03/13/2014 12:41 pm ET Updated May 13, 2014

The New NATO Secretary General Should Be From Central Europe

If I were sitting at a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, NATO's highest decision making body these days, I would recall the invasion by Russia of Hungary in 1956, hearing the Beatles for the first time, watching the landing on the Moon, the liberation of Eastern Europe in 1989, Poland, Czech and Hungary becoming NATO members in 1999. I would tell my fellow ambassadors that these were events which upset and redefined my world, big time. I would add: this is how I will now remember the Russian aggression against Ukraine. It is yet another defining moment.

I would explain that the annexation of the Crimea has been on the mind of Mr. Putin for a long time. A military occupation might not have been the only option he was contemplating, but it was certainly no improvisation. I don't mean to belittle the attack on Georgia in 2008, but that was a live rehearsal, if I may, a test of the resolve of the west. I would conclude: this is the real deal, he thought this was the right place and the right time to push back on democracy.

Perhaps add that Ukraine is of a different order of magnitude, quite different in terms of its symbolism too. The aggression on Georgia was disturbing, but not quite the obvious threat to Europe like the one the occupation of Crimea poses. This one will force us to rethink Europe's security situation, it must be a wakeup call for our spoiled and forgetful western societies.

I would then go on and argue that Mr. Putin might not have calculated with the unintended impact of his politics on our institutions. Perhaps he has done our sleepy institutions a favor, I would say. Maybe we are waking up to the realities beyond the eastern borders of NATO and the European Union.

There are already developments, that are seemingly unrelated, but which I see as being the result of growing worries. One of the overlooked decisions of this week, but one of great importance, is the European Union's step to strengthen the mechanisms to keep democracy in the European Union countries on track. No doubt a strong message to those in our midst, who are toying with the idea to emulate the Russian model. This is a welcome development.

NATO is preparing for its next summit meeting to be held in Cardiff in September. This summit cannot be the lackluster, business-as-usual kind of summit in Chicago two years ago. In the aftermath of the Ukraine agression, it cannot any longer be first and foremost about the conclusion of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan either. It has got to reflect the fact that Ukraine, one of our close partners, was attacked. This aggression has made the Allies on the Eastern Flank more insecure. It has got many of the allies thinking of the real meaning of Article 5. It is making us rethink the present and the future of our partnerships.

The summit will choose a new Secretary General. When the search committee looks at the candidates, one of the criteria must be the message the successor to Anders Fogh Rasmussen will send to friends and foes alike. The Alliance should look carefully and look hard, it must be courageous in its choice. They might just find that person in Central and Eastern Europe. Once upon a time I was convinced that the Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orbán will perhaps one day become the leader of NATO (or of the EU for that matter). His past four years in power have disqualified him, most unfortunately for him.

It might be a good idea to consider Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister. He understands Europe and America, but more importantly, he understands Eastern Europe very well. He also knows the Russian mindset, which will be a useful skill for the foreseeable future.

This would demonstrate to Mr.Putin that Central and Eastern Europe matters, it is part of the West, without further qualification.This would also be a bold move, no doubt. But it would be a smart one.