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Jens just couldn’t say ‘no’

NATO finally confirmed on Tuesday that Norway’s own Jens Stoltenberg will spend another year, his 10th, as secretary general of the defense alliance. The popular former prime minister had wanted to come home this fall, but in the end, duty called.

Norway’s Jens Stoltenberg will stay on for a 10th year as secretary general of NATO. PHOTO: NATO

“I think he really wanted to quit, that was his wish and what he was mentally prepared for,” Karsten Friis, senior researcher the Norway’s foreign policy institute NUPI, told Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen last week. “But there are huge issues at stake, and it’s not so easy to say ‘no’ when the American president asks you to stay on.”

Friis thinks Stoltenberg was thus “a bit stuck” because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and multiple world crises, and with no other even bigger job waiting for him. He’d given up his controversial “dream job” as chief of Norway’s central bank after NATO asked him to extend his second four-year term that was due to end last fall. Stoltenberg did so, and the central bank post has since been filled.

Nor had NATO allies manged to find anyone to replace Stoltenberg, or hadn’t wanted to. The general consensus has been that it’s best to keep the well-liked Stoltenberg at the helm, especially given all the ongoing drama with Russia.

US President Joe Biden once again hailed Stoltenberg’s “solid leadership” of NATO on Tuesday, along with his “experience and judgment.” Biden noted how Stoltenberg has “led the alliance through the biggest security challenges in Europe since World War II.” The US clearly wanted to keep Stoltenberg at his post.

Other NATO leaders also thanked Stoltenberg for “his leadership and commitment, which has been critical to preserving trans-Atlantic unity in the face of unprecedented security challenges.” The NATO allies all agreed to “extend the mandate of Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg” for another year, until October 1, 2014, a decision that will be endorsed by NATO heads of state and governments at their summit in Vilnius next week.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has managed to get along with most everyone, including US President Donald Trump. PHOTO: NATO

Stoltenberg, who took over as NATO boss in 2014, and was even complimented by Russian President Vladimir Putin at the time, had continued to claim that he intended to step down on October 1 of this year. A clear sign that he’d need to reconsider came in April, however, when his closest aid and chief of staff, Stian Jenssen, withdrew his own application for the top administrative job at Norway’s foreign ministry. Jenssen was a top candidate for that job and had been keen to take it on this fall, when both he and Stoltenberg were due to leave NATO.

“I’m not in a position where I can consider that job now,” Jenssen told Oslo newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) at the time. Jenssen had, DN could report, promised Stoltenberg that he’d remain by his side until his period as NATO chief was over.

Stoltenberg himself had told DN early this year that “he (Jenssen) will be here as long as I’m here (at NATO), that’s a condition for me being willing to continue.” When Jenssen withdrew his application for the top job back in Oslo, it meant neither he nor Stoltenberg could be certain they’d be free to return to Norway this fall.

Stoltenberg also became the first Scandinavian to ever address a joint session of the US Congress, here with former US Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. PHOTO: NATO

Stoltenberg has now claimed that he feels “honoured by the decision of NATO allies” to once again extend his term as secretary general. Stoltenberg stated that “the trans-Atlatic bond between Europe and North America has ensured our freedom and security for nearly 75 years, and in a more dangerous world, our great alliance is more important than ever.”

DN editorialized in June that the year ahead is likely to be Stoltenberg’s most important at NATO. He remains keen to get Sweden into NATO, despite all the problems caused by the newly re-elected president of Turkey, and NATO also needs to guarantee Ukraine’s security in the future. Stoltenberg is best-suited to continue that work, DN wrote, making an announcement that he’ll continue “wise and comforting.” Berglund



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