Chief of the Defence Staff General Ray Henault has been chosen to lead NATO's military committee.
Associated Press and Canadian Press
Brussels — NATO military chiefs chose General Ray Henault of the Canadian Forces as the alliance's top soldier over his chief rival from Denmark, the Danish Defence Ministry said Wednesday.
“Of course, it's a pity that Denmark's didn't succeed this time in getting the post as chairman of the military committee,” Defence Minister Soeren Gade said in a statement released in Copenhagen.
Gen. Henault will replace German Gen. Harald Kujat, who is stepping down from the post he has held since 2002.
Gen. Henault's supporters said he had greater experience than Denmark's armed forces chief, army Gen. Hans Jesper Helsoe.
The committee is a panel of senior officers from the 26 allies that reviews the alliance's military policy. NATO's supreme operational commander, currently U.S. Gen. James Jones, reports to the military committee.
While the supreme operational commander has always been an American, Europeans or Canadians have headed the military committee since the early 1960s.
Gen. Henault, 55, a former fighter and helicopter pilot, has been Canada's chief of defence staff since June, 2001. His term expires in April.
He is a 36-year veteran who has overseen some difficult times in Canada's underequipped, undermanned military. Earlier this year, he ordered three-quarters of the country's overseas contingent home for a much needed one-year stand-down.
Although the choice for chairman of the military committee is made by all 26 NATO allies, in reality the United States exerts an overwhelming influence on the selection process.
Alain Pellerin, a retired colonel and head of the Conference of Defence Associations, said Tuesday that the Americans would likely put their weight behind the candidate they feel will “best serve their interest.”
Ottawa's failure to support the invasion of Iraq did not sit well with the Bush administration. And Canada's lack of defence spending and woeful military preparedness have long been a sore point with successive NATO secretaries-general.
Canada has maintained a significant presence, however, with NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul for more than a year and is expected to renew its latest commitment when it expires next August.
Canada maintained the largest single-country contribution in Kabul in 2003-04 and led the 36-country ISAF contingent for six months between last February and August before scaling back its deployment by almost two-thirds.
Gen. Henault's candidacy came after an unsuccessful bid last year by former deputy prime minister John Manley to become NATO's secretary-general.
The prestigious job's primary role is as chief military adviser to NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
U.S. generals are not eligible for the post. The job of Supreme Allied Commander Europe, based in nearby Mons, Belgium, is permanently held by an American.
The military chairman's job has traditionally rotated between Britons and Germans, with occasional exceptions.
An Italian served before the Gen. Kujat. Canada has held the position once, in the early 1980s.
Canadian Admiral Robert Falls left the post in a storm of controversy in 1983 when, shortly before his exit and amid peace demonstrations all over the continent, he expressed the opinion that deploying Pershing missiles in Europe in response to Soviet threats to deploy SS-20s was unnecessary.
“The secretary-general was fit to be tied,” Mr. Pellerin. “Admiral Falls left NATO under a cloud.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, created in 1949, is an alliance of 26 countries from North America and Europe that consults on security issues of common concern and can take joint action to address them.