The Defense Department’s news agency, American Forces Press Service, reported on May 3 that Admiral James Stavridis, commander of United States European Command (EUCOM) and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, applauded the roles of EUCOM and NATO as being critical to American global military and geopolitical interests.
The fact that the same four-star commander, always an American, invariably holds both posts simultaneously indicates the degree to which the Pentagon’s EUCOM, which took in almost all of Africa in its area of responsibility until spawning U.S. Africa Command and still includes Israel, and NATO are inseparably connected.
EUCOM and NATO, the admiral noted, remain vital to U.S. military efforts not only in Europe but in Africa, the Middle East and Asia as Washington increases its military presence and escalates its involvement in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.
“Let’s face it: our most enduring pool of partners exists in the European theater,” Stavridis said in an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.
NATO collectively, he boasted, has three million men and women under arms, 24,000 military aircraft and 800 ships. The 26 European members of the alliance spend $300 billion a year on their military budgets, which with last year’s U.S. and Canadian defense spending totals over $1 trillion.
Though Europe may be the base for launching military operations, it is not the main venue for them, the dual commander noted:
“This is an alliance of enormous resources, and it represents those that stand with us today in Afghanistan, in the Balkans, in the Libya operation and in [the Horn of Africa region]. So these strategic, enduring partnerships in Europe are going to underpin the strategic focus on the challenges in Asia and in the Middle East.”
The same Defense Department feature cited above quoted Navy Rear Admiral Mark C. Montgomery, EUCOM’s deputy director for plans, policy and strategy, stating that to conduct military operations outside of Europe “we need to actually redouble our efforts to maintain our partners’ capability and capacity.”
By way of reciprocity, Stavridis’ former chief of staff and current deputy commander of EUCOM, Navy Vice Admiral Charles W. Martoglio, added that American military firepower is “the glue that enables NATO to operate at the high level of efficiency that it does.”
American Forces Press Service added this:
"But beyond the U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance, Stavridis noted Europe’s strategic geographic position. Forces easily can pivot from Europe into the Middle East, the Levant area at the crossroads of western Asia, the eastern Mediterranean and northeastern Africa, the Mediterranean as during the Libya operations, and down into Africa, he said."
Vice Admiral Martoglio identified the main purpose of EUCOM’s "forward presence" in relation to global U.S. strategy:
“We are a nation that has an expeditionary capability. We fight our wars overseas so we don’t fight them on our own shores. And Europe and our European partners are huge enablers of that expeditionary military capability.”
Stavridis made the same point, in much the same language quoted earlier, in stating:
“Being in Europe gives us the opportunity to train, exercise and work every day with this combat-ready force that has fought with us in Afghanistan, the Balkans, in [counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea] and other missions. So there are a lot of good reasons for us to be engaged and ‘home-ported,’ as we would say in the Navy, in Europe.”
While EUCOM will effect a 15 percent decrease in troop numbers on the continent, that withdrawal will be compensated for with more military aircraft, ships and special operations forces.
The top EUCOM and NATO commander confirmed "that forces assigned to Eucom will stay actively engaged in vital real-world missions in Europe, Africa and the Middle East."
In Stavridis’ April 30th blog on the EUCOM website entitled "Sailing on to the NATO Chicago Summit" (the author is an admiral of course), he spoke of recent joint meetings of NATO defense and foreign ministers and of chiefs of defense staff ahead of this month’s summit in Chicago.
"I gave several briefings to both groups concerning global situation from an operational standpoint. In addition to discussing Afghanistan, Syria, the Pacific, the Balkans, and the lessons of Libya, we finalized the key topics for the upcoming Summit."
They are the war in Afghanistan which, he claimed, despite "the occasional ‘high profile incident’" (like a U.S. soldier butchering sixteen Afghan civilians in Kandahar province in March or the large-scale rebel attacks in the capital the following month), "continue[s] along reasonably well."
Stavridis asserted that at the NATO summit in Chicago "the 28 NATO nations and the additional 22 partner nations will make a decade-long commitment to Afghanistan post-2014" in terms of building a NATO-interoperable national military on the borders of Iran, Pakistan and China.
The second point to be discussed is expansion and integration of NATO military operational capabilities, most notably the initial activation of the U.S.-NATO interceptor missile system in Europe (and beyond that to the South Caucasus, the Persian Gulf and India), which Stavridis described in benign terms as though it was a species of foreign aid:
"The NATO nations were happy to see the successful deployment of a US-based missile defense shield into Europe. They agreed to fold it into the NATO defensive structure, thus fulfilling treaty commitments as well as finding ways to contribute both financially and with their own systems in the future."
Another aspect of the upgrading of NATO operational capabilities in Europe includes the Alliance Ground Surveillance System, "which buys a Global-Hawk like unmanned aircraft fleet and deploys it to Italy under control of the NATO Command Structure."
Pooling and sharing military resources under NATO’s so-called Smart Defense program to further integrate respective national capabilities into a supranational NATO structure also include the alliance’s over eight-year-old Baltic Air Policing mission which deploys warplanes from major NATO member states to skirt the borders of northwestern Russia.
The third item on the summit agenda is consolidating and expanding the military bloc’s partnerships throughout the world, a project recently augmented by NATO’s latest partnership category, Partners across the globe.
NATO’s top military commander Stavridis had this to say on the subject:
"NATO has been very successful in partnering with a wide variety of nations in missions across the last ten years. In Afghanistan, we have 22 international partners with troops on the ground, from Tonga, Australia, and New Zealand in the south Pacific to El Salvador (and soon, hopefully, Colombia) from Latin America.
"In the Libyan campaign, we also had the good fortune to have five partners from the Arab world, as well as traditional ally Sweden."
His allusion to Colombia sending troops to Afghanistan, as El Salvador recently has, even as the U.S. and NATO insist they are withdrawing troops from the country, is to be taken seriously as Stavridis was commander of United States Southern Command until taking up his current EUCOM and NATO positions. Southern Command’s area of responsibility comprises South and Central America and the Caribbean Sea. As such, he was the key U.S. military official in charge of American-Colombian military relations and operations.
His blog post mentioned several "partnership events" to be held during the Chicago summit.
In reference to NATO’s increasingly global stature, he celebrated the fact that it has "140,000 troops around the world in current operations in Afghanistan, the Balkans, piracy, Libya until recently, and on patrol protecting the alliance…" The last item is in part a reference to the Baltic air mission.
In Stavridis’ view and in fact NATO is a mechanism employed by the U.S. to conduct military operations in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, to wage war in South Asia – for over ten years and with troops from over 50 nations – and to recruit legionaries from Central and South America, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere for wars in Europe, Asia and Africa.