Few mourn as the blunt Belgian packs his bags

SARAH HELM

Brussels

By all accounts, Willy Claes was a good Nato secretary-general, as Nato secretary-generals go. He was an efficient administrator and a good mediator. Some alliance leaders - particularly the Americans - were sorry to see him go, having lent him public support until the last.

But staff at Nato headquarters had no such sentiments. A blunt Belgian, Mr Claes was not a popular boss. Distant, unpredictable and charmless was how he was described by many yesterday. In the eyes of proud Nato loyalists, his refusal to resign earlier besmirched the reputation of the alliance.

The Secretary-General has a largely administrative and brokering role. Under alliance rules, the job always goes to a European. The US always appoints the two Nato military chiefs, the supreme allied commanders for the Atlantic and for Europe. If the US can maintain its men at the military pinnacle it is happy to let the Europeans run the bureaucracy.

The Secretary-General's job is not one that carries the kudos or political clout of some other top international postings, which is why few high- ranking politicians from big countries are interested unless they are thinking of retirement, like Lord Carrington, Secretary-General 1984-1988.

It is often respected politicians from smaller countries who line up for the job, and this time round Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, former Danish foreign minister, and Ruud Lubbers, former Dutch prime minister, are front-runners. The post apparently carried too little money (pounds 175,000 a year) or prestige to lure Douglas Hurd, the former British Foreign Secretary, but Britain, which has indicated that it sees both Mr Lubbers and Mr Elleman-Jensen as lacklustre candidates, is believed to be considering trying to persuade him to change his mind. Mr Hurd reaffirmed his decision not to apply yesterday, but sources in Nato believe he could be won round to "serve his country.".

Although 2,000 diplomats and staff work at Nato's Brussels headquarters, most answer to their national delegations. The Nato chief has only a small staff and not much role in initiating policy. However, as an operational manager the Secretary-General is the linchpin and will play a key role in the task now facing Nato, the peace-enforcement force for former Yugoslavia.

The Secretary-General's prime tasks are to act as chairman at the weekly meetings of the North Atlantic Council, the group of 16 Nato ambassadors who gather every Wednesday at the Brussels headquarters, and to heal divisions between member states by proposing compromise. Much Nato diplomacy is directly between capitals, bypassing Brussels altogether.

The Secretary-General travels the world, mediating. Mr Claes should have been at the UN's 50th anniversary meeting in New York this weekend.Instead, he will be packing his bags and moving out of his official residence The last deal he brokered was to be allowed to stay in the house for a few days.

Suggested Topics
News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
Extras
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
Life and Style
health
News
i100
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?