Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Is a Leading Candidate to Run NATO

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a Norwegian politician, has run NATO since 2014. He was supposed to retire earlier this year, but with the war in Ukraine ongoing, he was granted an extension of his term. Although he has been a highly respected leader, his time has come and NATO is furiously looking for his successor. The leading candidate to be his successor is Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. He is going to retire after the Dutch elections on Nov. 22 and is not running for another term in the parliament. Rutte has been prime minister four times, but he is only 56 so he is definitely interested in a new high-profile job. He has something of a reputation for kicking the can down the road to avoid making tough decisions, which may not make him the ideal candidate for running an organization that sometimes needs to make quick decisions about going to war. On the other hand, he is a very experienced politician and gets along with people very easily. He would be the 14th secretary general and the fourth Dutch one.

Insiders say that Rutte is likely to get support from most of the countries in Eastern Europe because they like his positions on Russia. However, the most important vote is from the U.S. and, despite his long time in politics, many American officials don't know much about him except maybe that he has never been married and often rides his bicycle to work. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said: "I may have met him, but I don't recall." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said: "I don't know him. Doesn't ring a bell." But relatively unknown isn't necessarily a bad thing. He doesn't have a lot of enemies. Being unknown didn't hurt Mike Johnson.

On the other hand, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ben Cardin (D-MD) knows Rutte and said he has "a good deal of respect for him." Cardin added: "I've not talked to him recently. Everything I know about him is positive." Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy knows Rutte and likes him a lot, which is obviously a factor at the moment. One of the reasons Zelenskyy likes Rutte is that, in July, the Netherlands, under Rutte's leadership, was one of the first two countries (along with Denmark) to start training Ukrainian Air Force pilots to fly F-16s. Rutte is a very staunch supporter of Ukraine and opponent of Russia.

One other factor that will give Rutte many brownie points in the U.S. is not related to the war in Ukraine at all. For various reasons, there is only one company in the world that makes the machines that produce the most advanced semiconductor chips—the Dutch company ASML, a spinoff of the Dutch electronics giant Philips. These babies are as big as railroad boxcars and cost $200 million each. Without them, you can't make high-end chips. Joe Biden doesn't want China to be able to buy any more of them. Rutte accommodated him by ramming through a law requiring ASML to get an export permit for each machine it sells, and Rutte made it clear China is not getting any more of them. The technology of extreme ultraviolet lithography is so complex and exacting that it could take China a decade or more to be able to catch up to ASML, which isn't standing still. Biden is extremely happy with Rutte's decision on this and China is extremely unhappy. The machines draw lines on chips 0.005 microns (5 nm) wide, which is 1/10,000 the thickness of a human hair. If ASML wanted to etch angels dancing on the head of a pin, it could put millions of them there. Here is a photo of just part of one of the ASML machines.

ASML Extreme UltraViolet lithography machine

If Donald Trump is elected again in 2024, the biggest part of the secretary general's job would be Trump management, especially since Trump has said he wants to withdraw from NATO. Rutte once criticized his country's "wine-sipping elites" for their opposition to Trump. That could come in handy if Trump wins next year.

Probably Rutte's biggest problem is his gender. All 13 previous secretaries general have been men and some people think that it is time for a woman. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is highly competent, extremely popular, and completely fluent in German, English, and French (she was raised bilingually in German and French in Brussels and later lived in Palo Alto for 4 years while her husband was a professor at Stanford) but she seems to be gunning for another term running the EU. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas might be too provocative for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen would be the third Scandinavian in a row, which some people think is one too many. Many NATO members want the new secretary general to be from an EU country, which rules out Americans, Canadians and Brits. So Rutte has a chance despite his gender. (V)

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates