scroll to top arrow or icon

Who is incoming NATO chief Mark Rutte?

​Visit by Dutch PM Mark Rutte with PM Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw, Poland on 21 March, 2022.

Visit by Dutch PM Mark Rutte with PM Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw, Poland on 21 March, 2022.

(Photo by STR/NurPhoto)

DutchPrime Minister Mark Rutte will take over as NATO’s Secretary-General in October, relieving Jens Stoltenberg after a decade in office, the alliance announced Wednesday. Rutte, who is famously affable and well-liked by peers, is a safe choice, but his political and diplomatic skills will be put to the test as NATO faces its greatest challenges in a generation.

What does a Secretary-General do? Rutte will herd some extremely well-armed cats. As the alliance’s main spokesperson and chief political officer, he will chair meetings of the North Atlantic Council and the Defense Planning Committee, among many other policy-making bodies, and is charged with building consensus among allies whose interests may vary widely. The role has always been filled by a senior European politician, just as the Supreme Allied Commander — NATO’s top general — has always been a senior US military officer (though there’s no rule).

The office carries very few official powers, meaning successful Sec-Gens must rely on their persuasive skills, and on that front, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more skilled candidate than Rutte. He has built a reputation as a masterful politician in nearly 14 years in office in the Hague, fending off repeated threats to his minority coalition from the far right and surviving scandals that sank the careers of his cabinet officials.

Can he handle Trump? If the former US president takes office again next year, many in NATO fear he may destabilize and weaken the alliance, given his antipathy to multilateralism and friendliness with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But Rutte is one of the few leaders who can say he’s tangled with Trump and come out unscathed, after directly interrupting and contradicting the then president during an Oval Office press conference in 2018. Reporters later overheard him tell Trump his desk was “tiny,” to which the president responded, “I like this guy!”

We’re watching whether Rutte’s charming directness serves him equally well in Brussels.


Subscribe to GZERO's daily newsletter