A Tale of Two NATO Heads: Incoming Stoltenberg offers olive branch to Russia, Outgoing Rasmussen opens consultancy

By Ian Davis, NATO Watch

Jens Stoltenberg took up his post as NATO Secretary General on 1 October 2014, when he chaired his first meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC).

The former Norwegian Prime Minister (from 2000-2001 and from 2005-2013), who was appointed by the 28 Allies in March to succeed Anders Fogh Rasmussen as Secretary General, sees no contradiction between having a strong NATO and at the same time aspiring for a more constructive relationship with Russia, the Barents Observer reports .

But he also demanded that Moscow adhere to international law and that there should be a “clear change” in Russian actions toward Ukraine.

As a Norwegian politician in Norway, a country bordering Russia, I have developed a working relationship with Russia,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with CNN. “And we were able also during the coldest period of the Cold War to work with Russia on issues like fishery, energy, environment.”

During Stoltenberg’s time as Prime Minister, Norway and Russia managed to agree on delimitation of the Barents Sea, after 40 years of negotiations, and on visa-free travel for border residents.

Asked during his first press conference as NATO head whether he shared the view of his predecessor that Russia was an adversary, Stoltenberg did not reply directly. Instead, he recalled that while Alliance leaders agreed at their Wales Summit earlier this month to step up defence spending and NATO readiness, they “also underlined that we still aspire to a constructive relationship.” Ther may already be signs that this more flexible approach is working. On the same day, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov said in an interview that Moscow may consider convening a NATO-Russia Council meeting now that the new Secretary General is in place.

In an earlier analysis I predicted that Stoltenberg’s consensus-building style would mean softer rhetoric towards Russia than his predecessor. This is to be welcome given the failure of the recent Summit to address the relationship with Russia in any meaningful way. With both sides still armed with hundreds of tactical nuclear weapons and thousands of strategic nuclear warheads, as well as large conventional forces, it remains one of the most important strategic relationships.

Meanwhile, a day after handing over the keys of NATO HQ Brussels to Jens Stoltenberg, departing Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that he has started his own consultancy, Rasmussen Global.

After 5 years and 2 months at the helm of the Alliance, Rasmussen plans to use the contacts, inside knowledge and expertise he built up to "help clients navigate an increasingly complex world where people, businesses and nations are interconnected and interdependent like never before". Or to cut through the doublespeak, he will be looking to make lots of money advising governments, corporations and multilateral organisations on how to adapt to a challenging global security and economic environment.

He told Reuters in a telephone interview: "I haven't started any concrete activity until today because I didn't want the slightest conflict of interest. I have built a huge amount of experience during all these years and I think it is also in the public interest that I use that experience for the public good."

Perhaps it might also be in the public interest for closer scrutiny of the ‘revolving door’ between politics and commerce. Interestingly, Rasmussen’s announcement came a fortnight after the European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly recommended that there should be tighter restrictions on European politicians, leaders and officials leaving their jobs to join the private sector.

O'Reilly said in a written statement: "Civil servants have a legitimate right to take up job offers when they leave the public service. However, in order to maintain citizens' trust in the EU civil service, the EU institutions must strengthen and make more transparent their systems of review to make sure that such moves do not give rise to conflicts of interest.”

The Alliance should look to introduce rules that prevent former senior officials, including the Secretary General, from undertaking private work on security issues within an appropriate period of time. The European Commission, NATO's neighbour in Brussels, has a code of conduct barring former commissioners from lobbying the EU's executive body for 18 months after leaving office. This also ought to be a minimum requirement within NATO.