The countries of North America and Europe are currently gearing up for what promises to be one of the most expectation-laden summits in NATO history. The 60th anniversary of NATO, to be held in Strasbourg-Kehl in April, will be rich in much anticipated milestones including the return of France to NATO's integrated military command, the reformulation of NATO's strategic concept, and the first appearance of US President Barack Obama at the forum.
Hidden in the mix but not lost on close NATO watchers, is the appointment of the next Secretary General to the alliance. Current NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will step down in mid-2009 and his departure has prompted speculative murmurs of who might be in line to replace him. For months, conventional wisdom seemed to be coalescing around Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Rasmussen is a safe choice for the alliance as he is both an experienced statesman and well-networked politician with tested management credo within the European Union. In fact, his ability to triage between powerful players in Europe made him a likely candidate for the first EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (had the Lisbon Treaty come into force).
The dynamic Radoslow Sikorski is now emerging as a strong contender for the position. The steely-eyed young Sikorski is Poland's current Foreign Minister and was once considered a dark horse candidate. The suggestion is beginning to gain traction in political circles of Central Europe where prominent politicians, such as Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, have tried to get in front of the back-channel jockeying over the next NATO Secretary General. Mr. Tusk openly suggested that the time for a new member-state to hold the position of NATO Secretary General had come and Sikorski would be an ideal candidate. Opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has emphatically endorsed the suggestion arguing that it would be in the national interest of Poland to have Sikorski at the helm of NATO.
Speaking on the transatlantic security challenges at the Atlantic Council in late November 2008, Sikorski demonstrated that he can be a highly effective communicator to a Washington audience while conveying strong political point of view that is representative of his country and region. Sikorski's ties to the United States are numerous and complex. The 45 year old is married to AEI fellow and prominent foreign policy thinker Anne Applebaum, a Russoskeptic, self-declared Thatcherite and tepid backer of candidate Barack Obama.
The real power of his nomination would however be for Europe itself. Though two decades have passed since the end of the Cold War and two years since last EU enlargement, the European appointees to major international institutions are still all from Western Europe, primarily from France (the WTO Secretary General is French; IMF Managing Director is French; the current NATO Secretary General is Dutch; the EU High Commissioner is Spanish; the EU Commission President is Portuguese; the ECB president is French).
It is time for the US and the traditional states of Europe to open up positions of leadership to people of new backgrounds. Both pro-American and pro-European, Sikorski would represent a bold recasting of NATO and its role in the post-Cold War world. A Sikorski appointment would break the mold of traditional cleavages in European and transatlantic relations. In a year of change from the Obama inauguration to the reexamination of the strategic concept, Sikorski's appointment would resonate strongly within the halls of NATO headquarters that this is not your father's NATO.
Tyson Barker is a graduate of SAIS, Johns Hopkins and Columbia University and has worked extensively on transatlantic issues.
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