NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s term as head of the western military alliance is set to be extended by another year, according to diplomatic officials, in response to widespread fears over the potential fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Any extension needs to be agreed by all 30 NATO allies at a summit in Brussels on Thursday, but it has the backing of the US, the alliance’s largest member.
When asked ahead of the meeting if he would agree to remain in post, Stoltenberg said he would “leave that decision to the 30 leaders to decide”.
The 63-year-old former Norwegian prime minister, who has led NATO since 2014, is open to remaining in the role, diplomats said. The move would delay the search for a successor, who was due to be named in June.
Senior officials from multiple NATO member states said they supported Stoltenberg remaining in post into 2023, citing the risk of changing leadership during the conflict in Ukraine.
The war has sparked broader concerns over Europe’s security and debates within NATO regarding the alliance’s long-term response.
Stoltenberg on Thursday said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine last month had left Europe “facing the most serious security crisis in a generation”.
In response, NATO has dramatically scaled up its military deployments in eastern European countries close to Russia and Ukraine, including the creation of new multinational battle groups in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia to join those already present in Poland and the three Baltic states, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
NATO has also pushed for alliance members to increase collective defense spending and to formulate a longer-term defense strategy in response to Russia’s invasion.
Stoltenberg was due to step down at the end of September to take on a role as governor of Norway’s central bank and chair of its $ 1.3tn oil fund. The country’s finance ministry said on Wednesday it was “preparing for a situation where Stoltenberg will not take office as governor at the end of this year as planned”.
Stoltenberg’s term as NATO’s top political official has already been extended once: he was given an extra two years in office in 2019. He is the alliance’s second-longest-serving secretary-general.
“We think that Jens Stoltenberg has been doing a fantastic job – and day in, day out has played a critical leadership role for NATO,” said Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, on Wednesday. “Stoltenberg is a real asset to the alliance.”