The next head of NATO? Danish leader’s invitation to DC sparks speculation – POLITICO

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has emerged as a strong contender to head NATO following an invitation to visit the White House.

Washington has announced that President Joe Biden will host Frederiksen next month, fueling discussions at NATO headquarters over whether the United States will back the Danish leader for the NATO role, which is traditionally reserved for a European but requires Washington’s blessing.

Current secretary general Jens Stoltenberg is expected to step down at the end of September after multiple extensions, but it is possible that he will remain for a few more months if alliance leaders fail to agree on a replacement.

The Danish leader ticks several boxes. The Allies are looking for a politician with the stature of a head of government, and given that all former NATO chiefs have been men, the pressure is high to find a candidate.

At the same time, Denmark is seen as a middle ground within the alliance – a staunch supporter of Ukraine that is nonetheless not as hawkish as some countries on the eastern flank.

“I think she’s a strong contender,” said a Western European diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal alliance dynamics.

A senior Central European diplomat echoed that sentiment.

“She is indeed taken seriously by a number of more important allies,” the diplomat said, adding that the Danish prime minister “was pretty solid during the Ukraine war.”

But Frederiksen comes from a country that recently held the post – former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen served as NATO secretary general between 2009 and 2014.

“Not all allies may be happy to see another candidate from a Nordic country,” the Western European diplomat said.

The top Central European diplomat was even more blunt, joking, “Is there a group of nations predestined to appoint a SecGen?”

Denmark is also behind on its defense spending, an issue that could worry some capitals. Copenhagen spent just 1.38% of economic output on defense in 2022, according to NATO’s latest estimates, below the alliance’s 2% target.

“What message about defense spending will this send?” asked the top Central European diplomat.

Plus, it’s still unclear when – and if – Frederiksen would be available.

Either way, NATO and its efforts to support Ukraine will be high on the agenda during the Danish leader’s trip to Washington.

In a statement, the White House said Biden and Frederiksen will “review our efforts as NATO allies and close partners to strengthen transatlantic security and support economic prosperity” and “discuss our unwavering support for the Ukraine in the Face of Russia’s Brutal War of Aggression”.

The invitation piqued curiosity in Europe about Frederiksen’s position in Washington – and at US-dominated NATO. While the final decision requires unanimity among the alliance’s 31 members, the US government has traditionally vetted applicants before a selection is made.

When asked if Frederiksen was a serious candidate to lead NATO, a second senior diplomat from Central Europe replied that “it may be so”.

Denmark’s prime minister herself has played down speculation about a possible job change, insisting last month that she was not a candidate. His office did not respond to questions about the latest chatter.

And some officials warn that while Frederiksen could be a strong contender, the field is still wide open. Other names currently circulating as possible candidates include Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, a popular figure within the alliance, is also often mentioned as a candidate.

“If we are looking for a wife, why not Kallas? said the first senior diplomat from Central Europe.

But some Western allies are reluctant to choose a leader seen as too warmongering as war rages on the continent.

“I heard that Frederiksen had excellent qualities. And clearly Denmark is a reliable ally,” said a senior diplomat from Eastern Europe, who was also granted anonymity to discuss the sensitive domestic issue.

But, they added, “there are allies in the east who are wondering – when and if a candidate from the region will ever arrive at the helm of NATO.”

“The brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine,” the diplomat said, “proved that many of them are reliable and capable.”


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