Romanian President Iohannis confirms bid for top Nato position

Romanian President Iohannis confirms bid for top Nato position
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis spoke of the need for unconditional support for Ukraine formally entered the race to become the next Nato secretary general. /
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest March 13, 2024

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, whose term expires at the end of the year, confirmed at a press conference on March 12 that he has decided to run for the Nato secretary-general position, at the same time revealing his plan for the military alliance in a Politico column.

While it’s at least premature to expect unanimous support for Iohannis among the Alliance’s 32 members, the step certainly further erodes the odds of the frontrunner, outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, securing the needed unanimity, while also launching the debate about a candidate from Eastern Europe.

Romania has a good understanding of the developments in the region, where Russia is proving to be a serious and long-term threat to Europe and Euro-Atlantic security. It unconditionally supports Ukraine and the Alliance needs a renewal of the perspective on its mission, Iohannis argued.

The move comes after Rutte has already gained informal support from major members of the Alliance, the US, the UK and Germany, to replace Jens Stoltenberg, who led the North Atlantic Alliance since 2014 and who will resign in September.

However, Rutte is still far from the needed unanimity. Hungary has threatened to veto the Dutch candidate because of his past criticism of the ultra-nationalist government in Budapest, and it is not the only member of the Alliance likely to object to Rutte’s bid. Iohannis visibly counts on support from Alliance’s members on its Eastern Flank with a “better understanding of the situation”.

Iohannis argued in his speech for a candidate from Eastern Europe, while leaving the door open for further negotiations. The move is a first step in what might become a more complex negotiation that might result in a more even balance of power among the Alliance’s members.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said last November she is interested in taking over the top job at Nato, as the Cold War-era alliance continues to navigate Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

In his speech on March 12, Iohannis also mentioned the security context and said Romania could contribute with its experience and “deep understanding” of the region to shaping a new vision of how we can quickly and efficiently respond to a varied and complex range of challenges and threats.

“I believe that Nato needs, for its part, a renewal of the perspective on its mission,” Iohannis said.

Eastern Europe has a valuable contribution to the discussions and decisions adopted within Nato, the Romanian president argued. 

“With a balanced, strong and influential representation from this region, the Alliance will be able to make the best decisions that meet the needs and concerns of all member states. For all these reasons, I decided to enter the competition for the position of secretary general of Nato,” he stated.

Building on ongoing political and military adaptation, we must make Nato even stronger, Iohannis said in his list of 10 points published by Politico.

The Romanian head of state proposed a comprehensive plan, which he referred to as a decalogue, for Nato to achieve its objectives effectively. Among these are strengthening deterrence and defence capabilities, intensifying cooperation, and crisis management efforts in strategic regions. 

It also stressed ongoing support for Ukraine's path towards Nato and EU membership, enhancing interoperability and defence industrial base development, and encouraging member states to meet defence spending targets. 

Additionally, the plan focuses on increasing resilience against hybrid and cyber threats, consolidating transatlantic partnerships and strategic alliances with the EU, and prioritising digital transformation and innovation. It highlights Nato's role in arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation.