The US, UK and Germany have endorsed the candidacy of the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, to become the next secretary general of Nato, at a time when the alliance faces major challenges amid Russia’s war in Ukraine and renewed questions about the future of the US commitment to the transatlantic relationship.

“President Biden strongly endorses PM Rutte’s candidacy to be the next secretary general of Nato,” a US official told Reuters on Thursday.

A UK official said London “strongly backs” Rutte to succeed Jens Stoltenberg. “Rutte is well respected across the alliance, has serious defence and security credentials and will ensure that the alliance remains strong and ready to defend and deter.”

Many other Nato members have signalled they would back the Dutch leader for the post, which requires unanimous support from all alliance members. On Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for the German government said the chancellor, Olaf Scholz, also supported Rutte’s candidacy.

Rutte is one of Europe’s longest-serving heads of government, having been prime minister since 2010, and is considered a safe pair of hands who could be well positioned to grapple with the challenges of Donald Trump’s possible return to the White House.

Trump recently said he would not defend Nato allies that did not meet defence spending targets, renewing concerns in Europe about the strength of the transatlantic security alliance.

Rutte, speaking at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend, made a thinly veiled campaign declaration for the Nato job, saying that members should “stop moaning and whining and nagging about Trump” and “we have to work with whoever is on the dancefloor”.

A senior diplomat, however, cautioned that Rutte’s candidacy was not a done deal and that his endorsement by big countries did not mean all allies were onboard.

Turkey and Hungary, who in recent months have delayed key Nato decisions in other areas, have yet to say whether they support Rutte.

Supporters say the Dutch leader is one of the best connected politicians on the European stage as well as a low-key politician, known for cycling to meetings and teaching social studies at a local school. He has reportedly lived in the same modest house in The Hague for years and prides himself on never trading in the second-hand Saab he has had for more than a decade.

One Dutch official said: “Rutte’s strength lies in three things: his people skills, his pragmatic mind and his Nokia (recently an iPhone).

“A convinced Atlanticist and admirer of [Winston] Churchill, his phone book by now spans two generations of world leaders beyond the confines of the western world and with whom he has forged bonds and maintains good contact – also in private, even after their departure. [The former German chancellor Angela] Merkel and Rutte still meet up,” the official said.

“He had a great bond with [the former US president Barack] Obama but also maintained constructive ties with Trump. And whilst his domestic legacy is now perhaps called into question, his international credentials are excellent.”

After the collapse of his government last year, Rutte stepped down as leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and said he would leave politics.

The long Rutte era came to an end amid the increasing popularity of anti-establishment parties, culminating in far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) coming first in an election in November.

Over the past months Rutte has served as caretaker prime minister while coalition talks drag on and he has remained highly active in European politics – leading to growing speculation at Nato HQ that he was in the running for the top job.

In recent years there has been a push to diversify the leadership of Nato, which has always been held by men from western Europe. Some officials had hoped the alliance would finally have a female leader, or someone from its eastern flank.

Stoltenberg, who has been the secretary general since 2014, is Norwegian, while his immediate predecessor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is Danish. Dutch officials have already held the post three times – in 1961-64, 1971-84 and 2004-09.

Early on, as officials speculated about Stoltenberg’s successor, the Estonian prime minister, Kaja Kallas, was floated for the role. The Latvian foreign minister and former prime minister, Krišjānis Kariņš, has recently also expressed an interest.

Given Russia’s war and the highly sensitive nature of the job, which requires speaking on behalf of a large number of countries and building consensus, some governments have indicated that they see Baltic candidates as too hawkish for the role.

Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, has also been mentioned as a possible contender. Other names floated earlier in the race – including the UK’s Ben Wallace – failed to garner enthusiasm.

Russia’s war has shifted allies’ priorities – including when it comes to criteria for leadership.

“[It is not] geography [that] matters most,” said one senior European diplomat. “We need a candidate who can unite, who would pay the greatest attention to strong defence and deterrence policy, who is capable and willing to work on sustaining and stepping up military support to Ukraine.”

2024-02-22T13:27:43Z dg43tfdfdgfd