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Monday, August 2, 1999 Published at 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK

UK Politics

Robertson's rise

George Robertson: A safe pair of hands as a minister

By Political Correspondent Guto Hari

"He had a good war!"

As far as Downing Street was concerned, that should have clinched it on the question of who should be Nato's new secretary-general.

George Robertson, in the prime minister's words, has "exactly the right mix of defence expertise, along with the political and diplomatic skills necessary for the job".

[ image: The defence secretary has won the respect of many in the armed forces]
The defence secretary has won the respect of many in the armed forces
Eighteen other defence secretaries within the alliance could probably claim similar credentials, but the Kosovo crisis, according to his friends, enabled Mr Robertson to shine.

A man who had almost no experience of the armed forces until he was in charge of them, displayed an impressive grip on their capabilities.

Changing face of Nato
The rise of George Robertson
The role of secretary-general
Robertson profile
Alliance's Cold War roots
Fast facts:
Nato: Who, what, why
A man who was largely un-tested in difficult situations showed conviction and nerve.

Though he never had a particular interest in military matters, he defended Nato in the days when Labour wanted to leave the alliance and opposed unilateral nuclear disarmament when the offical party policy advocated it.

Against the Labour grain

A pragmatic right-winger in traditional Labour terms, he was prominent in the battle to oust the left-wing extremists who infiltrated Labour in the early eighties, describing the leaders of Militant as a "cancer" which had to be cut off.

He has also consistently gone against the grain of his party by supporting restrictions on abortion.

Once accused of being "too-American", he is, nevertheless, one of the most passionate pro-Europeans in the government.

[ image: Mr Robertson helped end Militant's influence in Labour]
Mr Robertson helped end Militant's influence in Labour
During 12 years as a frontbench spokesman on foreign affairs, Europe was his main concern. He used the opportunity to develop an understanding of the issues and contacts across the continent.

Some tipped him to succeed Robin Cook as foreign secretary, and the Kosovo crisis certainly boosted the profile and standing of a man widely seen as capable but uninspiring; decent but a little dull.

Defence has never been an issue on which Labour has scored high in terms of public perception.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to Mr Robertson is that the generals and the public are no longer anxious. Difficult cuts were handed delicately by him and a new vision for the forces outlined with clarity and conviction.

Nominated by Tony Blair last Friday, he said it was a great honour to be considered for a job which he has described as one of the most important in today's world.

Mr Robertson recognised there were formidable challenges ahead but made it clear he relished the prospect of tackling them.

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