VOA News File: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference after the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo, Norway, June 1, 2023.

Outgoing NATO Chief Stoltenberg at White House Monday

VOA News File: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference after the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo, Norway, June 1, 2023.

WASHINGTON —  U.S. President Joe Biden is set to meet outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House Monday as jockeying to secure Stoltenberg’s successor intensifies.

While the White House says the official agenda for the meeting is to discuss the alliance’s upcoming July summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, the issue of who will be next at NATO’s helm during this difficult period in its 74-year history will no doubt be front and center, as the alliance faces Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, is the longest-running NATO chief in a generation and has had his tenure extended three times since taking the job in 2014. In February, his spokesperson said he will leave office when his current term ends in October.

Stoltenberg is widely credited for managing rocky transatlantic relations between former U.S. President Donald Trump and European allies over defense spending, the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan in August 2021, and overseeing the alliance’s response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. His preference about his successor carries weight and Biden is expected to consult with him.

“A lot of people will look to him to say, ‘Who do you think is the best to follow up your leadership?” said Andrew Hyde, senior fellow at the Stimson Center, to VOA.

Whoever succeeds Stoltenberg will face the daunting challenge of shepherding the security of 1 billion people in 31 countries and growing. The next leader militarily while preventing the conflict from bleeding into the territory of a NATO member, which would trigger the alliance’s Article 5 principle of collective defense and potentially lead to World War III.

Consensus based

A U.S. general is traditionally the Supreme Allied Commander Europe but the post of NATO chief has always been assumed by a European, even though there’s nothing in its charter that requires it.

There’s no formal process and candidates don’t announce that they’re running for the post. Selection is done through consensus, achieved mostly through quiet and informal diplomatic channels.

As the biggest donor, the U.S. plays a key role — the reason why two contenders have paid a visit to the Oval Office recently.

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