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De Hoop Scheffer start NAVO-voorzitterschap met overvolle agenda (en)

The new Secretary-General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer from the Netherlands, took up his post at 8am this morning (5 January), replacing the UK's George Robertson.

The 55 year-old Dutch diplomat - a former air force officer - has ten years of experience in Brussels and is regarded as being both "Atlanticist" and pro-European in his views.

Mr de Hoop Scheffer will need all his experience and diplomatic know-how if he is to successfully guide the Alliance through what promises to be a challenging year - both on and off the field of operations.

Pitfalls in the field

The biggest operational test will be the Alliance's mission in Afghanistan.

For the first time in its history, NATO is undertaking an operation outside its usual 'borders' by assuming command of the international peace-keeping force in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.

NATO recently decided to enlarge its operations in the war-torn country but there are concerns over resources.

When Lord Robertson left his post in mid-December, he called on NATO member states to provide more troops and money for the Afghanistan mission, describing it as a test of credibility for the alliance.

Diplomatic balancing act

Another important decision Mr de Hoop Scheffer will have to take is whether to involve NATO in the reconstruction in Iraq.

The Alliance currently provides logistical aid to Poland - which is commanding an international force in the South of Iraq - but US Secretary of State Colin Powell has asked NATO to consider an expanded role.

A decision on this is not expected until mid-June at the NATO summit in Istanbul, when the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi people is also expected to take place.

Enlargement in NATO too

Mr de Hoop Scheffer will also oversee the expansion of the alliance to include seven new members (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Slovenia).

But perhaps his biggest task will come in supervising relations between NATO, the EU and the US.

At the Brussels EU summit in December, EU leaders reached broad agreement on a mutual defence clause and arrangements that would allow countries to integrate more rapidly on defence issues so long as they filled certain criteria.

But the US is suspicious of closer EU defence integration, preferring defence arrangements to be organised through NATO itself.


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