For the past several years, NATO has been led by Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark. Whether Denmark was more supportive of NATO efforts in Afghanistan and Libya because its former prime minister was heading NATO or vice versa, a country that bore the burdens was represented in that seat.
Germany has gotten far more criticism of its efforts than it deserves (it deserves some), as putting 5000 troops into Afghanistan was costly in money, in blood, and in political capital back home. Germans got little credit for the effort, as the restrictions imposed partly by the Bundestag and partly by the Defence Minister meant that the Germans had a disproportionate impact on their areas of operation. That is, smaller than it should have been. They were the lead nation for police training, which made no sense since their rules meant that the German police trainers and the German army personnel could not cooperate with each other. This meant only mentoring on bases, which ain't much mentoring. But Germany was not the only semi-reliable ally--Italy, Spain, Hungary and others also did much less than expected. Germany under-performed even more during the Libyan effort by refusing to even contribute to the naval embargo, along with Poland and several others.
Still, in the aftermath of a decade of doing less than expected, Germany may still get a countryperson to head NATO? Holy bad optics, Batman! It would seem to be suggesting that performance and responsibility are unrelated (repeating the "conditions" attached to membership being largely irrelevant dynamics). That is a bad signal to send. And how would de Maizière cajole other NATO members into participating in the next mission, given that his own country might be one of the ones that needs the most cajoling?
I don't think Germany should be excluded from the various decision-making meetings, such as the old QUINT, but this is a lousy time to be thinking of putting a caveat-laden country that refused to do the minimum during the Libyan campaign at the top of NATO. Perhaps down the road, but now, in the aftermath of Libya and as Afghanistan continues for a while longer?
Update: I got blasted on twitter for being naive--that international organizations make decisions all the time that have little to do with merit. Yeah, I know that (see the link above to the Pie Crust Promises piece, which is all about deserving having nothing to do with membership [Or ask how the Greeks got into the Euro zone]_. But I guess my point here should not have been that a German does not deserve this post but that giving Germany this post will have negative consequences for NATO. The job of the Secretary General is to get countries to do that which is costly, like contribute to operations, reduce restrictions so that the contingents can be more flexible and so on. I cannot see how having a German in this spot at this time will do anything but weaken the ability of the Sec Gen to do this kind of work. Having the Secretary General lean on a country is not a supremely powerful tool but given that all NATO ops are purely voluntary, the shaming/persuasion role of the Sec Gen is key.
I should not be surprised that NATO and others make bad decisions, like this one looks to be, but I can still get riled up. Cannot we criticize IOs for doing stupid things even if our political science tells us to expect stupid things? Hmmmm.