Secretary General of NATO

Last updated
Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Flag of NATO.svg
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.jpg
Jens Stoltenberg

since 1 October 2014
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Member of North Atlantic Council
Seat NATO headquarters
Term length 4 years
Formation24 March 1952
First holder Hastings Ismay
Website Office of the Secretary General

The secretary general of NATO is an international diplomat who serves as the chief civil servant of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The officeholder is 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 however not have any military command role; political, military and strategic decisions ultimately rest with the member states. Together with the chairman of the NATO Military Committee and the supreme Allied commander, the secretary general is one of the foremost officials of NATO.


The current secretary general of NATO 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 will lead NATO until September 30, 2022. [3]


Article 9 of the North Atlantic Treaty requires NATO members to "establish a Council, on which each of them shall be represented." [4] Accordingly, the North Atlantic Council was formed. Initially the Council consisted of NATO members' foreign ministers and met annually. [5] 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. [6] The chairman of the deputies was given responsibility "for directing the organization and its work," including all of its civilian agencies. [7]

The Council deputies met for the first time on July 25, 1950, and selected Charles Spofford, the United States deputy, as their chairman. [8] 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. [9] 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. [10]

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. [11] 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. [12] 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. [13]

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 World War II, and Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in the British cabinet as secretary general. [14] 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. [15]

Several months later, after Spofford retired from the 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. [16] Ismay served as secretary general until retiring in May, 1957. [17]

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." [18] 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 officers 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." [19]

List of office-holders

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.PortraitSecretary GeneralTook officeLeft officeTime in officeCountry of origin
Ismay cropped.jpg
Ismay, Hastings General
Hastings Ismay
1st Baron Ismay

24 March 195216 May 19575 years, 53 daysFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-39998-0427, Paul-Henri Spaak.jpg
Spaak, Paul-Henri Paul-Henri Spaak
16 May 195721 April 19613 years, 340 daysFlag of Belgium (civil).svg  Belgium
Stikker, Dirk - SFA002019718.jpg
Stikker, Dirk Dirk Stikker
[lower-alpha 1]
21 April 19611 August 19643 years, 102 daysFlag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands
Manlio Brosio.PNG
Brosio, Manlio Manlio Brosio
1 August 19641 October 19717 years, 61 daysFlag of Italy.svg  Italy
Luns, J.M.A.H. - SFA008007314.jpg
Luns, Joseph Joseph Luns
1 October 197125 June 198412 years, 268 daysFlag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands
Peter Carington.PNG
Carington, Peter Major
Peter Carington
6th Baron Carrington

25 June 19841 July 19884 years, 6 daysFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Manfred Woerner 1993.jpg
Wörner, Manfred Manfred Wörner
[lower-alpha 2]
1 July 198813 August 1994 6 years, 43 daysFlag of Germany.svg  Germany
Sergio Balanzino.jpg
Balanzino, Sergio Sergio Balanzino
13 August 199417 October 199465 daysFlag of Italy.svg  Italy
Willy Claes - Filip Naudts.jpg
Claes, Willy Willy Claes
(born 1938)
[lower-alpha 3]
17 October 199420 October 19951 year, 3 daysFlag of Belgium (civil).svg  Belgium
Sergio Balanzino.jpg
Balanzino, Sergio Sergio Balanzino
20 October 19955 December 199546 daysFlag of Italy.svg  Italy
Javier Solana 1999.jpg
Solana, Javier Javier Solana
(born 1942)
5 December 199514 October 19993 years, 313 daysFlag of Spain.svg  Spain
Official portrait of Lord Robertson of Port Ellen crop 3.jpg
Robertson, George George Robertson
Baron Robertson of Port Ellen

(born 1946)
[lower-alpha 4]
14 October 199917 December 20034 years, 64 daysFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Minuto-Rizzo, Alessandro Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo
(born 1940)
17 December 20031 January 200415 daysFlag of Italy (2003-2006).svg  Italy
Scheffer, Jaap de Hoop Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
(born 1948)
[lower-alpha 5]
1 January 20041 August 20095 years, 212 daysFlag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands
Former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Nordic Council Session in Helsinki 2008-10-28.jpg
Rasmussen, Anders Fogh Anders Fogh Rasmussen
(born 1953)
1 August 20091 October 20145 years, 61 daysFlag of Denmark.svg  Denmark
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.jpg
Stoltenberg, Jens Jens Stoltenberg
(born 1959)
1 October 2014Incumbent5 years, 142 daysFlag of Norway.svg  Norway
The 11th secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer meeting U.S. president George W. Bush on 20 March 2006 Bush dehoopscheffer.jpg
The 11th secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer meeting U.S. president George W. Bush on 20 March 2006

Living former secretaries general

As of 2018, there are five living former NATO secretaries general. The most recent secretary general to die was Peter Carington, 6th Baron Carrington (1919-2018)


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. [29] For assistance in his responsibilities, the secretary general also has a deputy appointed by the organization. The NATO Command Structure (NCS), consisting of two strategic commands directed by the North Atlantic Council (NAC): [30] [31]

Liaison:          Provides advice and support to the NAC
Political strategic level:
Brussels, BE
Brussels, BE
Military strategic level:
Coat of arms of the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee.svg
Golden star.svg Golden star.svg Golden star.svg Golden star.svg
Coat of arms of the International Military Staff.svg   DGIMS (IMS)
Brussels, BE
Greater coat of arms of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.svg
Golden star.svg Golden star.svg Golden star.svg Golden star.svg
Mons, BE
Emblem of Allied Command Transformation.svg
Golden star.svg Golden star.svg Golden star.svg Golden star.svg
Norfolk, US
Operational level:
Coat of arms of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum.svg   JFCBS Brunssum, NL
Coat of arms of the Joint Warfare Centre.svg   JWC Stavanger, NO
Coat of arms of the Allied Air Command.svg   AIRCOM Ramstein, DE
Coat of arms of the Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre.svg   JALLC Lisbon, PT
Coat of arms of the Allied Maritime Command.svg   MARCOM Northwood, GB
Coat of arms of the Joint Force Training Centre.svg   JFTC Bydgoszcz, PL
Coat of arms of the Allied Land Command.svg   LANDCOM İzmir, TR
Coat of arms of the NATO Communication and Information Systems Group.svg   CIS GP
Coat of arms of Allied Joint Force Command Naples.svg   JFCNP Naples, IT


There is no formal process for selecting the secretary general. Instead, 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. [32]

Because NATO's chief military officer, the supreme Allied commander Europe, is traditionally an American, the secretary general has traditionally been a European by custom. However, there is nothing in NATO's charter that would preclude a Canadian or American from becoming the secretary general. [33]

Deputy Secretary General

List of deputy secretaries general [34]
1Jonkheer van VredenburchFlag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands 1952–1956
2Baron Adolph BentinckFlag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands 1956–1958
3Alberico CasardiFlag of Italy.svg  Italy 1958–1962
4 Guido Colonna di Paliano Flag of Italy.svg  Italy 1962–1964
5James A. RobertsFlag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 1964–1968
6Osman OlcayFlag of Turkey.svg  Turkey 1969–1971
7Paolo Pansa CedronioFlag of Italy.svg  Italy 1971–1978
8Rinaldo PetrignaniFlag of Italy.svg  Italy 1978–1981
9Eric da RinFlag of Italy.svg  Italy 1981–1985
10Marcello GuidiFlag of Italy.svg  Italy 1985–1989
11Amedeo de FranchisFlag of Italy.svg  Italy 1989–1994
12 Sergio Balanzino Flag of Italy.svg  Italy 1994–2001
13 Alessandro Minuto Rizzo Flag of Italy.svg  Italy 2001–2007
14 Claudio Bisogniero Flag of Italy.svg  Italy 2007–2012
15 Alexander Vershbow Flag of the United States.svg  United States 2012–2016
16 Rose Gottemoeller Flag of the United States.svg  United States 2016–2019
17 Mircea Geoană Flag of Romania.svg  Romania 2019–present

See also


  1. Stikker resigned from his position a year early due to poor health. [20]
  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 on his life and then became acting Secretary General upon his death until the appointment of Willy Claes. [21]
  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. [22]
  4. George Robertson announced in January 2003 that he would be stepping down in December. [23] 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. [24] 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, [25] but he did not take office until January 5, 2004. [26] [27]


  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
  4. "The North Atlantic Treaty".
  5. Ismay, Lord. "NATO-The first 5 years 1949-1954". p. 24.
  6. Ismay, p. 28
  7. "15th - 18th May: London". NATO Final Communiques 1949-1974. NATO Information Service. p. 56.
  8. Ismay, p. 31
  9. Ismay, p. 37
  10. Ismay, p. 41
  11. Ismay, p.44
  12. Ismay, p.46
  13. Ismay, p. 48
  15. Daniel, Clifton (March 13, 1952). "Ismay Named Civilian Chief of Atlantic Pact Organization". The New York Times .
  16. Fedder, p. 10
  17. Brosio, p. 39
  18. "Spaak for Ismay". The Washington Post . December 16, 1956.
  19. "11th-14th December: Paris". NATO Final Communiques 1949-1974. NATO Information Service. p. 104.
  20. Cook, Don (April 3, 1964). "Resignation announced by Stikker". The Washington Post .
  21. Marshall, Andrew (August 15, 1994). "Hunt is on to find new Nato chief". The Independent . London. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  22. Whitney, Craig (October 21, 1995). "Facing Charges, NATO Head Steps Down". The New York Times . Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  23. 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.
  24. "Jaap de Hoop Scheffer". Newsmakers (1). Thomson Gale. January 1, 2005.
  25. Crouch, Gregory (September 23, 2003). "NATO Names a Dutchman To Be Its Secretary General". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  26. "NATO Chief Steps Down". The New York Times. December 18, 2003. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  27. Crouch, Gregory (January 6, 2004). "New NATO Chief Takes Over". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  28. "President Welcomes NATO Secretary General to the White House". The White House. 2006-03-20. Retrieved 2008-04-13.
  29. "Civilian Organisation and Structures: The Secretary General".
  30. "Command Structure" (PDF). NATO. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  31. "Military Command Structure". Supreme Head Allied Powers Europe. 12 February 2020. Retrieved 12 February 2020. The operational level consists of three standing Joint Force Commands (JFCs): one in Brunssum, The Netherlands, one in Naples, Italy and one in Norfolk, Virginia.
  32. Kardas, Saban. "Ankara Debates Rasmussen's Candidacy for NATO Secretary-General". The Jamestown Foundation.
  33. "NATO Secretary General: How is he or she selected and for how long".
  34. "NATO Who's who? – Deputy Secretaries General of NATO". NATO. Retrieved 20 July 2012.

Related Research Articles

NATO Intergovernmental military alliance of Western states

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also called the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 29 North American and European countries. The organization implements the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949. NATO constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its independent member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. NATO's Headquarters are located in Evere, Brussels, Belgium, while the headquarters of Allied Command Operations is near Mons, Belgium.

Supreme Allied Commander is the title held by the most senior commander within certain multinational military alliances. It originated as a term used by the Allies during World War I, and is currently used only within NATO - for Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Supreme Allied Commander Transformation.

Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe NATO Headquarters in Belgium

Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) is the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Allied Command Operations (ACO). Since 1967 it has been located at Casteau, north of the Belgian city of Mons, but it had previously been located, from 1953, at Rocquencourt, next to Versailles, France. From 1951 to 2003, SHAPE was the headquarters of Allied Command Europe (ACE). Since 2003 it has been the headquarters of Allied Command Operations, controlling all NATO operations worldwide.

Hastings Ismay, 1st Baron Ismay British army officer and diplomat, 1st Secretary General of NATO

General Hastings Lionel Ismay, 1st Baron Ismay, nicknamed Pug, was a British Indian Army officer and diplomat, remembered primarily for his role as Winston Churchill's chief military assistant during the Second World War and his service as the first Secretary General of NATO from 1952 to 1957.

Edmund Giambastiani United States Navy admiral

Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr. is a retired United States Navy admiral who served as the seventh Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2005 to 2007. He retired in 2007, after 37 years of service.

David C. Jones U.S. Air Force general

David Charles Jones was a United States Air Force general and the ninth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Supreme Allied Commander Europe Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization

The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) is the commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Allied Command Operations (ACO) and head of ACO's headquarters, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). The commander is based at SHAPE in Casteau, Belgium. SACEUR is the second-highest military position within NATO, below only the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee in terms of precedence.

Allied Command Transformation Military command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

Allied Command Transformation (ACT) is a military command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), formed in 2003 after restructuring.

Treaty of Brussels 1948 Western European defence treaty

The Treaty of Brussels, also referred to as the Brussels Pact, was the founding treaty of the Western Union (WU) between 1948 and 1954, at which it point it was amended as the Modified Brussels Treaty (MTB) and served as the founding treaty of the Western European Union (WEU) until its termination in 2010. The treaty provided for the organisation of military, economic, social and cultural cooperation among member states, as well as a mutual defence clause.

Chairman of the NATO Military Committee

The Chairman of the NATO Military Committee (CMC) is the head of the NATO Military Committee, which advises the North Atlantic Council (NAC) on military policy and strategy. He is the senior military spokesman of the 29-nation alliance and principal advisor to the Secretary General. The Chairman is one of the foremost officials of NATO, next to the Secretary General and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He is assisted by the Deputy Chairman, who advises the Deputy Secretary General and serves as the principal agent for coordination of nuclear, biological, and chemical matters for the Military Committee.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Military Committee is the body of NATO that is composed of member states' Chiefs of Defence (CHOD). These national CHODs are regularly represented in the MC by their permanent Military Representatives (MilRep), who often are two- or three-star flag officers. Like the Council, from time to time the Military Committee also meets at a higher level, namely at the level of Chiefs of Defence, the most senior military officer in each nation's armed forces.

Atlantic Command may refer to:

The Structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is complex and multi-faceted. The decision-making body is the North Atlantic Council (NAC), and the member state representatives also sit on the Defence Planning Committee (DPC) and the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG). Below that the Secretary General of NATO directs the civilian International Staff, that is divided into administrative divisions, offices and other organizations. Also responsible to the NAC, DPC, and NPG are a host of committees that supervise the various NATO logistics and standardisation agencies.

Western Union (alliance) European military alliance

The Western Union (WU), also referred to as the Brussels Treaty Organisation (BTO), was the European military alliance established between France, the United Kingdom (UK) and the three Benelux countries in September 1948 in order to implement the Treaty of Brussels signed in March the same year. Under this treaty the signatories, referred to as the five powers, agreed to collaborate in the defence field as well as in the political, economic and cultural fields.

NATO Standardization Office former NATO agency

The NATO Standardization Office (NSO) was a NATO agency created in 1951 to handle standardization activities for NATO. The NSA was formed through the merger of the Military Agency for Standardization and the Office for NATO Standardization. During the Agency Reforms, the NSA was transformed to the NATO Standardization Office (NSO) on 1 July 2014, headed by the Director of the NATO Standardization Office (DNSO).

Azerbaijan–NATO relations

The relationship between Azerbaijan and NATO started in 1992 when Azerbaijan joined the newly created North Atlantic Cooperation Council. Considerable partnership between NATO and Azerbaijan dates back to 1994, when the latter joined Partnership for Peace program. Azerbaijan established a diplomatic Mission to NATO in 1997 by the Presidential Decree on 21 November.

Chairman of the European Union Military Committee

The Chairman of the European Union Military Committee (CEUMC) is the four-star rank officer representing and presiding over the European Union's (EU) Military Committee (EUMC), composed of the chiefs of defence (CHODs) of the EU member states. The chairman is selected by the national chiefs of defence and appointed by the Council of the European Union for a three year term.

Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee

The Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee (DCMC) is the deputy head of the NATO Military Committee.

Steven M. Shepro

Steven Michael Shepro is a Lieutenant General in the United States Air Force who currently serves as the 21st Deputy Chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Military Committee. He assists the Chairman's role as principal adviser to the NATO Secretary General and senior military spokesman of the 29-nation alliance. He also advises the Deputy Secretary General, leads coordination of nuclear, biological and chemical matters, and, in the chairman's absence, directs daily operations and the business of the Military Committee, NATO's highest military authority.

This article outlines the history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). British diplomacy set the stage for NATO to contain the Soviet Union (USSR) and stop the expansion of Communism in Europe. Britain and France in 1947 signed the Treaty of Dunkirk, a defensive pact. This expanded in 1948 with the Treaty of Brussels to add the three Benelux countries. It committed them to collective defence against any armed attack for fifty years. The British worked with Washington to expand the alliance into NATO in 1949, adding the U.S. and Canada as well as Italy, Portugal, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. West Germany and Spain joined later.


Official website