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Edward Lucas: Kaja Kallas suits NATO job perfectly, but this is little help to her



The process to choose the next NATO secretary general may test even Estonians’ excellent sense of humor, security expert Edward Lucas writes.

Some NATO countries are more equal than others – no laughing matter in Estonia, he adds in a piece which appeared on the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) website and which refers to the Estonian prime minister as the “outstanding” apparent candidate to the NATO top job, at least from among the Central and Eastern European member states.

As reported by ERR News, the Estonian prime minister is not letting some pretty intense dissatisfaction with her record as head of government at home limit her horizons abroad; Kallas was in Washington last week, essentially lobbying for her candidacy, and by extension that of Estonia, for the NATO top job – not a role which involves submitting a resume and cover letter and awaiting a call to interview.

She did, however, answer in the affirmative when pushed by a POLITICO journalist on whether she would at least like the job.

Edward Lucas notes that Kallas already knows what she is up against, yet at the same time she meets more than one criteria she enunciated while in Washington, namely a) coming from a newer member state (Estonia joined NATO in 2004), b) being from a member state which spends at least 2 percent of GDP per annum on defense (Estonia exceeds this) and c) “ideally” being a woman (all NATO secretaries general since the alliance was founded nearly 75 years ago have been men).

In any event, the contest to find a replacement for Jens Stoltenberg, in office for nearly a decade after his term was extended several times, is well underway, Lucas notes.

Kallas’ main rival is Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, at 56, 10 years Kallas’ senior (according to Lucas it was Rutte Kallas was joking about in reference to the above criteria).

Former Latvian prime minister, now foreign minister, Krišjānis Kariņš (58), has also thrown his hat into the ring Lucas reports. Kariņš grew up in the U.S. before returning to the country of his antecedents, which he did in the 1990s.

Another string to Kallas’ bow not mentioned above is her forthrightness in her criticism of the Russian regime, and consistency here going back far earlier than her time in office – in fact throughout the 32 years since Estonia regained its independence and most eloquently expressed during the presidency of Lennart Meri.

Rutte, on the other hand, Lucas notes, is a “teflon” candidate, ie. nothing sticks to him even as he has morphed from a more traditionally Dutch mercantilist approach, even when it comes to Russia, to a “conventionally hawkish” line nowadays; Kallas has not benefited from this privilege so much – referring to the controversy over her husband’s business interests over the past three months as a witch hunt.

All this while the Netherlands defense spend is 1.58 percent of GDP per annum.

Less relevant in respect of the NATO job, Kallas has also faced the inevitable criticisms on domestic policy which will hit any prime minister in Estonia, in this case principally over the state budget, fiscal policies and the issue of teachers’ wages.

Nonetheless, Lucas writes, “on paper, she is the outstanding candidate for the job. “

“It is hard to see any other candidate from the eastern half of Europe doing better, even male ones,” he adds.

Other factors may apply, however, according to Lucas.

Former European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, now involved back in domestic politics, let slip in a recent TV interview that Estonia’s border with Russia was a “potential issue” which would affect Kallas’s candidacy.

Lucas notes that Norway also borders with the Russian Federation, yet this has never hampered Stoltenberg’s position, the inference being that perhaps the standby nations of the “old West” are still viewed as a safer pair of hands than the newer Eastern Flank nations, despite Estonia sticking to the rules so far as defense spending goes.

Since its inception, NATO secretaries general have never come from the largest member state, the U.S. The roster by country to date is Britain and the Netherlands three NATO leaders, followed by Belgium (two) and

Italy, Germany, Spain, Denmark and Norway (one apiece).

The full Europe’s Edge article by Edward Lucas is available via the CEPA website here.

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