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Nato needs a bland, non-ideological leader. Mark Rutte will be perfect (FT)

13 March 2024


Intro LO:

Author Simon Kuper writes that Mark Rutte is not a visionary. I’m not so sure about that. Technically, Simon Kuper’s remark is valid. However, in my view, Mark Rutte’s vision is about (his) Power. That would also explain his role as longest-serving Dutch PM. Quite often, visionaries are about Knowledge.

Mark Rutte’s main strength is his relentless pragmatism. It’s rare to notice any sign of ideology in his attitude and/or behaviour. However, his ideology might be well-hidden inside his personality. In a long 2016 Dutch TV episode of Zomergasten, you could see some glimpses of his ideology.

I agree with Simon Kuper that Mark Rutte would be perfect for NATO.

Nato needs a bland, non-ideological leader. Mark Rutte will be perfect (FT)

FT subtitle: Why the Dutch prime minister is front-runner to hold together the various conflicting interests in the Nato coalition
By: Simon Kuper
Date: 7 March 2024

“For now, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte can still be spotted around The Hague mopping up his own coffee spills, teaching a weekly social studies class at a mostly immigrant high school, or puttering about in his battered Saab (bought in 2009, a year before his premiership began). But this spring he will probably be given a rather more consequential job. The US, UK, France and Germany have backed him to succeed Jens Stoltenberg as Nato’s secretary-general. How would Rutte manage a military alliance that might face simultaneous attacks from Vladimir Putin and a re-elected Donald Trump? I asked some of his Dutch intimates.

Rutte went into politics with almost no interest in foreign affairs. His mentor Ben Verwaayen, longtime chief executive of BT, urged him to join the conference circuit of Munich, Davos and Aspen to learn about the world. Rutte preferred domestic minutiae. But in 14 years as prime minister, he outgrew the daily Dutch negotiations about how to distribute small budget cuts or windfalls across competing interest groups. He now finds the great world more compelling. Still, don’t bother trying to identify his worldview. Rutte likes to quote the late West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt: “Anyone having visions should see a doctor.”

A Dutch premier is a chairman, not a visionary. Rutte’s job was shepherding disparate coalitions towards consensus. He’ll bring this skill to Nato. Notionally centre-right, he in fact has no discernible political beliefs and worked as cheerfully with the left as with far-right leader Geert Wilders. He broke with Wilders only when the latter proved himself an unreliable partner, bringing down Rutte’s first coalition in 2012. Rutte still greets him heartily in The Hague.

Mark Rutte has no discernible political beliefs. He worked as cheerfully with the left as the far-right

Rutte would drink coffee with the devil, and probably give him a hug. He used to think even Putin was a well-meaning fellow. Look at Rutte’s grin at the opening of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline from Russia in 2011. At the time, his austerity policies were slashing Dutch military spending. He went off Putin only in 2014, after Russian separatists in Ukraine downed the MH17 passenger plane with 196 Dutch nationals on board.

He worked happily with Trump, too. One argument for Rutte’s suitability for Nato is the video from 2018 in which Trump, flanked by Rutte, says it would be “positive” if the US and EU didn’t reach agreement on tariffs. “No,” interrupts Rutte, smiling pacifically. “It’s not positive. We have to work something out.”

Remarkably, note Rutte’s current backers, Trump didn’t seem offended. He shook Rutte’s hand, and tweeted later that welcoming him had been “my great honour”. The lifelong bachelor Rutte, in his high-street haircut, may be too much a Beta male to arouse Trump’s competitive instincts.

Rutte urged last month’s Munich Security Conference: “We should stop moaning and whining and nagging about Trump. I’m not an American. I cannot vote in the US. We have to work with whoever is on the dance floor.” That may mean working with a Trump who, in week one, starts withdrawing American troops from Europe.

Rutte is an instinctive transatlanticist, more so than an instinctive European. This is the norm in small northern European countries, and a reason why Nato for most of its history has had Dutch, Belgian or Scandinavian secretaries-general, remarks Rem Korteweg of the Clingendael Institute, a Dutch think-tank. Rutte would be the fourth Dutch secretary-general. Western powers are wary of anointing an eastern European who might prove a little too hawkish on Russia.

Rutte wants this job. He often said he’d become a teacher after his premiership, but he isn’t ready for life outside politics. He’d rather exchange his everyday Hague freedom for the constant presence of bodyguards.

Fortunately, Nato’s secretary-general is meant to be a chairman without visions. Rutte would have to hold together Nato’s disparate coalition, which could range from Trump through the vegetarian Germans to the senior eastern European politician who told me, “We’re asking ourselves, ‘Why sit waiting for Russia to attack us? Why don’t we attack Russia?’” Most national leaders like Rutte. As in his Dutch cabinets, he will find a united front, or pretend one exists.

His appointment is expected by early April. There’s no set mechanism: whenever Nato’s 31 national ambassadors feel ready, they could agree their choice over a so-called “dean’s coffee”, hosted by their longest-standing member, Croatia’s Mario Nobilo. Rutte isn’t made for tragedy, but in this job he may have tragedy thrust upon him. He understands his mission: not to be Nato’s last secretary-general.”



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