British defense chief to become NATO secretary general
August 4, 1999
From Correspondent Tom Mintier
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- The 19 members of NATO announced on Wednesday that they have chosen British Defense Secretary George Robertson to succeed Javier Solana as the organization's secretary general.
Solana is expected to end his four-year term in October -- two months early -- to take a position as the European Union's international policy specialist.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair nominated Robertson last week when German Foreign Secretary Rudolf Scharping turned the job down.
The 53-year-old Robertson may not be a household name in most of the world, but NATO's air war against Yugoslavia gave him a higher profile.
At daily briefings from London, Robertson was not a bit shy in his portrayal of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
The Yugoslav president, Robertson said, was a "serial ethnic cleanser" encircled by "sadistic henchmen" in charge of a "brutal murder machine."
Robertson entered the political spotlight in 1978 as a Labour member of Parliament, but was voted out a year later along with the Labour majority.
The Scotsman returned with the Labour government as the 1997 elections brought Tony Blair to No. 10 Downing Street.
"He comes with a background of having survived the Labour Party's upheavals over the last decade," said military analyst Paul Beaver. "So that gives him good credentials and he is known on the international stage as a result of Kosovo."
After the war, Kosovar Albanians welcomed him to Pristina as "George Robinson." Despite the confusion over the family name, the reception was genuine.
The lighter side of George Robertson is not seen often. He's better known as a tough-talking, no-nonsense son of a police inspector. A resident of Dunblane, Scotland, he was called on three years ago to speak for the community after the primary school shooting that took the lives of 16 students and one teacher.
Robertson's challenge at NATO may be the assessment of its weaknesses after the Kosovo conflict. The Cold War is over, and many of NATO's former foes are now friends waiting to join.
Expanding NATO membership and ensuring that the military side of NATO is ready for future conflicts are two major challenges.
Brussels Bureau Chief Patricia Kelly contributed to this report.
NATO close to approving Britain's Robertson as secretary general
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