Trump Team Working to Remove Top NATO Official

NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, Oct. 17, 2016The incoming Trump administration is looking to get rid of the No. 2 official at NATO, an American nominated by President Obama whom most Republicans don’t trust. But NATO’s Brussels leadership may not play along, setting up an early confrontation with President Trump.

Two Trump transition sources told me that a representative of the transition team met late last month with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels and delivered a private but deliberate message: The incoming administration would like Stoltenberg to replace Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller. Gottemoeller, who was nominated for the post by Obama this past March, started her job in Brussels only in October and has a multi-year contract. She works for NATO, not the U.S. government.

If NATO leadership agreed to remove Gottemoeller, it would set a new precedent for U.S. government control over American officials in top NATO positions. If the NATO leadership doesn’t agree, the incoming Trump administration could work to marginalize Gottemoeller and render her ineffective. Either way, her role is set to change when the new U.S. president comes into office….

Trump transition sources told me that Stoltenberg agreed to look into how Gottemoeller might be removed. But NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told me there has been no formal request from the Trump transition team for Gottemoeller to be let go and that no process for examining such a move is underway.

This is not a national appointment, and the selection is made in a competition, based on merit,” Lungescu said. “Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller enjoys the full support of Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the North Atlantic Council….”

Gottemoeller’s allies see the Trump transition team’s quiet move to replace her in NATO as a brazen, brute-force tactic to pressure the alliance to bend to Trump’s will.

“This is a whispering campaign by schoolyard bullies to try to pressure an organization they have already disrespected,” said Ellen Tauscher, who served as undersecretary of state for arms control before Gottemoeller. “Do they really want to pick a fight with the first American woman who is in NATO leadership, somebody who was confirmed by the Senate more than once?”

There is no formal mechanism for a member country to ask NATO to remove an official. Stoltenberg may rebuff the effort altogether. If the Trump administration can’t get Gottemoeller removed, it could just work around her, limiting contact to whomever Trump appoints as the U.S. permanent representative to NATO. Gottemoeller would stay in place, but without the backing of her home government and without access to any American officials….

If Gottemoeller decides to step aside, there’s no guarantee an American would be chosen to replace her. Trump would be able to nominate someone for the job, but other countries would nominate their citizens as well. The United States might lose its highest-ranking official in NATO.

Image: NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, Oct. 17, 2016 (photo: NATO)