While some have touted Canadian defense minister Peter MacKay as Jaap de Hoop Scheffer’s successor as NATO’s secretary general, precedent makes it highly unlikely. 

Stephen Maher reports for the Chronicle Herald:

Mr. MacKay is said to be quietly lobbying for the job as the political master of the defence alliance, but few think he has a good chance of winning.

“I doubt it very much,” says Alain Pellerin, a retired officer who served for five years at NATO headquarters in Brussels and five years at NATO’s defence college in Rome. “There’s no written rule per se, but when NATO was formed what was agreed was that in order to provide a balance between America’s power and Europe, the senior military commander would be an American and the secretary general was always a European. And that does not change.”

The process for selecting the secretary general is quieter even than the process that selects the pope. There are no campaigns and no voting. Instead, the member countries select someone by consensus after behind-the-scenes lobbying and arm twisting.

Some of that lobbying emerged recently when the Toronto Star reported that at least one diplomat was rolling his eyes at Mr. MacKay’s effort. “There are some elements that are a little bit strange,” the unnamed diplomat told the Star. “He’s lobbying for it, but he keeps it to himself for the time being.” Supporters of Mr. MacKay suggested that may have been an attempt to discredit Mr. MacKay by a country that supports one of the other candidates. Mr. MacKay’s spokesman, Dan Dugas, says his boss isn’t seeking the job, but it reflects well on Mr. MacKay that his name is being mentioned. “It’s not surprising that the world community is looking at Canada because Canada has carried its weight within this international organization,” said Mr. Dugas.”It’s made its position on freedom and democracy crystal clear. MacKay is a guy that people who people pay attention to when he speaks. The minister says he’s flattered. I tell you I’m not surprised.”

Scott Taylor, publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine, would be surprised if Mr. MacKay gets the job, because the Canadian positions on many controversial issues has become much closer to the American positions under Prime Minister Stephen Harper — and that makes Europeans uneasy. “The main opposition is gonna come from European countries who more and more see Canada as taking a very isolationist position, moving away from multilateral organizations such as the UN and getting more and more focused on being an American ally,” he said.

I have no opinion on MacKay’s suitability for the job but, surely, his being Canadian should not be a disqualification.  Canada is a major contributor to NATO missions and has shed a disproportionate amount of blood in Afghanistan.  It would be absurd to keep them out of leadership positions on the grounds that they’re neither European nor (U.S.) American.

That Canada is closer to the U.S. than the European position on NATO expansion and aggressiveness on the Russia-Georgia crisis is obviously more problematic in terms of his gaining the needed votes.  But NATO is a consensus organization, so those who wish not to do something always have a veto power.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.