Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Case for a Canadian

Time is past due for a Canadian to be NATO Secretary General

When the next Secretary General of NATO is elected, there remains an opportunity that this office will be filled by a Canadian.

Defense Minister Peter MacKay is considered by many to be a strong candidate for the job.

Of course, things aren't nearly so simple as MacKay's qualifications.

In all of NATO's history, there has never been a Canadian Secretary General. Nor, for that matter, has there ever been an American Secretary General.

Every Secretary General in NATO history has been a European. For most of NATO's history there was actually a very good reason for this. NATO was formed with the purpose of defending the western bloc against the Soviet Union.

Any war fought against the Soviet Union would inevitably have been fought on European soil. No one could be better trusted to direct such a war in Europe's best interests than someone who is themselves a European.

Even in the immediate post-Soviet era NATO's primary theatre of operations remained European due to the ethnic conflicts which periodically broke out in Eastern Europe.

But now NATO's primary theatre of operations is no longer Europe. Now, NATO is most active in Afghanistan, a war in which Canada has played the disproportionately largest role.

According to Allan Pellerin, a retired long-time NATO officer, NATO has an unwritten rule that the Secretary General would remain European.

"There’s no written rule per se, but when NATO was formed what was agreed was that in order to provide a balance between America’s power and Europe, the senior military commander would be an American and the secretary general was always a European. And that does not change," Pellerin explains.

There are also rumours -- which some attribute to an unnamed European candidate's attempts to discredit MacKay -- that his campaign has been ill-conceived and clumsy.

But even if MacKay himself is unlikely to ascend to Secretary General, there is another Canadian reported to be in the running: former Liberal Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister John Manley.

In the previous Secretary General contest Manley was endorsed by Lord Robertson, the previous Secretary General.

This wasn't enough to overtune tradition in 2003, nor was the leading role Canada's been taking in Afghanistan.

The thing about unwritten rules is that because they're unwritten they're subject to change.

The time for a Canadian to become Secretary General of NATO is long past due.

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