Even as the remaining Somali pirate involved in last week’s dramatic hostage stand-off with the US Navy has arrived in New York to be put on trial there, further developments in the Indian Ocean have put the differences between the US and European approaches to the problem in stark relief. For last weekend the Dutch military and then the Canadians each captured a number of Somali pirates and then concluded that there was nothing they could do with them but let them go. As the leading Dutch daily the NRC Handelsblad reported in its coverage of the Dutch foreign minister’s visit to Washington at about the same point in time, these episodes contributed to some awkwardness in that encounter with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who noted that such actions were “not a good signal.”
You likely missed it in the thick series of happenings and photo-ops that have flooded the world’s front pages since Barack Obama first took flight last Tuesday for London, but there was a bit of a mini-crisis brewing at the NATO summit (his next stop after the G20 meeting in London) even as he addressed all those German and French students in Strasbourg at that “town hall” meeting on Friday. It wasn’t very complicated: the current Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was lined up to succeed Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO Secretary-General at the summit, but there was a serious monkey-wrench in the works: the top Turkish leaders did not want Rasmussen in that post, and they were ready to insist that he not get it and so exercise the effective veto they and every other one of NATO’s 28 members have on such a top position. (The Turkish complaints against him related to the late 2005/early 2006 Danish cartoons affair, plus a Kurdish-language TV station – “Roj TV” – that broadcasts in Denmark.) Things even reached the point that – horrors! – the news conference scheduled for 1:00 PM on Saturday afternoon did not happen until a good two-and-a-half hours later, which is when De Hoop Scheffer could finally appear on the stage shaking hands with his Danish successor.
As befitting its status as one of Denmark’s best-regarded daily newspapers, Berlingske Tidende has some good coverage of this affair (NATO’s declaration-of-confidence in Denmark), written by Ole Bang Nielsen. First off, Nielsen makes it clear just what this appointment means to the Danes themselves, namely a recognition that Denmark is no longer just a “footnote-nation and hesitant member of NATO,” as well as a personal vote of support to Rasmussen himself. To get there past the Turkish opposition, though, truly took a tremendous diplomatic full-court press – “the large European NATO lands finally threw in all their political ballast against Turkey,” as Nielsen writes. Breaking up that NATO meeting without having Rasmussen in place as the Secretary-General would have been a humiliation – especially for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who basically had announced the day before that Rasmussen would be named – so those European countries did indeed throw in everything, including Turkey’s prospective EU membership. Yes, EU matters generally do not belong being linked to NATO issues (the memberships of the two organizations don’t match very exactly, anyway), but Nielsen writes that certain threats were made nonetheless against Turkey’s EU membership process should it continue to hold out against the Dane. It seems even that the EU enlargement commissioner (Olli Rehn, a Finn) was on-hand personally to utter authoritative remarks toward the Turks such as “This does not look good from a European perspective, if Turkey does not give way.” There you have it: ordinarily Rehn did not even belong there at the NATO meeting at all, since he is an EU official, and because Finland is not a member of NATO anyway. (more…)
Open the envelope, and the winner is . . . Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for next Secretary-General of NATO! And so the Netherlands contributes its third Secretary-General in the history of the Atlantic Alliance, the first two (as only NATO trivia-buffs will know) having been Dirk Stikker and Joseph Luns. Me, I’m slightly disappointed since I was looking forward to seeing the Norwegian Defense Minister, Kristin Krohn Devold, named instead as NATO’s first female Secretary-General. The New York Times Magazine, in a hagiographical article about her that it published back on August 24, virtually promised that this would happen. (That article has by now retreated behind the NYT’s paid archives-access gate; if you think you might like to pay to see it, the link is here.)
No, its Jaap de Hoop Scheffer instead – and surely it’s time here for a survey of the Dutch press to find out how the thinking-class in Holland is reacting to one of its own being picked out for such a crucial international position. What sort of a politician is he? What qualities will he bring to NATO? What is Holland losing by having him (temporarily) plucked away from its political scene? After all, he is currently the Dutch Foreign Affairs minister; and he used to be head of the CDA, the right-wing, somewhat Christian-oriented (“Christian lite,” anybody? – as opposed to the more “hard-core” Christian parties EuroSavant has briefly discussed before) political party which is now the Netherlands’ largest and whose current leader, Jan-Peter Balkenende (the man who replaced De Hoop Scheffer), is prime minister. (more…)