NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte share a handshake during a visit by Stoltenberg to the Netherlands (NATO)

BELFAST — Mark Rutte, the outgoing Dutch Prime Minister, is soon expected to be named NATO’s new Secretary General, after receiving support to take on the role from Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban.

On Tuesday, Orban posted on X (formerly Twitter) that Rutte “fully supports” a new deal struck between Hungary and current NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, excluding the country from sending its troops to Ukraine or providing funding for military aid to Kyiv. Stoltenberg is due to step down in October.

“In light of his pledge, Hungary is ready to support PM Rutte’s bid for NATO Secretary-General,” added Orban.

His comments led to Stoltenberg later revealing, during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that a decision regarding his replacement is on the way.

“Normally I don’t say anything about my successor because it’s not for me to select my successor, but with the announcement by Prime Minister Orban today, I think it’s obvious that we are very close to a conclusion in the alliance to select the next Secretary General,” he said.

“I think Mark Rutte is a very strong candidate. He has a lot of experience as Prime Minister, is a close friend and colleague and I therefore strongly believe that very soon the alliance will have decided on my successor and that will be good for all of us, for NATO and also for me.”

Asked about the timing of the alliance member vote on a new Secretary General, a NATO spokesperson referred Breaking Defense to Stoltenberg’s latest comments in the US.

All 32 allies are required to reach a consensus on one candidate, who will serve an initial four year term and then can have their term extended, as happened to Stoltenberg three times. He has led the alliance since 2014, a time period which saw Europe awaken to the Russian threat after Moscow’s invasion of Crimea and eventually the rest of Ukraine, along with the tumultuous Trump years. Although Stoltenberg had actually accepted another job in 2023, NATO leadership extended him one more time last July, in part because there was no clear successor in place.

With Orban’s support, few issues appear to stand in the way of Rutte succeeding Stoltenberg. Slovakia, another potential bureaucratic trouble spot due to its relative friendliness with Russia, has finally signaled its support. Local Slovakian media reports on Tuesday said President Peter Pellegrini had decided to back Rutte in return for Dutch support regarding the acquisition of air defense weapons.

The last of Rutte’s competitors for the post, Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis, is likely to withdraw from the contest, based on the views of NATO diplomats, according to France’s Le Monde newspaper.

Rutte is a center-right lawmaker who has led the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) for 18 years and headed four Dutch governments. In a shock announcement last year, he decided against standing for re-election after a fallout on immigration policy led to a collapse of his coalition government.

He was once a human resources manager at British consumer giant Unilever, before his political career blossomed. He served as minister for social affairs and employment, moving on to minister of education, culture and science before rising to power as the VVD leader in 2010.

In a Guardian profile of Rutte, analysts described him as a “skillful, savvy operator with a talent for building and maintaining unlikely alliances,” and he has often been nicknamed “Teflon Mark” due to a reputation for avoiding political scandal.

Though Rutte’s tender will not begin until after the NATO Summit in Washington next month, the alliance’s premiere event is set to focus on three major themes, according to Stoltenberg; deterrence and defense, Ukraine, and global partnerships, including a heavy emphasis on the Indo-Pacific.

As Ukraine continues to suffer attacks from Russia, allies are also expected to discuss additional weapons supplies at the Summit, but Stoltenberg said the alliance has not changed position on the timing of a possible invite to Ukraine to join the alliance.

“We will continue to bring Ukraine ever closer to NATO membership,” he said earlier this week. “So that when the time is right, Ukraine can join without delay.”