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Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Flag of NATO.svg
Flag of NATO
NATO OTAN landscape logo.svg
Logo of NATO
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.jpg
Jens Stoltenberg

since 1 October 2014
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Member of North Atlantic Council
Seat NATO headquarters
Term length Four years, renewable
Formation 24 March 1952; 71 years ago (1952-03-24)
First holder Hastings Ismay, 1st Baron Ismay
Website Office of the Secretary General

The secretary general of NATO is the chief civil servant of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The officeholder is an international diplomat responsible for coordinating the workings of the alliance, leading NATO's international staff, chairing the meetings of the North Atlantic Council and most major committees of the alliance, with the notable exception of the NATO Military Committee, as well as acting as NATO's spokesperson. The secretary general does not have a military command role; political, military and strategic decisions ultimately rest with the member states. Together with the Chair of the NATO Military Committee and the supreme allied commander, the officeholder is one of the foremost officials of NATO.

The current secretary general is former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who took office on 1 October 2014. Stoltenberg's mission as secretary general was extended for another four-year term, meaning that he was to lead NATO until September 30, 2022. However, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, his term was extended further by another year.


Article 9 of the North Atlantic Treaty requires NATO members to "establish a Council, on which each of them shall be represented." Accordingly, the North Atlantic Council was formed. Initially the Council consisted of NATO members' foreign ministers and met annually. In May 1950, the desire for closer coordination on a day-to-day basis led to the appointment of Council deputies, permanently based in London and overseeing the workings of the organization. Deputies were given full decision-making authority within the North Atlantic Council, but their work was supplemented by occasional meetings of the NATO foreign ministers. The chairman of the deputies was given responsibility "for directing the organization and its work," including all of its civilian agencies.

The Council deputies met for the first time on July 25, 1950, and selected Charles Spofford, the United States deputy, as their chairman. Several important organisational changes quickly followed the establishment of Council deputies, most notably the establishment of a unified military command under a single supreme Allied commander. This unification and the growing challenges facing NATO led to rapid growth in the institutions of the organisation and in 1951, NATO was reorganized to streamline and centralize its bureaucracy. As part of the organization, the Council deputies were delegated with the authority to represent their governments in all matters, including those related to defense and finance, not just foreign affairs, greatly increasing their power and importance.

As the authority of the deputies increased, and the size of the organization grew, NATO established the Temporary Council Committee, chaired by W. Averell Harriman. This group established an official secretariat in Paris to command NATO's bureaucracy. The committee also recommended that "the agencies of NATO needed to be strengthened and co-ordinate", and emphasized the need for someone other than the Chairman of the North Atlantic Council to become the senior leader of the alliance. In February 1952, North Atlantic Council accordingly established the position of secretary general to manage all civilian agencies of the organization, control its civilian staff, and serve the North Atlantic Council.

After the Lisbon Conference, the NATO states began looking for a person who could fill the role of secretary general. The position was first offered to Oliver Franks, the British ambassador to the United States, but he declined. Then, on March 12, 1952, the North Atlantic Council selected Hastings Ismay, a general from the Second World War, and Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in the British cabinet as secretary general. Unlike later secretaries general who served as Chairman of the North Atlantic Council, Ismay was made the vice chairman of the council, with Spofford continuing to serve as chairman. Ismay was selected because of his high rank in the war, and his role "at the side of Churchill ... in the highest Allied Councils." As both a soldier and a diplomat, he was considered uniquely qualified for the position, and enjoyed the full support of all the NATO states.

Several months later, after Spofford retired from the NATO, the structure of the North Atlantic Council was changed slightly. One member of the council was selected annually as the president of the North Atlantic Council (a largely ceremonial role), and the secretary general officially became the Deputy President of the Council, as well as the chair of its meetings. Ismay served as secretary general until retiring in May, 1957.

After Ismay, Paul-Henri Spaak, an international diplomat and former prime minister of Belgium was selected as the second secretary general. Unlike Ismay, Spaak had no military experience, so his appointment represented a "deemphasis of the strictly military side of the Atlantic Alliance." When confirming Spaak's appointment in December 1956 during a session of the NATO foreign ministers, the North Atlantic Council also expanded the role of the secretary general in the organization. Largely as a result of the Suez Crisis, which had strained intra-alliance relations, the council issued a resolution to allow the secretary general "to offer his good officers informally at any time to member governments involved in a dispute and with their consent to initiate or facilitate procedures of inquiry, mediation, conciliation, or arbitration."

List of officeholders

Generaal Rogers (l) en Luns, Bestanddeelnr 932-4627
Supreme Allied Commander Europe Bernard W. Rogers and Secretary General Joseph Luns on 13 January 1983.
Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger meets with Secretary General of NATO Luns in the Pentagon 1983
George W. Bush welcomes Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and President of the United States George W. Bush on 27 October 2006.
Secretary of State for Defense Michael Fallon (left), Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meet 151008-D-LN567-076
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, October 2015.

The NATO countries selected the first secretary general on April 4, 1952. Since that time, twelve different diplomats have served officially as secretary general. Eight countries have been represented, with three secretaries general hailing from the United Kingdom, three from the Netherlands, two from Belgium, one from Italy, one from Germany, one from Spain, one from Denmark and one from Norway. The position has also been occupied temporarily on three occasions by an acting secretary general between appointments.

No. Portrait Secretary General Took office Left office Time in office Previous office Country of origin
Hastings Ismay
Ismay, HastingsGeneral
Hastings Ismay
24 March 1952 16 May 1957 5 years, 53 days Secretary of State for
Commonwealth Relations
 United Kingdom
Paul-Henri Spaak
Spaak, Paul-HenriPaul-Henri Spaak
16 May 1957 21 April 1961 3 years, 340 days Prime Minister of Belgium  Belgium
Dirk Stikker
Stikker, DirkDirk Stikker
21 April 1961 1 August 1964 3 years, 102 days Minister of Foreign Affairs  Netherlands
Manlio Brosio
Brosio, ManlioManlio Brosio
1 August 1964 1 October 1971 7 years, 61 days Ambassador to
the United Kingdom
Joseph Luns
Luns, JosephJoseph Luns
1 October 1971 25 June 1984 12 years, 268 days Minister of Foreign Affairs  Netherlands
Peter Carington
Carington, PeterPeter Carington
25 June 1984 1 July 1988 4 years, 6 days Secretary of State for
Foreign and
Commonwealth Affairs
 United Kingdom
Manfred Wörner
Wörner, ManfredManfred Wörner
1 July 1988 13 August 1994 † 6 years, 43 days Minister of Defence  Germany
Sergio Balanzino
Balanzino, SergioSergio Balanzino
13 August 1994 17 October 1994 65 days Deputy Secretary
General of NATO
Willy Claes
Claes, WillyWilly Claes
(born 1938)
17 October 1994 20 October 1995 1 year, 3 days Minister of Foreign Affairs  Belgium
Sergio Balanzino
Balanzino, SergioSergio Balanzino
20 October 1995 5 December 1995 46 days Deputy Secretary
General of NATO
Javier Solana
Solana, JavierJavier Solana
(born 1942)
5 December 1995 14 October 1999 3 years, 313 days Minister of Foreign Affairs  Spain
George Robertson
Robertson, GeorgeBaron
George Robertson
(born 1946)
14 October 1999 17 December 2003 4 years, 64 days Secretary of State for Defence  United Kingdom
Alessandro  Minuto-Rizzo
Minuto-Rizzo, AlessandroAlessandro

(born 1940)
17 December 2003 1 January 2004 15 days Deputy Secretary
General of NATO
Jaap de Hoop  Scheffer
Scheffer, Jaap de HoopJaap de Hoop

(born 1948)
1 January 2004 1 August 2009 5 years, 212 days Minister of Foreign Affairs  Netherlands
Anders Fogh  Rasmussen
Rasmussen, Anders FoghAnders Fogh

(born 1953)
1 August 2009 1 October 2014 5 years, 61 days Prime Minister of Denmark  Denmark
Jens Stoltenberg
Stoltenberg, JensJens Stoltenberg
(born 1959)
1 October 2014 Incumbent 8 years, 357 days Prime Minister of Norway  Norway

Living former secretaries general

As of 2022, there are five living former NATO secretaries general. The most recent secretary general to die was Peter Carington (1919–2018).


The NATO secretary general chairs several of the senior decision-making bodies of NATO. In addition to the North Atlantic Council, he chairs the Defence Planning Committee and the Nuclear Planning Committee, two of NATO's important military organizations. The secretary general also leads the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the Mediterranean Cooperation Group, and serves as Joint Chairman of the Permanent Joint Council and the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

In a second role, the secretary general leads the staff of NATO. He directs the International Staff of the organization, and the Office of the Secretary General. The secretary general also directs his or her own Private Office. All of these bodies draw personnel from all members of NATO, so the secretary general must carefully coordinate. For assistance in his responsibilities, the secretary general also has a deputy appointed by the organization. The NATO Military Command Structure consists of two strategic commands, directed by the International Military Staff:

The commands under SACEUR - Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, Allied Joint Force Command Naples and Joint Force Command Norfolk are Operational Level Commands, while Headquarters Allied Air Command, Headquarters Allied Maritime Command and Headquarters Allied Land Command are Tactical Level Commands. SACEUR also has operational command of the Joint Support and Enabling Command.

Liaison:        Provides advice and support to the NAC
Political strategic level:
North Atlantic Council
Secretary General of NATO
Brussels, BE
International Staff
Brussels, BE
Military strategic level:
Coat of arms of the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee.svg
Golden star.svgGolden star.svgGolden star.svgGolden star.svg
Chair of the NATO Military Committee

International Military Staff
Brussels, BE
Coat of arms of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.svg
Golden star.svgGolden star.svgGolden star.svgGolden star.svg
Mons, BE
Emblem of Allied Command Transformation.svg
Golden star.svgGolden star.svgGolden star.svgGolden star.svg
Norfolk, US
Operational level:
Insigne incognitum.svg JFCBS Brunssum, NL Insigne incognitum.svg JWC Stavanger, NO
Insigne incognitum.svg AIRCOM Ramstein, DE Insigne incognitum.svg JALLC Lisbon, PT
Insigne incognitum.svg MARCOM Northwood, GB Insigne incognitum.svg JFTC Bydgoszcz, PL
Insigne incognitum.svg LANDCOM İzmir, TR
Insigne incognitum.svg CIS GP Mons, BE
Insigne incognitum.svg JFCNP Naples, IT
Insigne incognitum.svg JFC-NF Norfolk, Virginia, US


There is no formal process for selecting the secretary general. The members of NATO traditionally reach a consensus on who should serve next. This procedure often takes place through informal diplomatic channels, but it still can become contentious. For example, in 2009, controversy arose over the choice of Anders Fogh Rasmussen as secretary general, due to opposition from Turkey.

NATO's chief military officer, the supreme Allied commander Europe, is traditionally an American, and the secretary general has traditionally been a European. However, there is nothing in NATO's charter that would preclude a Canadian or American from becoming the secretary general.

Deputy Secretary General

List of deputy secretaries general of NATO
# Name Country Duration
1 Jonkheer van Vredenburch  Netherlands 1952–1956
2 Baron Adolph Bentinck  Netherlands 1956–1958
3 Alberico Casardi  Italy 1958–1962
4 Guido Colonna di Paliano  Italy 1962–1964
5 James A. Roberts  Canada 1964–1968
6 Osman Esim Olcay  Turkey 1969–1971
7 Paolo Pansa Cedronio  Italy 1971–1978
8 Rinaldo Petrignani  Italy 1978–1981
9 Eric da Rin  Italy 1981–1985
10 Marcello Guidi  Italy 1985–1989
11 Amedeo de Franchis  Italy 1989–1994
12 Sergio Balanzino  Italy 1994–2001
13 Alessandro Minuto Rizzo  Italy 2001–2007
14 Claudio Bisogniero  Italy 2007–2012
15 Alexander Vershbow  United States 2012–2016
16 Rose Gottemoeller  United States 2016–2019
17 Mircea Geoană  Romania 2019–present

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Secretario general de la Organización del Tratado del Atlántico Norte para niños

  • Supreme Allied Commander Europe
  • Chairman of the NATO Military Committee
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