, the newspaper mentions Zuzana Caputova, the president of Slovakia; and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, the former president of Croatia.

“Britain, which has left the European Union but not NATO, has a contender in Ben Wallace, 52, its defense secretary. Some officials suggested he has stayed in that job despite Britain’s governmental merry-go-round not only to provide stability in support for Ukraine, but also to increase his chances for the NATO post, which London dearly wants as another symbol of its post-Brexit engagement in the world.”

Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian-Ukrainian deputy prime minister and finance minister of Canada. Photo by kmu.gov.ua, shared under the Creative Commons 4.0 licence.

A focus on women

The current NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, is scheduled to step down from his role in next September – unless his term gets extended. And even though there’s almost a year to go, the behind-the-scenes “jockeying for who should succeed Jens Stoltenberg has begun in earnest, with a focus on women”.

Stoltenberg is the 14th secretary general of the alliance and has been in office since October 2014. He’s a former prime minister of Norway.

Kaja Kallas, 45, is the current prime minister of Estonia, having held the post since January 2021. She’s the chair of the Reform Party.

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