'It's not going to happen': Defence Secretary Ben Wallace says he's not going to be the next Nato boss

22 June 2023, 06:21

Wallace, a former Army officer, was among the favourites to succeed Stoltenberg after rallying global support for Ukraine and leading the charge on weapon donations, from Challenger 2 tanks to NLAW shoulder-launched missiles.
Wallace, a former Army officer, was among the favourites to succeed Stoltenberg after rallying global support for Ukraine and leading the charge on weapon donations, from Challenger 2 tanks to NLAW shoulder-launched missiles. Picture: Alamy
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has ruled himself out of the race to become the next boss of Nato.

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Rishi Sunak is thought to have lobbied on behalf of his defence secretary during a meeting with Joe Biden in Washington earlier this month.

However, he failed to win the US commander-in-chief over.

"It's not going to happen," Mr Wallace told The Economist magazine during an interview. “Maybe they want a prime minister,” he added.

The top Tory has previously said he would like the role running the organisation but it is believed the United States wants the current secretary general Jens Stoltenberg to stay on.

Mr Stoltenberg is due to step down in September after nine years as secretary general of the military alliance, but the bloc has struggled to decide on a replacement ahead of a mid-July summit in Lithuania.

Joe Biden reportedly asked Mr Stoltenberg to stay on until next spring, when the pair met in the White House earlier this month. It is understood that Mr Biden argued in favour of stability in light of the Ukraine conflict.

However, sources have reportedly told The Sun that Mr Biden would prefer Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to take over the role. Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was also believed to be a contender.

The Secretary-General role is not chosen through a formal process but the leader was due to be announced at a Nato summit next month. France said it preferred the next leader to come from an EU country but had signalled to allies it would not veto Mr Wallace's bid.

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Speaking to German media about the top job last month, Mr Wallace said: "I've always said it would be a good job. That's a job I'd like. But I'm also loving the job I do now."

Despite his obvious enthusiasm to succeed Mr Stoltenberg as the next head of Nato, he appears to have failed to get the backing of key allies.

US President Joe Biden described Mr Wallace as "very qualified" for the job when he met Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Washington recently.

But in private, the US is believed to be one of the nations trying to persuade Mr Stoltenberg to stay - at least for another year. This was echoed by Mr Wallace in comments to The Economist.

In his interview with the Economist, Mr Wallace said whoever takes on the role would need to deal with "a lot of unresolved issues in Nato," including differing demands from US and French leadership.

France believes Nato's secretary general should come from within the European Union.

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