Secretary General of NATO

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Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Secrétaire général de l'OTAN (French)
Logo of NATO
Jens Stoltenberg
since 1 October 2014
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Member ofNorth Atlantic Council
SeatNATO headquarters
AppointerMember states
Term lengthFour years, renewable
Formation24 March 1952; 72 years ago (1952-03-24)
First holderHastings Ismay, 1st Baron Ismay
DeputyDeputy Secretary General
WebsiteOffice of the Secretary General

The secretary general of NATO is the chief civil servant of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an intergovernmental military alliance with 32 member states. The officeholder is an international diplomat 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 not have a military command role; political, military and strategic decisions ultimately rest with the member states. Together with the Chair of the NATO Military Committee and the supreme allied commander, the officeholder is one of the foremost officials of NATO.

The current secretary general 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 was to lead NATO until September 30, 2022.[3] However, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, his term was extended further by another year.[4][5]


Article 9 of the North Atlantic Treaty requires NATO members to "establish a Council, on which each of them shall be represented."[6] Accordingly, the North Atlantic Council was formed. Initially the Council consisted of NATO members' foreign ministers and met annually.[7] 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.[8] The chairman of the deputies was given responsibility "for directing the organization and its work," including all of its civilian agencies.[9]

The Council deputies met for the first time on July 25, 1950, and selected Charles Spofford, the United States deputy, as their chairman.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

Secretary General Joseph Luns meets with United States Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger on 25 May 1983.

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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

Secretary General Javier Solana and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev on 1 October 1997.

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 the Second World War, and Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in the British cabinet as secretary general.[16] 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.[17] Several months later, after Spofford retired from 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.[18] Ismay served as secretary general until retiring in May, 1957.[19]

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon in Brussels, October 2015.

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."[20] 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 offices 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."[21]

List of officeholders[edit]

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 Previous office Country of origin
Hastings Ismay 1st Baron Ismay
Ismay, HastingsHastings Ismay
1st Baron Ismay

24 March 195216 May 19575 years, 53 daysSecretary of State for
Commonwealth Relations
 United Kingdom
Paul-Henri Spaak
Spaak, Paul-HenriPaul-Henri Spaak
16 May 195721 April 19613 years, 340 daysPrime Minister of Belgium Belgium
Dirk Stikker
Stikker, DirkDirk Stikker
21 April 19611 August 19643 years, 102 daysMinister of Foreign Affairs Netherlands
Manlio Brosio
Brosio, ManlioManlio Brosio
1 August 19641 October 19717 years, 61 daysAmbassador to
the United Kingdom
Joseph Luns
Luns, JosephJoseph Luns
1 October 197125 June 198412 years, 268 daysMinister of Foreign Affairs Netherlands
Peter Carington 6th Baron Carrington
Carrington, PeterPeter Carington
6th Baron Carrington

25 June 19841 July 19884 years, 6 daysSecretary of State for
Foreign and
Commonwealth Affairs
 United Kingdom
Manfred Wörner
Wörner, ManfredManfred Wörner
1 July 198813 August 1994 †6 years, 43 daysMinister of Defence Germany
Sergio Balanzino
Balanzino, SergioSergio Balanzino
13 August 199417 October 199465 daysDeputy Secretary
General of NATO
Willy Claes
Claes, WillyWilly Claes
(born 1938)
17 October 199420 October 19951 year, 3 daysMinister of Foreign Affairs Belgium
Sergio Balanzino
Balanzino, SergioSergio Balanzino
20 October 19955 December 199546 daysDeputy Secretary
General of NATO
Javier Solana
Solana, JavierJavier Solana
(born 1942)
5 December 199514 October 19993 years, 313 daysMinister of Foreign Affairs Spain
George Robertson Baron Robertson of Port Ellen
Robertson, GeorgeGeorge Robertson
Baron Robertson of Port Ellen

(born 1946)
14 October 199917 December 20034 years, 64 daysSecretary of State for Defence United Kingdom
Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo
Minuto-Rizzo, AlessandroAlessandro

(born 1940)
17 December 20031 January 200415 daysDeputy Secretary
General of NATO
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Scheffer, Jaap de HoopJaap de Hoop

(born 1948)
1 January 20041 August 20095 years, 212 daysMinister of Foreign Affairs Netherlands
Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Rasmussen, Anders FoghAnders Fogh

(born 1953)
1 August 20091 October 20145 years, 61 daysPrime Minister of Denmark Denmark
Jens Stoltenberg
Stoltenberg, JensJens Stoltenberg
(born 1959)
1 October 2014Incumbent9 years, 203 daysPrime Minister of Norway Norway


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 Joint 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.[30] For assistance in his responsibilities, the secretary general also has a deputy appointed by the organization.

North Atlantic Council
NATO Headquarters, Brussels, BEL
NATO Headquarters, Brussels, BEL
International Staff
NATO Headquarters, Brussels, BEL
International Military Staff
NATO Headquarters, Brussels, BEL

Military Committee
NATO Headquarters, Brussels, BEL

Supreme Allied Commander Transformation
Allied Command Transformation (ACT)
Norfolk, USA

Supreme Allied Commander Europe
Allied Command Operations (ACO)
Mons, BEL
Joint Warfare Centre
Stavanger, NOR
Joint Force Command Brunssum
(JFC Brunssum)
Brunssum, NLD
Allied Air Command
Ramstein, DEU
Joint Force Training Centre
Bydgoszcz, POL
Joint Force Command Naples
(JFC Naples)
Naples, ITA
Allied Land Command
İzmir, TUR
Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre
Lisbon, PRT
Joint Force Command Norfolk
(JFC Norfolk)
Norfolk, Virginia, USA
Allied Maritime Command
Northwood, GBR
Joint Support and Enabling Command
Ulm, DEU


There is no formal process for selecting the secretary general. 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]

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

Deputy Secretary General[edit]

List of deputy secretaries general of NATO[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 Esim 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 also[edit]


  1. ^ Stikker resigned from his position a year early due to poor health.[22]
  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 of his life and then became acting Secretary General upon his death until the appointment of Willy Claes.[23]
  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.[24]
  4. ^ George Robertson announced in January 2003 that he would be stepping down in December.[25] 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.[26] 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,[27] but he did not take office until January 5, 2004.[28][29]


  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". March 28, 2019.
  4. ^ Adomaitis, Nerijus; Solsvik, Terje; Baczynska, Gabriela (2022-03-24). "Stoltenberg extends NATO term by a year amid Ukraine crisis". Reuters. Retrieved 2022-03-24.
  5. ^ LORNE, COOK (2023-07-04). "NATO again extends Secretary-General Stoltenberg's mandate, seeking safe familiarity". THE TIMES OF ISRAEL. Retrieved 2023-07-13.
  6. ^ "The North Atlantic Treaty".
  7. ^ Ismay, Lord. "NATO-The first 5 years 1949-1954". p. 24.
  8. ^ Ismay, p. 28
  9. ^ "15th - 18th May: London". NATO Final Communiques 1949-1974. NATO Information Service. p. 56.
  10. ^ Ismay, p. 31
  11. ^ Ismay, p. 37
  12. ^ Ismay, p. 41
  13. ^ Ismay, p.44
  14. ^ Ismay, p.46
  15. ^ Ismay, p. 48
  16. ^ "Resolution on the Appointement of Lord Ismay".
  17. ^ Daniel, Clifton (March 13, 1952). "Ismay Named Civilian Chief of Atlantic Pact Organization". The New York Times.
  18. ^ Fedder, p. 10
  19. ^ Brosio, p. 39
  20. ^ "Spaak for Ismay". The Washington Post. December 16, 1956.
  21. ^ "11th-14th December: Paris". NATO Final Communiques 1949-1974. NATO Information Service. p. 104.
  22. ^ Cook, Don (April 3, 1964). "Resignation announced by Stikker". The Washington Post.
  23. ^ Marshall, Andrew (August 15, 1994). "Hunt is on to find new Nato chief". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  24. ^ Whitney, Craig (October 21, 1995). "Facing Charges, NATO Head Steps Down". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ "Jaap de Hoop Scheffer". Newsmakers. No. 1. Thomson Gale. January 1, 2005.
  27. ^ Crouch, Gregory (September 23, 2003). "NATO Names a Dutchman To Be Its Secretary General". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  28. ^ "NATO Chief Steps Down". The New York Times. December 18, 2003. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  29. ^ Crouch, Gregory (January 6, 2004). "New NATO Chief Takes Over". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  30. ^ "Civilian Organisation and Structures: The Secretary General".
  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 links[edit]