The NATO Secretary General

  • Last updated: 30 Sep. 2014 23:35

The Secretary General is the Alliance’s top international civil servant. This person is responsible for steering the process of consultation and decision-making in the Alliance and ensuring that decisions are implemented.

The Secretary General is also NATO’s chief spokesperson and the head of the Organization’s International Staff.

The post is currently held by Jens Stoltenberg, former Prime Minister of Norway, who took up his responsibilities on 1 October 2014.

The function of Secretary General is filled by a senior statesman with high-level political experience in the government of one of the member countries. The person is nominated by member governments for an initial period of four years, which can be extended by mutual consent.

  • Three principal responsibilities

    Chairman of the North Atlantic Council and other key bodies

    First and foremost, the Secretary General chairs the North Atlantic Council - the Alliance’s principal political decision-making body - as well as other senior decision-making committees. These include the Nuclear Planning Group, the NATO-Russia Council, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Mediterranean Co-operation Group. Additionally, together with a Ukrainian representative, he is the chairman of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, as well as the chairman of the NATO-Georgia Commission.

    Above and beyond the role of chairman, the Secretary General has the authority to propose items for discussion and use his good offices in case of disputes between member states. He acts as a decision facilitator, leading and guiding the process of consensus-building and decision-making throughout the Alliance.

    He maintains direct contact with heads of state and government, foreign and defence ministers in NATO and partner countries, in order to facilitate this process. This entails regular visits to NATO and partner countries, as well as bilateral meetings with senior national officials when they visit NATO Headquarters.

    Effectively, his role allows him to exert some influence on the decision-making process while respecting the fundamental principle that the authority for taking decisions is invested only in the member governments themselves.

    Principal spokesperson

    The Secretary General is also the principal spokesman of the Alliance and represents the Alliance in public on behalf of the member countries, reflecting their common positions on political issues.

    He also represents NATO vis-à-vis other international organizations as well as to the media and the public at large. To this end the Secretary General regularly holds press briefings and conferences as well as public lectures and speeches.

    Head of the International Staff

    Third and lastly, the Secretary General is the senior executive officer of the NATO International Staff, responsible for making staff appointments and overseeing its work.

  • Support to the Secretary General

    In his day-to-day work, the Secretary General is directly supported by a Private Office and a Deputy Secretary General, who assists the Secretary General and replaces him in his absence. The Deputy Secretary General is also the chairman of a number of senior committees, ad hoc groups and working groups.

    More generally speaking, the entire International Staff at NATO Headquarters supports the Secretary General, either directly or indirectly.

  • The selection process

    The Secretary General is a senior statesman from a NATO member country, appointed by member states for a four-year term. The selection is carried through informal diplomatic consultations among member countries, which put forward candidates for the post.

    No decision is confirmed until consensus is reached on one candidate. At the end of his term, the incumbent might be offered to stay on for a fifth year.

    The position has traditionally been held by a European statesman.