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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » January 7, 2009
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Poles Tipped for Top NATO Job
January 7, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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Many Polish politicians, both those from the governing coalition and the opposition, have called for the need to reform the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. President Lech Kaczyński and his aides have come up with similar appeals over the past few months. These calls take on new significance now that two Polish politicians have been tipped to replace Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as the new chief of NATO.

Scheffer became NATO secretary-general in January 2004, and his term expires this summer. In January 2008 NATO member states decided to extend his term so that he could oversee the celebrations of the organization's 60th anniversary scheduled for this April, to be held in Strasbourg and Baden-Baden on the French-German border.

The selection procedure involves informal consultations among high-ranking officials from member states, including government heads, presidents and foreign ministers. After they agree on who should be appointed, the name of the new secretary-general is revealed to the public.

The Western European media has recently suggested that the job should go to a politician from a country that joined NATO and the European Union over the past decade. Commentators say a politician from Central and Eastern Europe at such a prestigious post would help these countries become better integrated within the organization.

In late December, The Economist wrote that Polish foreign minister Radosław Sikorski was a likely contender to take over as NATO secretary-general. Der Spiegel suggested the same earlier.

Former Czech foreign minister Alexander Vondra has been mentioned as Sikorski's main rival for the post. Other contenders reportedly include former Polish President Aleksander Kwa¶niewski, who has told journalists that he would not reject such an offer. Meanwhile, soon after the Der Spiegel article, Sikorski said he was not interested in becoming NATO chief and added, "I am surprised that a single article has stirred up so much emotion. This is press speculation that I think has done more harm than good."

Sikorski disagreed with the view that the post should go to an EU politician. "There are two major candidates from outside the EU," he said but did not disclose any names.

Rumors concerning the appointment of the new NATO chief have aroused much interest among Polish politicians and helped ease tension between the government and the opposition.

"It is good for the country when Poles hold high-ranking international positions," said Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party. "I can't tell what our [Polish] chances for this post are, but it would be good if a Pole were appointed."

Kaczyński added that his party had supported Kwa¶niewski as a candidate for a variety of high-ranking international posts and would back Sikorski for the top NATO job as well. This was a rather unusual statement from Kaczyński, who until recently refrained from making any favorable comments about either Kwa¶niewski or Sikorski.

Speculation about the new NATO head coincides with Poland's efforts to reform the organization. Further reforms in NATO are indispensable, according to politicians in Warsaw. Late last year, the Polish foreign and defense ministries and the president's National Security Office (BBN) launched work on the country's proposals for reforming NATO.

Witold Waszczykowski, deputy head of the BBN, says the goal is to ensure that NATO "effectively performs its role of a policeman who oversees global security and stands up for small countries." According to Waszczykowski, the organization's strategic concept adopted in 1999 is outdated and a new concept should be adopted, particularly in the context of "Russia's assertive policy," as exemplified by the Georgian crisis last year.

Polish defense ministry expert Gen. Stanisław Koziej says NATO still follows a 20th-century strategic concept, "the oldest of all adopted by today's international bodies." According to Koziej, the organization's inability to react rapidly in politically unclear situations is its weakest point. "Doubts to this effect often appear during conflicts involving Russia," Koziej said.

The debate on reforming NATO has continued for a long time, but since the conflict in Georgia more politicians have been saying openly that the organization does not fulfill its role and is unable to ensure international security.

Poland's leftist opposition in parliament is expected to support the government's and president's position on NATO reform. "With its inflexible command [...] and excessive reliance on the U.S. air force, NATO needs change," said Janusz Zemke of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), who heads the defense committee at the lower house of the Polish parliament. Poland is the eighth strongest military power in NATO, Zemke says, "so it has a mandate to propose reform and make sure it is carried out."
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