At the end of March, NATO announced its selection of former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg as its next Secretary General. Stoltenberg, who will succeed current NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on October 1st, 2014, will take over at a critical juncture for the organization, with a newly assertive Russia serving as a reminder of NATO’s importance. His time as Norway’s head of state has made him uniquely qualified to facilitate cooperation among NATO member states, but he will also need to continue his predecessor’s strong leadership in a shifting geopolitical landscape.

Stoltenberg’s selection garnered wide praise from world leaders, both within and outside NATO. Although a fixture of the Norwegian left, his supporters are quick to point out his strong and friendly relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a leading figure in Europe’s center right. In the nearly ten years he served as Prime Minister, he headed unusual coalition governments and was seen as a gifted consensus builder. Jens, as he is familiarly known to many heads of state, will be well positioned to rebuild support for NATO, flagging in recent years in all but a few member states, namely those bordering Russia.

At the end of March, NATO announced its selection of former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg as its next Secretary General. Stoltenberg, who will succeed current NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on October 1st, 2014, will take over at a critical juncture for the organization, with a newly assertive Russia serving as a reminder of NATO’s importance. His time as Norway’s head of state has made him uniquely qualified to facilitate cooperation among NATO member states, but he will also need to continue his predecessor’s strong leadership in a shifting geopolitical landscape.

Stoltenberg’s selection garnered wide praise from world leaders, both within and outside NATO. Although a fixture of the Norwegian left, his supporters are quick to point out his strong and friendly relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a leading figure in Europe’s center right. In the nearly ten years he served as Prime Minister, he headed unusual coalition governments and was seen as a gifted consensus builder. Jens, as he is familiarly known to many heads of state, will be well positioned to rebuild support for NATO, flagging in recent years in all but a few member states, namely those bordering Russia.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the announcement of his selection recently drew kind words from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who told a Russian television channel over the weekend that he and Stoltenberg have “very good relations, including personal relations,” calling the former PM “a very serious and responsible person.” Putin and Stoltenberg, who both took the reins of their respective states in 2000, worked together to resolve a territorial dispute between their neighboring countries in 2010. Stoltenberg, speaking after his selection, acknowledged a “good working relationship” between himself and Putin, but emphasized that it would not prevent “clear speech” in his new role.

Critics worry that Stoltenberg, whose record on defense issues is far from hawkish, may be too friendly toward Russia, citing an address at the 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon in which he said that “NATO and Russia are facing many of the same security challenges,” which could “best be addressed through cooperation.” While those critics may fault Stoltenberg for a lack of prescience with regard to Russia’s expansionist aspirations, his tone has changed since the annexation of Crimea.

Although as a young politician he was a critic of NATO, Stoltenberg showed himself to be a pragmatic leader as Prime Minister, and in fact oversaw an increase in military spending in Norway when most NATO member states were drawing down. His tenure also saw Norway contribute troops and equipment to NATO operations in Afghanistan and Libya, and he backed the US in its “War on Terror” after the attacks of 9/11. He will now face the challenge of convincing other member states to increase their contributions to NATO when many Europeans, despite Russia’s recent maneuvering, are more occupied with domestic concerns.

When Stoltenberg takes the reins of NATO in October, the alliance will face a new era of challenges. Following Secretary General Rasmussen’s tenure, he will need to demonstrate resolute leadership at the helm of an organization that has at times appeared unwieldy in responding to Russia’s decisive actions. Despite these challenges, Stoltenberg’s unique experience makes him an apt choice to lead NATO into an uncertain future.