Mark Rutte seeks Türkiye's backing for new job
    A new pair of hands

    ANALYTICS  24 April 2024 - 16:55

    Fuad Shahbazov

    Reportedly, the Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte will soon land in Türkiye to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Rutte’s visit to Istanbul has different colours as the Dutch prime minister seeks to woo Turkish support to become the next NATO chief. The current NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg, will soon be stepping down after a decade in service. The current NATO chief went through uneasy times, particularly during Donald Trump's presidency and deteriorating relations between the United States (US) and NATO countries.

    The new successor of Stoltenberg is set to be chosen soon as it is necessary to finish the latest appointment to delink the process from the upcoming European Union (EU) and the US presidential elections in 2024. While Washington is widely seen as the kingmaker, anyone from one of NATO's 31 governments can play the spoiler. As such, Mark Rutte occasionally travels around Europe seeking vocal support from NATO member states. Recently, Sweden announced that it is among NATO member countries that want Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to lead the defence alliance after Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

    Indeed, Prime Minister Mark Rutte is in a strong position to become the next leader of NATO after he received the backing of the US, Sweden, Estonia, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Other hopefuls include Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Latvia's former prime minister and current foreign minister Krisjanis Karins.

    Having led several Dutch coalition governments over the past 13 years, Mark Rutte has accumulated a wealth of experience, diplomatic skills, and contacts both in Europe and across the globe and is known as a pragmatist who is well aware of the importance of trans-Atlantic ties.

    Nevertheless, Rutte's quest for Turkish support may not come easy as President Erdogan is expected to negotiate Ankara's demands before officially extending his support to Rutte's candidacy. As such, President Erdogan is keen to ensure that Rutte — or any other candidate — won't be biased toward the alliance's European Union members, particularly that he won't bow to pressure from EU member states Greece and Cyprus. Moreover, Türkiye also wants Rutte to allow Ankara to be included in NATO partnerships with the EU and ensure there won't be defence export restrictions between NATO allies.

    Reportedly, during the vis-a-vis meeting, President Erdogan emphasized the importance of the new Secretary General serving the security and interests of the members in combating terrorism and other challenges.

    Before the NATO chief case, Türkiye successfully traded concessions from NATO member states, including the Netherlands, to approve Sweden and Finland's bid for accession to NATO ranks. As part of the negotiations, the Netherlands withdrew restrictions on sales of arms to Türkiye more than three years after it had suspended them following Ankara’s military incursion into northern Syria. Even before that, personal relations between PM Mark Rutte and President Erdogan were strained in 2017, and diplomatic relations between the two states were shortly neglected.

    Seemingly, Mark Rutte is committed to gaining Ankara's support as it is one of the most critical NATO member countries defending the organization’s eastern flanks. However, even if Rutte receives a green light from Türkiye, he is still far from securing the NATO chief position. Hungary, another NATO member country, earlier made it clear that it would not support Rutte's candidacy. Therefore, Rutte’s further attempts to replace Stoltenberg may face harsh opposition.

    Indeed, the next Secretary of NATO will be under tough pressure amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, the changing geopolitical landscape in Eastern Europe, and other threats stemming from the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip and Israel-Iran tensions. As the next potential chief of NATO, Rutte will be expected to demonstrate a solid commitment to support Ukraine militarily despite mounting costs and war fatigue — and guarding the alliance from a direct confrontation with Russia.

    In addition to the Ukraine and Iran-Israel problem, the next NATO chief may face additional troubles after the upcoming US elections if Donald Trump secures the second term, as he has fiercely criticized NATO countries for spending too little on defence.


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