The Sunday Telegraph

Defence Secretary backs Theresa May to take over as head of Nato


THE Defence Secretary has backed Theresa May to take the helm of Nato when the outgoing secretary general steps down next year.

Ben Wallace yesterday told Italian media that the former prime minister would be “one of the excellent candidates” to lead the transatlan­tic defence alliance. He cautioned that the process of choosing a successor to Jens Stoltenber­g, the current Nato chief, was still at an early stage, however. The subject is set to feature heavily in background conversati­ons between world leaders and senior officials at the Nato summit in Brussels tomorrow.

It is the first Nato meeting attended by Joe Biden since he became US president. He is expected to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to the alliance, after it was severely undermined by Donald Trump’s ambivalenc­e and private threats to withdraw.

The decision-making process to appoint a secretary general is shrouded in intrigue and dominated by background horse-trading within the alliance. While consensus is required, the US administra­tion’s view on potential candidates is particular­ly influentia­l.

A former senior Nato official explained: “There is no papal conclavety­pe process. There are discussion­s in the background. It’s all done by chat and whispers and the rest of it.

“You’ve got to get somebody who’s acceptable to 30 countries. It all hinges on what’s acceptable to the Americans. They will want someone who’s reliable.”

In addition to Mrs May, 64, being touted, Mr Wallace has also been floated within the Nato community as a potential British candidate. It is understood he is not interested in the role, however.

Lord Hague of Richmond, 60, the former foreign secretary and Tory leader, and Lord Sedwill, 56, the former cabinet secretary and national security adviser, are also tipped in internatio­nal defence circles.

It is not thought that Mrs May has launched a pro-active campaign to clinch the job, though she has strong experience in the security sphere from her six years as home secretary, as well as being a former inhabitant of No10.

Yesterday her name was put to Mr Wallace, 51, as a potential successor to Mr Stoltenber­g by Formiche, an Italian politics magazine. Highlighti­ng that the UK is one of the main contributo­rs to Nato and the country in Europe that spends the most money on defence, the Defence Secretary said Britain would always want to play a fundamenta­l role in the alliance.

He continued: “But there are also a lot a nations and what’s important for Nato is brought together unanimousl­y.

“Theresa May was a fantastic prime minister a in a very difficult time. I worked for her as security minister. She would be one of the excellent candidates [for Nato secretary general].”

However, he said that at present Britain has not decided on a candidate to back in the contest and described all suggestion­s as “rumour”.

Signalling that it was still a long way off until Mr Stoltenber­g leaves office, Mr Wallace said Nato has a lot of work on which to focus in the present, including in Afghanista­n, where the security situation has worsened since the last American troops began to leave on May 1.

In 2019 Nato partners forced through an extension of Mr Stoltenber­g’s tenure in order to block Donald Trump, then US president, imposing his choice for the key role.

The former Norwegian prime minister, 62, will have served for eight years by the time he leaves office in 2022, a term exceeded only once in the alliance’s seven decade history. Most Nato secretary generals serve no longer than five years.

Tomorrow alliance members are scheduled to approve strategic reforms, labelled Nato 2030, to modernise the organisati­on. In its planning matrix it will acknowledg­e the challenge posed by the rise of China for the first time. A new cyber defence policy is also expected to be agreed.

‘Theresa May was a fantastic PM a in very difficult time. She would be an excellent candidate’

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