Jaap de Hoop Scheffer Biography

NATO Secretary General

Born Jakob Gijsbert de Hoop Scheffer, April 3, 1948, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands; son of the general secretary of a stockbrokers' association; married Jeannine de Hoop Scheffer-van Oorschot (a French teacher); children: Caroline, Stephanie. Politics: Christian Democratic Alliance. Religion: Catholic. Education: University of Leiden, law degree, 1974.

Addresses: Office —NATO Headquarters, Blvd Leopold III, 1110 Brussels, Belgium.


Joined Royal Netherlands Air Force, 1974; worked for Dutch Foreign Ministry, 1976-86; member of Dutch parliament, 1986-2002; leader of Christian Democratic Alliance party, 1997-2001; Dutch Foreign Minister, 2002-03; became NATO Secretary General, 2004.


As the United States and some of its European allies tried to mend their relationship and fight terrorism together after disagreeing about the Iraq war in the 21st Century, they chose Dutch politician and diplomat Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to head a key trans-Atlantic institution. De Hoop Scheffer, who became secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in January of 2004, was chosen because he remained friendly with both the United States and France during the Iraq debate, and because he admires French and other European

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
cultures as well as the American role in Europe's defense. The very personality traits—thoughtfulness, moderation, diplomacy—that may have kept de Hoop Scheffer from being elected leader of the Netherlands have helped him in his foreign-service career. Despite his calm reputation, he is also known for speaking his mind when he has to. That was becoming obvious in his new job: he had pushed, more and more bluntly, for both Europe and the United States to work harder to strengthen NATO and rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq.

Jakob Gijsbert de Hoop Scheffer (who goes by the name Jaap in his private and public life) was born April 3, 1948, in the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. His father was general secretary of his country's stockbrokers' association, and his uncle, who shares his name, was the Netherlands' ambassador to NATO in the 1980s. The young de Hoop Scheffer went to the University of Leiden, where he studied law and organized student debates on international relations (and met his wife, Jeannine, who was studying French there). Tellingly, as other students got involved in the protest movements of the 1970s, he wrote his thesis about the United States' military presence in Western Europe. He graduated in 1974 and spent two years in the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

In 1975, de Hoop Scheffer signed up for the Netherlands' one-year training program for aspiring diplomats, and in 1976 the Dutch Foreign Service hired him as a trainee in the information department. That same year, he was sent to the Dutch embassy in Ghana for two years. He was essentially an office manager and fix-it man for the embassy—his tasks included trying to repair the air conditioning, changing the oil in embassy cars, and fighting cockroaches—but he also befriended Jerry Rawlings, a lieutenant who went on to become president of Ghana. Living in Ghana left him with a love of Africa. "Sometimes I can cry when that continent is in the news as a result of mass murder and famine," he said, according to Robert van de Roer in NATO Review .

Brussels was de Hoop Scheffer's next assignment, as part of the Netherlands' delegation to NATO. There, while working as a diplomat on defense planning, he showed off his talent as a cabaret performer, singing jazz classics at co-workers' farewell parties. He joined the small local organization of the left-wing Dutch political party D66, but his longtime interest in America's military presence in Europe kept him from fitting in; he was in favor of a deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe, which the party opposed. Back in the Netherlands after 1980, de Hoop Scheffer joined the Christian Democratic Alliance, a center-right party, and worked as the private secretary to the Dutch foreign minister—keeping the job during four different ministers' terms in office, until 1986. The experience demystified diplomacy for him. "It's very pleasant to function quietly in the corridors of power. What struck me was that decision-making takes place in [such] ordinary and clumsy fashion," he said, according to NATO Review 's van de Roer.

His work for the foreign ministers and the party was rewarded in 1986. With the help of Hans van den Broek, then the foreign minister, de Hoop Scheffer was elected to the Dutch parliament as a Christian Democrat. He specialized in foreign affairs, and his parliamentary debates made him a rising star. In 1992, for instance, he charged that a member of the opposing party's complaints about Indonesia's human-rights record was hurting van den Broek's diplomacy with Indonesia. The same year, as the war in Bosnia got worse, he forced the parliament to recognize the problem and debate the Netherlands' position on the war.

But de Hoop Scheffer's promising career suffered setbacks in the early 1990s. Many people expected him to become foreign minister when his mentor, van den Broek, left his post in 1993, but he was passed over. He tried to get elected leader of the Christian Democrats in 1994, but lost. He was named the party's deputy leader in December of 1995 (after the party lost 20 seats in parliament in an election) and finally became its leader in March of 1997. But when he faced his big test with Dutch voters—an election in May of 1998—his party lost five more seats. "[His] perceived dull image failed to ignite public support," Associated Press writer Paul Ames explained.

"Jaap did not seem to be entirely in the right place," van den Broek told van de Roer in NATO Review. "He wasn't able to propagate Christian Democratic ideas with an ideological passion. He is much more driven by pragmatism than ideology." De Hoop Scheffer resigned in fall of 2001 after disagreements with other party officials. But his career quickly revived after new Christian Democrat leader Jan Peter Balkenende led the party to victory in the May of 2002 elections. That July, Balkenende named de Hoop Scheffer foreign minister. Finally, he was in his element.

When the U.S. and Great Britain pushed for an invasion of Iraq in winter of 2003, and France and Germany led the opposition to war in the United Nations Security Council, de Hoop Scheffer and Balkenende performed a balancing act. They declared that the Netherlands supported the invasion—defying Dutch public opinion, which was strongly anti-war—but said their support would be political, not military. (The Netherlands did eventually send 1,100 soldiers to Iraq in May, after the invasion was over.) De Hoop Scheffer and Balkenende avoided offending France or Germany. When Britain, Spain, and other European countries signed a letter pledging support for the American position on Iraq, de Hoop Scheffer, true to his diplomatic instincts, refused to sign it, saying it might create further division. In doing so, he was upholding the Netherlands' traditional position of valuing both a united Europe and Europe's alliance with the United States.

That position made de Hoop Scheffer an obvious compromise candidate later in 2003, when it came time for NATO—a military organization made up of the U.S., Canada, and several European nations—to choose its new civilian leader, or secretary general. De Hoop Scheffer was acceptable to the U.S. government because he had supported the Iraq war. Yet he had also maintained good relations with French leaders—not only because of his restraint on Iraq, but also probably because he speaks fluent French and professes a love for French culture. He was unanimously named the new secretary general in September of 2003 and took office in January of 2004.

He took over NATO at a crucial time. Founded in 1949 to provide Western Europe, the United States, and Canada with a common defense against the Soviet Union's military threat, NATO has struggled to stay relevant since the Soviet Union broke up. The alliance reached out to Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism by admitting former Soviet-bloc countries Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic as members in 1999, and it fought a successful war against Yugoslavia to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo the same year, but it has had trouble reacting to the war on terrorism. Its European members offered to help the United States fight the war in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but the Bush Administration declined the offer. Just before the Iraq war, Turkey asked the rest of NATO to defend it in case the war spread over its borders, but France, Germany, and Belgium resisted the idea. But in August of 2003, NATO sent 5,500 peacekeepers to Afghanistan, its first-ever military action outside of Europe.

When de Hoop Scheffer took over as secretary general, everyone knew his biggest challenges would be repairing the damage to the United States-European alliance, increasing NATO's role in Afghanistan, and figuring out what role, if any, NATO would have in rebuilding Iraq. "The primary focus at the moment should be on Afghanistan," he said, according to Ames in the Associated Press. "The world community and NATO cannot afford to lose there." He remained carefully open-minded but non-committal on the Iraq question. As a gesture of unity, he started holding NATO meetings in French as well as English. "I'm a man with both an Atlantic and a European vocation," he told the Wall Street Journal 's Marc Champion.

De Hoop Scheffer has had to tap both sides of his personality as secretary general. He is best-known for his calm demeanor, his ability to suppress his emotions and remain pleasant, an essential skill for a diplomat. The Dutch public has known that side of him at least since early 2000, when his daughter, Caroline, cooperated with the television show Bananasplit, a Dutch version of Candid Camera, to catch her father and mother on camera meeting a strange man she introduced as her new boyfriend. De Hoop Scheffer remained outwardly calm and polite as he met the man, who was older than him, had long hair and an earring, and was supposedly trying to convince Caroline to come with him on a cruise ship where he hoped to make a living as a palm reader. On the other hand, de Hoop Scheffer also "has a crisp tongue and is capable of being vigorous when he needs to be," an anonymous diplomat told BBC News, and he has "carved a reputation for professionalism and straight talking," Lord George Robertson, the previous secretary general, told BBC News in the same report.

After only a few weeks on the job, de Hoop Scheffer was already showing off his sharp tongue. He told the Wall Street Journal 's Champion that if the United States does not work within NATO on its foreign policy goals, it will encourage the European Union to create its own military agreements. He also criticized NATO's member nations for being reluctant to commit the troops, equipment, and money needed to follow through on their political goals. "I have felt like a beggar sometimes, and if the secretary general of NATO feels like a beggar, the system is wrong," he told Champion.

In his first six months on the job, de Hoop Scheffer arranged to send more NATO peacekeepers to Afghanistan. He also presided over NATO's expansion from 19 members to 26, as seven Eastern European countries—Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia—joined the alliance. At NATO's annual conference in Istanbul, Turkey, in late June of 2004, he helped negotiate a plan for NATO to help train Iraq's new army, fulfilling a request from Iraq's new prime minister, Iyad Allawi. But even that limited commitment to Iraq was hard to come by. At the end of the conference, de Hoop Scheffer warned in an interview with the New York Times' Elaine Sciolino that Iraq and Afghanistan could easily become failed states, dangerous places that harbor terrorism, if the world does not cooperate better and commit more troops and money to saving them. His remarks were aimed both at European nations who have been reluctant to commit more troops and the United States, which he criticized for neglecting NATO unless it needs the alliance's help. He warned that Afghanistan risked "falling back under the Taliban," the dictatorial regime that harbored the Al-Qaeda terrorist network until the United States overthrew it.

Clearly, de Hoop Scheffer realizes that to accomplish NATO's goals, he will need to show his sharp-spoken side more. "Can we afford two failed states in pivotal regions?" he asked in the interview with the New York Times' Sciolino. "It's both undesirable and unacceptable if either Afghanistan or Iraq were to be lost. The international community can't afford to see those countries going up in flames."



Akron Beacon Journal, September 11, 2003, p. A9.

Associated Press, September 22, 2003; January 5, 2004.

Boston Globe, January 6, 2004, p. A6.

New York Times, September 23, 2003, p. A10; January 6, 2004, p. A6; July 3, 2004, p. A8.

USA Today, September 22, 2003, p. 17A.

Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2004, p. A10.


"Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: Diplomatic long distance runner," NATO, http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2003/issue4/english/profile.html (September 4, 2004)

"Jaap de Hoop Scheffer," Fact Index, http://www.fact-index.com , http://www.fact-index.com/j/ja/jaap_de_hoop_scheffer.html (September 4, 2004)

"Jaap de Hoop Scheffer," NATO, http://www.nato.int/cv/secgen/scheffer-e.htm (September 4, 2004)

"NATO After Istanbul," Project Syndicate, http://www.project-syndicate.org (September 4, 2004).

"Profile: Jaap de Hoop Scheffer," BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3130410.stm (September 4, 2004).

—Erick Trickey

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