Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer who has become Nato chief, has a reputation as a diplomatic tightrope walker.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: "Superbly qualified"
He is seen as a consummate professional, who can engage in straight talking when necessary and humour when possible.
His reported love of sitting in the cockpit of planes during take-off helps him shrug off the "boring diplomat" label he has attracted from some quarters.
Associates also reveal his sharp sense of wit and his mimicking skills.
But it is his ability to steer his way through a crisis which made him an acceptable candidate for all Nato states in the aftermath of the war in Iraq.
The wrangling over the war gave him his best chance to demonstrate his delicate touch.
As Dutch foreign minister, he managed to avoid alienating the United States while staying friends with Paris and Berlin. He was cast neither in the "America's lapdog" nor the "Old Europe" camp.
But showing his credentials as a "European Atlanticist", he insists that a European foreign policy which stood apart from the US would be against the EU's own interests.
He says one of his key aims is "building bridges across the Atlantic Ocean".
Former foreign minister Hans van den Broek has saluted him as "very skilled at walking on eggshells".
Others praise him as a quiet but determined builder of trust between rivals.
"He's been very strongly a transatlanticist, but if anyone from the transatlantic camp would be good at building bridges with France, he would," a diplomatic source told Reuters news agency.
His ability to engage in tough talking when necessary does not escape attention.
"In the diplomatic career he has had, he's always been very popular and much-liked," said a diplomatic source. "But he has a crisp tongue and is capable of being vigorous when he needs to be."
And outgoing Nato chief George Robertson says his successor has "carved a reputation for professionalism and straight talking".
All Mr De Hoop Scheffer's diplomatic skills will now be called on as he steers the alliance through a key part in its history.
Mr De Hoop Scheffer was born in Amsterdam in 1948.
He entered the Dutch foreign service following a law degree at Leiden University and two years in the Dutch air force.
He served in Ghana and at Nato headquarters, before becoming private secretary to four successive Dutch foreign ministers.
Mr De Hoop Scheffer was elected as a Christian Democrat member of parliament in 1986, and headed the parliamentary party for four years before becoming foreign minister in 2002 in a coalition which included the anti-immigration Pim Fortuyn List party.
He and his wife, a French teacher, have two daughters. He is a regular churchgoer.
A former marathon runner, his hobbies still include jogging.
Two Dutchmen have held the Nato top job before him - the late Joseph Luns, who was at the helm through the Cold War years, and Dirk Stikker who was chief for three years in the early 1960s.