The 59-year-old former German politician had been Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation since 1988, helping to shepherd it through the end of the Cold War. He leaves behind an organisation in the throes of massive change, and seeking a new role in regional security.
Mr Worner had fought cancer for two years, ignoring warnings that he should rest to help his recuperation after a series of operations. He refused, continuing to attend meetings until this summer. Only then did he take leave, telling Nato's governments he would return in September and decide then if he was well enough to continue. Increasingly gaunt and frail, he had until his last days in office chaired meetings in his usual tough manner.
'Manfred Worner's heroic leadership made an enduring contribution to democracy and security in Europe,' said President Bill Clinton yesterday. An alliance statement said he was 'the driving force behind Nato's transformation.' The Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, said Mr Worner was 'one of the bravest men I knew.' President Francois Mitterrand 'learned with sadness' of his death, said a statement from Paris. In Germany, Defence Minister Volker Ruhe said that the death 'affects me deeply'. Mr Worner held the post of defence minister before his Nato appointment.
Sergio Balanzino, deputy secretary-general, has filled in for Mr Worner over the last few months and will take over temporarily, Nato said yesterday. The search for a permanent successor will start immediately, with Nato governments anxious to avoid the kind of fiasco that marked the European Union's attempt to fill the job of Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission.
There is a complex formula that must be satisfied to appoint the seventh Nato secretary-general since 1952. By tradition, the job is reserved for a European, which rules out the US and Canada. France and Spain are not members of the Integrated military structure, and are also ruled out. Greece and Turkey do not trust each other enough. Germany had the job last. That leaves nine countries. Italy already holds the post of deputy secretary-general.
The leading contenders are Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Norwegian foreign minister and UN peace mediator in Bosnia, and Hans van den Broek, European Commissioner who is well-regarded at Nato. But the Netherlands has held the job twice. Mr Stoltenberg's appointment would be the first for Norway. He is seen as highly competent.
Giuliano Amato, former Italian prime minister, is also mentioned, though Italy has held the office once before. So is the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, should he choose to leave office and remain in public service rather than heading for a more lucrative City job. But Britain has already held the job twice (Lord Ismay, 1952-7 and Lord Carrington, 1984-88).
The nine members of the Western European Union, the defence body linked to the EU, are also looking for a new chief. They are Nato members, and the two searches are likely to be co- ordinated. The WEU is still embryonic, but may see its role boosted as the European pillar of Nato. It is headed by a Dutchman, Willem van Eekelen.
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