Second Chance? German Defense Minister Favored to Head NATO
Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière is having a tough time in Germany these days, but he may get a second chance in Brussels. SPIEGEL has learned he is a leading contender to become the next NATO secretary general.
At home, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière is under fire. His ministry recently was forced to abandon a contract for surveillance drones, squandering over 500 million ($641 million) in taxpayer money. There are also massive financial and quality problems with his ministry's efforts to purchase Eurofighter jets, a program estimated to be billions of euros over budget. The government's accounting office has targeted additional Defense Ministry programs as well.
But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for the beleaguered politician, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). SPIEGEL has learned from sources that de Maizière is currently a promising candidate to succeed Denmark's Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the next general secretary of NATO. Rasmussen's term ends in the summer of 2014.
Within de Maizière's ministry, the Chancellery and NATO headquarters, officials have indicated that the 59-year-old may make a bid for the post after this autumn's federal elections in Germany.
Other countries that are members of the military alliance have also signalled interest in fielding candidates, but of the possible successors so far discussed, the German politician is believed to have the best chances. The United States would be uneasy with the choice of former Polish defense and current Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. Former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini is considered too close to Silvio Berlusconi to be widely acceptable -- and the fact that he is no longer in government is another possible strike against him.
Other possible candidates include Belgian Defense Minister Pieter De Crem, who officials within NATO consider to be one of the most experienced politicians. However, it is unlikely he would prevail in direct competition with de Maizière given that Germany is the second biggest funder of NATO after the United States. The last time a German ran NATO was from 1988 to 1994, when Manfred Wörner, a foreign policy expert with the CDU, headed up the alliance.
Former Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen has served as NATO general secretary since 2009. Rasmussen's term was extended for one year in 2012 because the 60-year-old politician wanted to remain at the helm to oversee the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, as well as the transition of responsibility for security in the country to the Afghan army and police.
The criteria for selection of a NATO secretary general is that the person "is a senior statesman from a NATO member country."
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