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9 Jun, 2023 15:55

Next NATO leader could be British – Biden

The US-led military alliance will appoint a new head after Jens Stoltenberg’s term ends in October
Next NATO leader could be British – Biden

The United Kingdom’s defense minister Ben Wallace would be a “very qualified” leader of NATO if he launches a bid to become the US-led military bloc’s secretary general, US President Joe Biden said on Thursday.

Speaking following a summit with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the White House on Thursday, Biden said Wallace – who has expressed an interest in pursuing the NATO leadership role later this year – would be a fitting candidate. However, Biden stopped short of formally endorsing Wallace, saying that a “consensus within NATO” must first be formed.

“[The UK] has a candidate who’s a very qualified individual,” Biden said to reporters in Washington. “We have a lot of discussion between us in NATO, to determine what the outcome of that will be.”

While Biden didn’t mention Wallace by name, his comments appeared to reference statements the defense minister made in May in which he said the NATO role was “a job I’d like.” Wallace described the position as “a fantastic job” and said “NATO is an incredibly important part of all our securities. But it’s not for me to decide. It’s for all the other allies.”

UK Prime Minister Sunak has been a vocal supporter of Wallace’s NATO candidacy. At the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan last month, Sunak said the former British military servicemember was “widely respected” but that Wallace’s focus is currently on “supporting Ukraine.”

Wallace has been a vocal critic of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine – a conflict in which the UK and United States have been among the leading contributors of military support to Kiev. NATO has described Russia as the “most significant and direct threat” to NATO allies’ security.

Russia, meanwhile, has expressed opposition to NATO’s post-Cold War eastward expansion and to signals that the bloc is seeking to add Ukraine as a member, considering both to be a direct national security threat. NATO has doubled its forces in Eastern Europe since 2021.

Earlier this year, Moscow also criticized British plans to send tank ammunition containing depleted uranium to Ukraine, saying Russian forces would “respond accordingly.”

Jens Stoltenberg has been NATO chief since 2014. A spokesperson for the bloc confirmed in February that the Norwegian national would leave his post when the term expires in early October, and denied newspaper reports that an extension was being discussed.