The world owes Jens Stoltenberg — and Norway — a debt of thanks

This month’s NATO summit in Lithuania was undoubtedly a great diplomatic success. Finland is now a fully-fledged NATO member, and Sweden is on the alliance’s doorstep, awaiting formal approval from Turkey. 

These accomplishments happened in no small part thanks to the diplomatic savoir-faire of NATO secretary general — and former Norwegian prime minister — Jens Stoltenberg. 

While much of the world’s media attention focused on what was said at this summit by U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, ultimately it is Stoltenberg who deserves much — if not, most — of the credit for the success of the gathering. 

Stoltenberg’s patient and careful negotiating and maneuvering is what led to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greenlighting Sweden’s soon-to-be NATO membership, as well as ensuring that Zelensky and NATO would be on the same page about how to move forward in assisting Ukraine. Most notably, the post-summit Communique included the key line, “Ukraine’s future is in NATO.” 

On the other hand, Vladimir Putin and Russia are in total disarray. Putin barely survived a coup attempt from a mercenary that worked for him, Russia’s economy is in shambles and the Russian military’s losses simply do not seem sustainable. NATO’s enduring support of Ukraine clearly continues to prove its resilience. 

Stoltenberg has deftly led NATO throughout this unprecedented time with the war in Ukraine. Undoubtedly, Stoltenberg has drawn on ties he has developed not only since he began leading NATO in 2014, but he also has great credibility on the world stage from his many years as prime minister of Norway. 

Over the last few weeks, U.S. President Joe Biden has received a great deal of credit for NATO’s unity with regard to Ukraine. While this is fair, it must be acknowledged that this success would not be possible without Stoltenberg. In many respects, Stoltenberg has served as an effective mediator between the United States, other NATO members and Ukraine for more than a year, navigating the challenges all these entities face with the war in Ukraine. 

Additionally, Stoltenberg has gotten NATO members to step up in their defense spending in response to the war in Ukraine. Most notably Germany — which has long neglected sufficient defense spending commitments as a part of the alliance — as well as France, the United Kingdom and Poland, have notably each stepped up their defense commitments in notable ways. 

All people of goodwill around the world should be thankful to Stoltenberg for his leadership. It must also be recognized that he would not be the NATO secretary general now, had he not previously been the Norwegian prime minister. Therefore, many thanks are also owed to the Norwegian people for having previously elected him to the office of prime minister. 

Ahead of this most recent summit, Stoltenberg’s term at the helm of NATO was extended by one year, resulting in his holding onto his position at least until October 1, 2024. Stoltenberg humbly accepted this extension and reportedly stated shortly afterward, “The transatlantic bond between Europe and North America has ensured our freedom and security for nearly 75 years, and in a more dangerous world, our alliance is more important than ever.” 

Looking beyond the war in Ukraine, it is clear that Stoltenberg has much more to contribute to the world stage. He is only 64 years old and has shown himself to be an energetic and dedicated public servant. We should all hope that Stoltenberg will consider remaining in public service at the conclusion of his term leading NATO next year. 

Notably, in 2026, the position of United Nations secretary general will become available upon the conclusion of the current U.N. secretary general, Antonio Guterres’s, term in office. Granted, oftentimes there is a rotation across different regions of the world in assuming leadership duties at the United Nations. Since Guterres is Portuguese and, therefore, a fellow European, it makes it difficult to see Stoltenberg getting the support to lead the U.N. when the position is open. 

However, the U.N. would be well served in perhaps embracing unconventionality in these strange, post-pandemic times we are living in when so many things in our world have rapidly changed. There is no doubt that Stoltenberg would be a formidable U.N. secretary general and should he seek it, his candidacy merits serious consideration. Otherwise, at a minimum, the man has undoubtedly earned — and should receive — a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, or even, the Nobel Peace Prize itself. 

Thank you, Mr. Stoltenberg, and by extension, thank you, to the Norwegian people. 

J.P. Carroll is a senior fellow for national security and inclusive governance at the Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @JPCarrollDC1

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