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After 73 years, NATO is finally seeking a woman to lead the alliance. Rest assured, there is no shortage of talent across the 30–member bloc. Given the backlash from Brexit and the growing rift between Brussels and London, it seems unlikely that the allies will choose Theresa May. Despite her unapologetic denial, Angela Merkel’s legacy is tainted by her mishandling of Germany’s relationship with Russia. Although Sophie Wilmès and Federica Mogherini are both exceptional candidates, representatives from Belgium and Italy have previously held the Secretary General position. Even if Dalia Grybauskaite, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and Kersti Kaljulaid pass all the tests with flying colors, Lithuania, Croatia, and Estonia are newer members of the alliance and may be viewed as too hawkish towards Russia by some of their western European counterparts. While Washington and Brussels debate choosing between a representative from western or eastern Europe, Canada’s Chrystia Freeland strikes a balance between the two. 


Raised in a Ukrainian-Canadian household, Chrystia Freeland, like other eastern Europeans, has a deep understanding of Russia – NATO’s principal adversary. As a 20–year–old foreign exchange student in Kyiv, Freeland’s activism for a free and independent Ukraine provoked the ire of the KGB. As a journalist, Freeland watched from the inside as the Soviet Union collapsed. To Freeland, the collapse of the Soviet Union was a euphoric moment where she realized that liberal democracy was possible and even inevitable in the former Soviet states. To Vladimir Putin, then a foreign intelligence officer in Dresden, it was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Appointing Chrystia Freeland to the Secretary General position sends the right message to Vladimir Putin, NATO’s number one salesman. Fluent in 5 languages, Freeland could also address him in Russian. 

Like the other candidates, Chrystia Freeland is a seasoned diplomat and a proven negotiator. As Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Freeland oversaw the successful negotiation of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union. As Foreign Minister, Freeland took charge of renegotiating the U.S. – Mexico – Canada Agreement and was hailed as Foreign Policy’s diplomat of the year and Canada’s Business Newsmaker of the year because of it. As Minister of Finance, Freeland was the architect behind the international community’s strategic decision to freeze the Russian Central Bank’s $640 billion in international reserves. A champion of liberal democracy and the rules-based international order, Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister is one of the greatest stateswomen in Canadian history.        

Contrary to conventional wisdom, allocating less than 2% of GDP to military expenditures does not preclude a Canadian from holding the position of Secretary General. As a matter of fact, Spain’s Javier Solana, the Netherlands’ Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and Denmark’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen all held the position of Secretary General while their respective countries spent less than 2% of GDP on defense. What’s more, Norway’s military expenditures have steadily increased from 1.47% to 1.94% of GDP during Jens Stoltenberg’s tenure as Secretary General. If anything, Norway’s experience demonstrates that holding the Secretary General position incentivizes allied states to increase defense spending and improve military procurement. This is the perfect opportunity for Canada to meet the alliance’s targets, and raise its military spending from 1.4%  to 2% of GDP.   


Despite being a founding member of NATO, a Canadian has never held the Secretary General position. After 73 years, Chrystia Freeland has a realistic chance of getting the job if she wants it. Since Liberals and Conservatives agree that Russia is Canada’s greatest security challenge, Canadian policymakers and diplomats should leverage their professional networks in the U.S. and Europe to lobby in favor of Freeland. Increasing Canadian representation at the head of multilateral institutions like NATO is crucial for Canada to achieve its potential and become a global soft power. To be clear: this is not a Liberal Party of Canada ambition, but the pursuit of a Canadian national interest. If we play our cards right, it might even help Canada regain the United Nations Security Council seat we have been chasing for more than 20 years.

Originally published by The Hill Times on October 6, 2022.

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