The struggle for leadership

Renat Abdullin

Against the backdrop of conflicting assessments of the missile incident in Poland, a problem arose with the “open door” policy promoted by the North Atlantic Alliance. It turned out that joining the organization is associated with serious concessions. And the upcoming change of leadership revealed the fundamental contradictions between the allies.
Turkey decides
The Swedish parliament has passed a constitutional amendment on tougher measures to combat terrorism. But not by choice.
Turkey insisted on this, blocking applications to NATO from both Sweden and Finland. Ankara is unhappy with the fact that Stockholm supports the Kurds. Indeed, their community is influential, there are even representatives in the government. There are fewer complaints about the Finns, but since the Scandinavians, previously neutral, decided to join the bloc in pairs, Helsinki also slowed down.
The amendment, passed by 278 votes in the Riksdag (Sweden’s 349-seat unicameral parliament), is rather vague. It’s about the possibility of laws “restricting the freedom of association if they participate in or support terrorism.”
However, a week ago, during a visit to Ankara, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson called it a major breakthrough. “Sweden will take steps that will give law enforcement more muscle to fight terrorism,” he said at a joint press conference with Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The anti-terrorist amendment was considered under the previous leftist government, in April. The reform did not pass. Now only the Left Party, which found itself in opposition, came out against it. But her votes were not enough. The changes will take effect on January 1. So the Swedes and Finns will have to wait. In addition, apart from Turkey, Hungary has not ratified Scandinavian applications.
Budapest oscillates
If Ankara demands that Kurds suspected of terrorism be expelled from Sweden (two have been deported so far, and there are 73 on the list), then Hungary’s claims are less specific. They are reluctant to support anti-Russian sanctions, do not unequivocally take the side of Ukraine, slowing down multibillion-dollar financial tranches to Kyiv, and in general create many problems for partners.
The Prime Ministers of Finland and Sweden are calling on Hungary and Turkey to approve their applications. Kristersson noted that Stockholm “fully respects that each country within the alliance makes its own decisions,” but the previous left-wing government had already partially complied with the terms of the summer memorandum with Turkey, lifting the arms embargo and blocking financial and other assistance to Kurdish groups in Syria.
Experts believe that it will be easier for the center-right cabinet in Stockholm to find a common language with Ankara. This was indirectly confirmed by Foreign Minister Tobias Bilstrom. According to him, the ruling coalition has “less baggage” on the Kurdish issue, and his predecessor, Ann Linde, only complicates negotiations with Turkey with her public support for the Kurds.
Positive signals also came from Budapest. The government has submitted ratification documents to the national assembly, Prime Minister Gergeli Gulyash said.
But even in this case, it was not without reservations. The question of whether NATO expansion is in the national interests of Hungary remains to be discussed, the prime minister said.
Swedish precedent for Moldova
At the end of November, a NATO summit will be held in Romania, where Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova were also invited. For Kyiv and Tbilisi, joining the bloc is a strategic goal. Chisinau is more difficult. According to the 11th article of the Moldovan constitution, “the republic proclaims permanent neutrality” and “does not allow the deployment of armed forces of other states on its territory.”
At the same time, Moldova signed an “Individual Partnership Plan” with NATO 16 years ago. This is not a routine agreement, but, in fact, the second step on the way to the alliance, followed by the “Accelerated Dialogue” stage and, in fact, the final “Accession Action Plan”.
For the sake of NATO, any laws can be changed, including the constitution. However, the last word belongs to the leadership of the alliance, where changes are also coming.
The struggle for leadership
The powers of the current secretary general of the alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, are ending in less than a year. And, according to American media sources, a serious struggle for this post has unfolded between the allies.
In Washington, they increasingly point to the 54-year-old Chrystia Freeland, the Minister of Finance of Canada, who has Ukrainian roots.
A former journalist (married to a reporter for The New York Times), she headed the Canadian Foreign Office. She has extensive diplomatic experience, Freeland speaks five languages (English, French, Italian, Ukrainian and Russian). Plus, she’s a woman. This is a big advantage these days. After the arrival of women in leadership positions in Western countries (from US Vice President Kamala Harris to the new Italian Prime Minister Giorgi Meloni), NATO is also thinking about gender balance.
The United States, de facto head of the North Atlantic Alliance, does not nominate a candidate. Their general is already the supreme commander in Europe. Washington is banking on loyal northern neighbors.
At the same time, the EU wants its own Secretary General. No wonder: 21 out of 30 NATO countries are European. And with Sweden and Finland – 23 out of 32.
And in Europe there are several strong figures, including women. These are Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Slovak President Zuzana Chaputova and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, head of Croatia from 2015 to 2020, who also worked in NATO as Assistant Secretary General. The UK is ready to offer Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
It is believed that the NATO Secretary General is a formal position, all decisions are made in Washington offices. However, it is the leader of the alliance who is publicly responsible for the consensus among three dozen countries. The same Stoltenberg was severely criticized for the fact that, while promoting the principle of “open doors” and promising Sweden and Finland “open arms”, he failed to influence Turkey. And the future of not only this military bloc, but also countries that look back at it, like Ukraine, depends on the unity of NATO.