Open main menu

Secretary General of NATO

The secretary general of NATO is an international diplomat who serves as the chief civil servant of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The officeholder is responsible for coordinating the workings of the alliance, leading NATO's international staff, chairing the meetings of the North Atlantic Council and most major committees of the alliance, with the notable exception of the NATO Military Committee, as well as acting as NATO's spokesperson.[1] The secretary general does however not have any military command role; political, military and strategic decisions ultimately rest with the member states. Together with the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee and the Supreme Allied Commander, the secretary general is one of the foremost officials of NATO.

Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Flag of NATO.svg
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.jpg
Jens Stoltenberg

since 1 October 2014
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Member ofNorth Atlantic Council
SeatNATO headquarters
Term length4 years
Formation24 March 1952
First holderHastings Ismay
WebsiteOffice of the Secretary General

The current secretary general of NATO is former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who took office on 1 October 2014.[2] Stoltenberg's mission as secretary general was extended for another four-year term, meaning that he will lead NATO until September 30, 2022.[3]


Article 9 of the North Atlantic Treaty requires NATO members to "establish a Council, on which each of them shall be represented."[4] Accordingly, the North Atlantic Council was formed. Initially the Council consisted of NATO members' foreign ministers and met annually.[5] In May 1950, the desire for closer coordination on a day-to-day basis led to the appointment of Council deputies, permanently based in London and overseeing the workings of the organization. Deputies were given full decision-making authority within the North Atlantic Council, but their work was supplemented by occasional meetings of the NATO foreign ministers.[6] The Chairman of the deputies was given responsibility "for directing the organization and its work," including all of its civilian agencies.[7]

The Council deputies met for the first time on July 25, 1950, and selected Charles Spofford, the United States deputy, as their chairman.[8] Several important organisational changes quickly followed the establishment of Council deputies, most notably the establishment of a unified military command under a single Supreme Allied Commander.[9] This unification and the growing challenges facing NATO led to rapid growth in the institutions of the organisation and in 1951, NATO was reorganized to streamline and centralize its bureaucracy. As part of the organization, the Council deputies were delegated with the authority to represent their governments in all matters, including those related to defense and finance, not just foreign affairs, greatly increasing their power and importance.[10]

As the authority of the deputies increased, and the size of the organization grew, NATO established the Temporary Council Committee, chaired by W. Averell Harriman. This group established an official secretariat in Paris to command NATO's bureaucracy.[11] The committee also recommended that "the agencies of NATO needed to be strengthened and co-ordinate", and emphasized the need for someone other than the Chairman of the North Atlantic Council to become the senior leader of the alliance.[12] In February 1952, North Atlantic Council accordingly established the position of secretary general to manage all civilian agencies of the organization, control its civilian staff, and serve the North Atlantic Council.[13]

After the Lisbon Conference, the NATO states began looking for a person who could fill the role of secretary general. The position was first offered to Oliver Franks, the British Ambassador to the United States, but he declined. Then, on March 12, 1952, the North Atlantic Council selected Hastings Ismay, a general from World War II, and Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in the British cabinet as secretary general.[14] Unlike later secretaries general who served as Chairman of the North Atlantic Council, Ismay was made the Vice Chairman of the Council, with Spofford continuing to serve as chairman. Ismay was selected because of his high rank in the war, and his role "at the side of Churchill ... in the highest Allied Councils." As both a soldier and a diplomat, he was considered uniquely qualified for the position, and enjoyed the full support of all the NATO states.[15]

Several months later, after Spofford retired from the NATO, the structure of the North Atlantic Council was changed slightly. One member of the Council was selected annually as the President of the North Atlantic Council (a largely ceremonial role), and the secretary general officially became the Deputy President of the Council, as well as the chair of its meetings.[16] Ismay served as secretary general until retiring in May, 1957.[17]

After Ismay, Paul-Henri Spaak, an international diplomat and former Prime Minister of Belgium was selected as the second secretary general. Unlike Ismay, Spaak had no military experience, so his appointment represented a "deemphasis of the strictly military side of the Atlantic Alliance."[18] When confirming Spaak's appointment in December 1956 during a session of the NATO foreign ministers, the North Atlantic Council also expanded the role of the secretary general in the organization. Largely as a result of the Suez Crisis, which had strained intra-alliance relations, the Council issued a resolution to allow the secretary general "to offer his good officers informally at any time to member governments involved in a dispute and with their consent to initiate or facilitate procedures of inquiry, mediation, conciliation, or arbitration."[19]

List of office-holdersEdit

The NATO countries selected the first secretary general on April 4, 1952. Since that time, twelve different diplomats have served officially as secretary general. Eight countries have been represented, with three secretaries general hailing from the United Kingdom, three from the Netherlands, two from Belgium, one from Italy, one from Germany, one from Spain, one from Denmark, and one from Norway. The position has also been occupied temporarily on three occasions by an acting secretary general between appointments.

No. Portrait Secretary General Took office Left office Time in office Country of origin
1Ismay, HastingsGeneral
Hastings Ismay, 1st Baron Ismay
24 March 195216 May 19575 years, 53 days  United Kingdom
2Spaak, Paul-HenriPaul-Henri Spaak
16 May 195721 April 19613 years, 340 days  Belgium
3Stikker, DirkDirk Stikker
21 April 19611 August 19643 years, 102 days  Netherlands
4Brosio, ManlioManlio Brosio
1 August 19641 October 19717 years, 61 days  Italy
5Luns, JosephJoseph Luns
1 October 197125 June 198412 years, 268 days  Netherlands
6Carington, PeterPeter Carington, 6th Baron Carrington
25 June 19841 July 19884 years, 6 days  United Kingdom
7Wörner, ManfredManfred Wörner
1 July 198813 August 1994 †6 years, 43 days  Germany
Balanzino, SergioSergio Balanzino
13 August 199417 October 199465 days  Italy
8Claes, WillyWilly Claes
(born 1938)
17 October 199420 October 19951 year, 3 days  Belgium
Balanzino, SergioSergio Balanzino
20 October 19955 December 199546 days  Italy
9Solana, JavierJavier Solana
(born 1942)
5 December 199514 October 19993 years, 313 days  Spain
10Robertson, GeorgeGeorge Robertson, Baron Robertson of Port Ellen
(born 1946)
14 October 199917 December 20034 years, 64 days  United Kingdom
Minuto-Rizzo, AlessandroAlessandro Minuto-Rizzo
(born 1940)
17 December 20031 January 200415 days  Italy
11Scheffer, Jaap de HoopJaap de Hoop Scheffer
(born 1948)
1 January 20041 August 20095 years, 212 days  Netherlands
12Rasmussen, Anders FoghAnders Fogh Rasmussen
(born 1953)
1 August 20091 October 20145 years, 61 days  Denmark
13Stoltenberg, JensJens Stoltenberg
(born 1959)
1 October 2014Incumbent5 years, 48 days  Norway
The 11th secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer meeting U.S. President George W. Bush on 20 March 2006[28]

Living former Secretaries-GeneralEdit

As of 2018, there are five living former NATO secretaries general. The most recent secretary general to die was Peter Carington, 6th Baron Carrington (1919-2018)


The NATO secretary general chairs several of the senior decision-making bodies of NATO. In addition to the North Atlantic Council, he chairs the Defence Planning Committee and the Nuclear Planning Committee, two of NATO's important military organizations. The secretary general also leads the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the Mediterranean Cooperation Group, and serves as Join Chairman of the Permanent Joint Council and the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

In a second role, the secretary general leads the staff of NATO. He directs the International Staff of the organization, and the Office of the Secretary General. The secretary general also directs his or her own Private Office. All of these bodies draw personnel from all members of NATO, so the secretary general must carefully coordinate.[29] For assistance in his responsibilities, the secretary general also has a deputy appointed by the organization. The NATO Command Structure (NCS), consisting of two strategic commands directed by the North Atlantic Council (NAC):[30]

Liaison:          Provides advice and support to the NAC
Political strategic level:
Brussels, BE
Brussels, BE
Military strategic level:
Brussels, BE
Mons, BE
Norfolk, US
Operational level:
  JFCBS Brunssum, NL
  JWC Stavanger, NO
  AIRCOM Ramstein, DE
  JALLC Lisbon, PT
  MARCOM Northwood, GB
  JFTC Bydgoszcz, PL
  JFCNP Naples, IT


There is no formal process for selecting the secretary general. Instead, the members of NATO traditionally reach a consensus on who should serve next. This procedure often takes place through informal diplomatic channels, but it still can become contentious. For example, in 2009, controversy arose over the choice of Anders Fogh Rasmussen as secretary general, due to opposition from Turkey.[31]

Because NATO's chief military officer, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, is traditionally an American, the secretary general has traditionally been a European by custom. However, there is nothing in NATO's charter that would preclude a Canadian or American from becoming the secretary general.[32]

Deputy Secretary GeneralEdit

List of deputy secretaries general[33]
# Name Country Duration
1 Jonkheer van Vredenburch   Netherlands 1952–1956
2 Baron Adolph Bentinck   Netherlands 1956–1958
3 Alberico Casardi   Italy 1958–1962
4 Guido Colonna di Paliano   Italy 1962–1964
5 James A. Roberts   Canada 1964–1968
6 Osman Olcay   Turkey 1969–1971
7 Paolo Pansa Cedronio   Italy 1971–1978
8 Rinaldo Petrignani   Italy 1978–1981
9 Eric da Rin   Italy 1981–1985
10 Marcello Guidi   Italy 1985–1989
11 Amedeo de Franchis   Italy 1989–1994
12 Sergio Balanzino   Italy 1994–2001
13 Alessandro Minuto Rizzo   Italy 2001–2007
14 Claudio Bisogniero   Italy 2007–2012
15 Alexander Vershbow   United States 2012–2016
16 Rose Gottemoeller   United States 2016–2019
17 Mircea Geoană   Romania 2019–present

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Stikker resigned from his position a year early due to poor health.[20]
  2. ^ Wörner died in office on August 13, 1994, of cancer. The Deputy Secretary General, Sergio Balanzino, took over his daily responsibilities for the last several months on his life and then became acting Secretary General upon his death until the appointment of Willy Claes.[21]
  3. ^ Claes resigned as Secretary General after a bribery scandal, centering on his actions in the Belgian cabinet in the 1980s. After his resignation, Deputy Secretary General Sergio Balanzino served as acting Secretary General until the appointment of Javier Solana.[22]
  4. ^ George Robertson announced in January 2003 that he would be stepping down in December.[23] Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was selected as his successor, but could not assume the office until January 2004 because of his commitment in the Dutch Parliament.[24] Robertson was asked to extend his term until Scheffer was ready, but declined, so Minuto-Rizzo, the Deputy Secretary General, took over in the interim.
  5. ^ Scheffer was named Secretary General of NATO effective January 1, 2004,[25] but he did not take office until January 5, 2004.[26][27]


  1. ^ NATO Secretary General, NATO.
  2. ^ "Nato names Stoltenberg next chief". BBC. 28 March 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  3. ^ NATO allies extend Stoltenberg’s term as secretary-general
  4. ^ "The North Atlantic Treaty".
  5. ^ Ismay, Lord. "NATO-The first 5 years 1949-1954". p. 24.
  6. ^ Ismay, p. 28
  7. ^ "15th - 18th May: London". NATO Final Communiques 1949-1974. NATO Information Service. p. 56.
  8. ^ Ismay, p. 31
  9. ^ Ismay, p. 37
  10. ^ Ismay, p. 41
  11. ^ Ismay, p.44
  12. ^ Ismay, p.46
  13. ^ Ismay, p. 48
  15. ^ Daniel, Clifton (March 13, 1952). "Ismay Named Civilian Chief of Atlantic Pact Organization". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Fedder, p. 10
  17. ^ Brosio, p. 39
  18. ^ "Spaak for Ismay". The Washington Post. December 16, 1956.
  19. ^ "11th-14th December: Paris". NATO Final Communiques 1949-1974. NATO Information Service. p. 104.
  20. ^ Cook, Don (April 3, 1964). "Resignation announced by Stikker". The Washington Post.
  21. ^ Marshall, Andrew (August 15, 1994). "Hunt is on to find new Nato chief". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  22. ^ Whitney, Craig (October 21, 1995). "Facing Charges, NATO Head Steps Down". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  23. ^ Smith, Craig (January 23, 2003). "NATO Secretary General to Leave His Post in December After 4 Years". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  24. ^ "Jaap de Hoop Scheffer". Newsmakers (1). Thomson Gale. January 1, 2005.
  25. ^ Crouch, Gregory (September 23, 2003). "NATO Names a Dutchman To Be Its Secretary General". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  26. ^ "NATO Chief Steps Down". The New York Times. December 18, 2003. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  27. ^ Crouch, Gregory (January 6, 2004). "New NATO Chief Takes Over". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  28. ^ "President Welcomes NATO Secretary General to the White House". The White House. 2006-03-20. Retrieved 2008-04-13.
  29. ^ "Civilian Organisation and Structures: The Secretary General".
  30. ^ "Command Structure" (PDF). NATO. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  31. ^ Kardas, Saban. "Ankara Debates Rasmussen's Candidacy for NATO Secretary-General". The Jamestown Foundation.
  32. ^ "NATO Secretary General: How is he or she selected and for how long".
  33. ^ "NATO Who's who? – Deputy Secretaries General of NATO". NATO. Retrieved 20 July 2012.


External linksEdit