NATO decides on Wednesday to appoint Rutte as its head

Mark Rutte

Mark Rutte

Photo: Associated Press

NATO will formally decide on Wednesday to name Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as its next chief.

Ambassadors from NATO's 32 countries are expected to choose Rutten to succeed Norway's Jens Stoltenberg as its secretary-general at a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's main decision-making body, according to diplomats, Reuters reports. 

Rutte's appointment will be a formality after his only rival for the post, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, announced last week that he was withdrawing from the race after failing to win support.

Stoltenberg's mandate ends on October 1. He took office in 2014, just months after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

After declaring his interest in the post last year, Rutte won immediate support from key members of the alliance, including the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

Others were more reserved, particularly Eastern European countries, which argued that the post would have to go to someone from their region for the first time.

But they ultimately lined up behind Rutte, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a staunch ally of Ukraine.

NATO makes decisions by consensus, so Rutte, who is stepping down from Dutch politics after nearly 14 years as prime minister, can only be confirmed after all 32 members of the alliance give him their backing.

Rutte will face the challenge of maintaining the support of allies for Ukraine's fight against Russian occupation, while guarding against NATO entering into a direct war with Moscow.

He will also have to contend with the possibility that NATO skeptic Donald Trump could return to the White House after November's US presidential election.

Trump's potential return has unnerved NATO leaders after the former Republican president questioned the US's willingness to back other members of the alliance if they were attacked.