World News

Poland loses out on top NATO military job

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Poland lost its bid to become the first former Warsaw Pact country to fill the post of NATO’s top soldier on Wednesday after alliance defense chiefs named an Italian to the sought-after position.

Italian Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola beat Polish General Franciszek Gagor in a secret ballot at NATO headquarters to become chairman of the Military Committee, the alliance’s top military authority composed of 26 national chiefs of defense.

Di Paola, 63, the current Italian chief of defense staff, will start his three-year term in June 2008, replacing outgoing Canadian General Ray Henault, NATO said in a statement.

It was the first time an officer from a former Warsaw Pact nation had stood for the position and some in the alliance had tipped Gagor, 56, as a favorite to get the job.

“The Poles felt quite confident with what they considered a very good candidate, even indeed at times a front-runner,” said one alliance diplomat who requested anonymity.

The NATO statement provided no details of the voting by national defense chiefs in the secret ballot, except to confirm that Di Paola won a majority of the 26 votes.

The election came at a time of rising tensions between NATO and Russia on a range of issues, including U.S. plans to base a missile defense shield in east Europe with interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic.

The post of chairman of the military committee is NATO’s highest uniformed position. It is distinct from the role of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) held by U.S. General John Craddock, who is the top commander of NATO operations.

Reporting by Mark John and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Charles Dick