BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ending a long, troubled search, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization selected Spanish Foreign Minister Javier Solana yesterday as its next secretary-general, just as the alliance prepares to send 60,000 troops to Bosnia, its biggest military operation.
"The ambassadors have agreed by consensus to propose Mr. Javier Solana as secretary-general of NATO and chairman of the North Atlantic Council," declared a statement issued by the alliance's 16 ambassadors.
The 53 year-old Spaniard is expected to be appointed formally here Tuesday at a scheduled meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
Although he has come to be respected as a skilled diplomat with a special knack for consensus-building during his 3 1/2 years years as foreign minister, Mr. Solana is in many ways an unlikely choice to head the world's most powerful alliance.
His background is academic (solid-state physics); his Spanish Socialist Party actively campaigned against the stationing of U.S. F-16s on Spanish soil and pushed for the closure of U.S. military bases in Spain during the 1980s.
Also, Spain is not fully integrated into the 16-nation alliance's military arm because it assigns no military forces to NATO during peacetime.
The United States initially resisted his appointment, because hTC Spain is not a full member of NATO's military wing and because the country's Socialist government has criticized the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.
But eventually U.S. Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter backed Mr. Solana, who has built a strong working relationship with Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
"It's a little bit surprising," noted John Chipman, director of the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies. "All these things that may have worked against Solana were apparently put aside for someone who has shown fidelity to the trans-Atlantic idea, has obvious diplomatic skills and knows Bosnia."
With Spain just finishing six-month terms in the presidency of both the European Union and Europe's military grouping -- the West European Union -- Mr. Solana has been deeply involved in (( the Balkans crisis, something that is considered a key asset.
His selection came only hours after the alliance ambassadors formally authorized deployment of advance teams to Bosnia to prepare for the most ambitious operation NATO has undertaken -- sending a combat-ready force of 60,000 troops to implement a Balkans peace settlement.
It is the first time in its 46-year history that the alliance is sending an army into action.
First elements of the so-called "enabling force" of 2,600 soldiers are expected to arrive in the region today to begin such tasks as checking communications and warehousing facilities and securing land routes for use by the main force when it comes later this month. The initial force, including 700 American and 500 British soldiers, should be fully in place early next week.