"Spanish Foreign Minister Javier Solana's selections as North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) new Secretary-General has surprised not just a few even among his fellow citizens. He is too much the radical academic for the position associated more with the establishment type of personality. Solana, a Socialist, has had over two decades of academic and political experience. As NATO president Solana's most difficult task is the reconstruction of Bosnia. The next is NATO's expansion to Eastern Europe.
"Even Spaniards were a bit taken aback when the name of Spanish Foreign Minister Javier Solana began to circulate as a possible candidate to be the next secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
"Although a brilliant diplomat, Solana, 53, just didn't fit the usual profile for secretaries-general, which have tended to be rock-solid establishment types from northern Europe, like Lord Carrington or retired general Manfred Worner.
"The bespectacled and bearded Solana is a southerner, a Socialist, a former student radical, and a senior minister in a government which had opted to stay out of the alliance's military command. But after the resignation of Belgium's Willy Claes in October, other candidates were found wanting, and Solana surfaced as a compromise.
"Solana's candidacy caused problems at home, however. Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, after 13 years in power, is beset with political and financial scandals. Facing general elections next March, he had indicated he might not run. And with recent opinion polls showing the ruling Socialists far behind their conservative rivals, the party was hoping that a new face such as Solana's might just boost the party in the polls.
"Solana had been in the Gonzalez cabinet since the Socialists first came to power in 1982, was well-known and respected by the electorate, and equally important, was untainted by the improprieties which had brought down many of his colleagues over the past several years.
"As the Socialists wrung their hands over whether to offer up one of their own for the high-profile NATO job or keep him home on the chance he might make a difference on election day, consensus in Brussels began to grow behind Solana. But Madrid said they would not put Solana's name up unless the Americans gave him their unqualified and public support.
"Solana would be a candidate who would please many of the partners," said Italian Foreign Minister Susanna Agnelli. "But it is up to the Americans to decide who will be NATO secretary-general." Then Solana got the boost he needed. Just a week before the alliance foreign ministers were to discuss the secretary-general's post, Solana skillfully brokered a last minute deal on the wording of the final declaration of the Euro-Mediterranean conference in Barcelona.
"At issue were the references to terrorism, with Israel and Syria at loggerheads. As the quarrel threatened to scuttle the two days of talks, Solana came up with new phrasing which pleased both parties and saved the day.
"It was a personal success for Mr. Solana, who carried out the negotiations brilliantly," French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette told reporters.
"Born in 1942 to a Madrid family with liberal and republican leanings, Solana has spent his life in the world of academia and politics, which he entered more than two decades ago by joining the underground Socialist Youth movement. Solana studied at the prestigious El Pilar school in Madrid and went on to major in physics at the Universidad Complutense. His academic career was briefly interrupted when he was expelled for membership in an anti-Franco movement, but he then carried on his studies in Britain.
"In the late 1960s, Solana was a Fulbright scholar in the United States where he obtained his doctorate degree in physics. He then returned to teach at a Madrid
university where he was again kicked out for political reasons.
"In the 1970s, Solana moved up the ranks of the Socialist Party, and when they won the 1982 general elections, he was appointed culture minister. He held that post until 1985 when Gonzalez named him government spokesman, and three years later he took over the education and science portfolio.
"In 1992, Gonzalez tapped him for the foreign ministry job where he has helped advance Spain and Spanish interests on the international stage.
"And as NATO secretary-general, Solana will need all his formidable skills to guide the alliance through its tricky task in Bosnia and the equally difficult job of expanding the organization to the east.
"In remarks on taking up the post in December, Solana said "NATO's role is crucial, especially now when the security landscape of Europe is being redefined."
"Benjamin Jones is EUROPE's Madrid correspondent."