General James L. Jones is the first Marine to be appointed Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander of US Forces, Europe. He succeeded General Joseph W. Ralston on 17 January this year and is the 14th SACEUR.
As SACEUR, he is in overall command of NATO's military forces in Europe as well as of military forces from more than 30 countries participating in the ongoing NATO-led operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. A Vietnam veteran, he was raised in France and is bilingual English and French.
You are the first Marine to be appointed SACEUR. You are also the first SACEUR brought up in France. What special experience will you bring to the post?
I come from a culture that operates from sea bases and is able to pack up and go with a moment's notice. Marines are by nature expeditionary and we have a light footprint wherever we go. To the extent that that is an asset to the Alliance, so much the better. Being raised in Europe gives me a perspective on European priorities and European ways of looking at things. I'm enormously grateful for the opportunity to be here. I'm very comfortable in Europe. I like living here and have been a big believer in NATO ever since my early days as a child in Europe. I appreciate what it achieved in the 20th century and feel fortunate to be able to help in whatever it is going to be in the 21st century.
What do you wish to achieve during your term as SACEUR and what difficulties do you anticipate?
I wish to help in the transformation of NATO from its 20th century construct to an organisation prepared to face 21st century realities. That is a very exciting challenge. Whether NATO chooses to be a regional or a global force will obviously depend on the level of investment that member nations are willing to make. My role is to give good military advice to the North Atlantic Council and to member nations about how best to proceed.
The difficulties I am likely to face are probably the same as I would face working in any large institution. NATO is made up of member nations. My work will require a lot of consensus-building, dialogue, and discussions to help convince people of the right way ahead. But this is the way in most democratic institutions. You have to understand the rules of any institution you come into, so that you can navigate within them to achieve your goals.
Before becoming SACEUR, you were involved in preparations for a possible Iraq campaign. What dangers must military planners be aware of in the event of war?
Military planners should always prepare for the worst-case scenario. After all, there are lives at stake. It's important always to ask what is the worst thing that can happen and to prepare contingency plans for that eventuality. The greatest difficulty we have to prepare for in Iraq is the reason we may have to go in in the first place, namely the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. The second greatest difficulty would likely come in sizeable urban areas. My counsel was to think these issues through before they become a real problem. You can always hope for the best and hope that, if it starts, the conflict would be resolved rapidly. But you also have to have plan B in your pocket, in case events don't work out the way you wanted them to.
The creation of the NATO Response Force was one of the most ambitious initiatives to come out of the Prague Summit. How do you envisage it working?
The NATO Response Force should have three parts to it. The first part, namely a truly expeditionary capability, should be put together quickly in response to the Prague decisions. Such a force could be formed out of units that already exist in the Alliance with niche capabilities. It should be an integrated force with air, land and sea capabilities, all of which already exist in the Alliance and are, in principle, already bought and paid for. It should have a headquarters. It should have a training centre and it should be credible, capable and sustainable, if and when we decide to use it. The good news is that it's not terribly difficult to put together such a force. We are hoping to be able to announce a framework under which that force will operate by the June meeting of NATO defence ministers and to have some operating capability by the fall of this year.
The second part of the NATO Response Force is for use in case the first part is not sufficient for a task. I characterise this force as being more deployable than expeditionary, a little more robust, a little slower to get in theatre, perhaps, but once it has arrived, it has the capability to take on a lot of tasks. The third part is for use in case of a major regional conflict where you need the totality of the force. The simple geometry of a triangular NATO Response Force with an expeditionary force at the top, a deployable force in the middle and a follow-on force at the bottom seems logical both in terms of effective use of resources and the readiness factors of each of the tiers. We'll have to make sure, above all, that the NATO Response Force is credible and that it is not just something that appears impressive on paper.
The NATO Command Structure is currently being reconfigured. What kind of structure do you want to see?
I would like to see structures that have military utility and applicability that are streamlined to reflect how military command structures should be in the 21st century as opposed to the 20th century. Much has changed. You no longer need huge military headquarters with hundreds of people to be effective. Commanders in the 21st century don't have to take everything with them because of the tremendous technological reach that exists today. The whole dynamic is shifting and our command and control system has to shift with it to become more efficient, more capable more deployable and add even greater capability than we have had in the past.
What do you understand by a Transformational Command?
The Transformational Command is going to be tasked with making sure that transformation takes place on both sides of the Atlantic. Transformation is a bridge that goes in two directions that all people can walk across. Europeans can be involved in transformation. Americans can be involved in transformation. There should be a common "school house" for the vetting of ideas and the subsequent development and procurement of the systems to help us in the transformation process.
I believe that transformation has four characteristics. The first is the one that most people understand transformation to be, namely the harvesting of new technologies. I would also draw a distinction between transformation and modernisation. Transformation can be only one of two things. On the one hand, it's being able to do something that wasn't possible before by acquiring a new capability, a new invention for example. On the other hand, it's an existing capability that has been transformed exponentially as a result of an innovation. Take, for example, "smart" weapons. The ability to fly a weapon through a window and achieve extremely precise results is transformational and the use of the Global Positioning System has transformed the way the military does business from the most common rifle squad up to our surveillance satellites.
The second characteristic of transformation is the operational concept on the battlefield. Network-centric warfare has clearly arrived. Investing in network-centric capabilities and developing as much awareness as possible allows you to reduce the size of the field headquarters. Reality is that you can send infantry companies out to do the work that was beyond entire battalions just 20 years ago. Institutional reform is a third aspect of transformation. Large ponderous headquarters built on the traditional building-block system are a thing of the past. There should be fewer headquarters and they have to be lighter and more agile. Lastly, I believe that people in positions of authority like me need to be able to articulate a vision for our organisations, whether it is NATO or SHAPE, and to tie that vision to an efficient use of resources. We have to demonstrate that we are able to use resources effectively because we have to convince people to invest in change. This has to be accompanied by a clearly thought-out plan of what any vision is going to cost.
How might the stationing of US troops in Europe change in the coming years?
It's too early to tell. But if you apply the transformational theme to all our forces, not just the US forces, it's clear that some things can be done differently and that economies of scale can be achieved. This is particularly the case in infrastructure, as some of the logistical footprint is transferred into effective use at the pointed end of the spear. That is the kind of change we are looking at. The world is certainly much smaller in terms of being able to get places rapidly and it is possible to do more with a reduced force structure. That means that it is possible to change how and where soldiers are based, all the while maintaining our traditionally strong ties within the Alliance.
How do you envisage working together with the European Union in practical situations such as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia* and elsewhere?
It is important that the forces that are used in EU missions are one and the same as they are in NATO missions, that we maintain the NATO standards the NATO terminology and the NATO training. It would be extremely disruptive to try to duplicate these capabilities. With regard to the upcoming mission in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,* I don't see any military difficulty in what we are doing. The Deputy SACEUR, Admiral Rainer Feist, and I are working hand in hand and I expect this to be a successful undertaking.
At the Prague Summit, seven countries were invited to join NATO. What problems do you foresee in integrating these countries into Alliance structures?
This will be my first close look at this kind of integration. But NATO has already learned many lessons from the experience of the last round of enlargement and I don't think that any problems are insurmountable. From the military-to-military standpoint, we've already had close ties with these countries for many years through the Partnership for Peace programme and the Membership Action Plan, so we know what we are dealing with.
The Prague Summit has prepared the political groundwork for NATO to operate beyond the Euro-Atlantic area. What kind of mission could the Alliance be ready to take on and where?
The ISAF 3 mission that just started up in Afghanistan under German leadership with Holland and France participating is a good example. It's not a classic NATO mission, but the key countries involved are NATO members and they are using NATO terminology, NATO procedures and NATO capabilities. In the event of crises that are humanitarian in nature or require peacekeeping, NATO has proven that it can deal with them. If it wishes, NATO will have the capability to operate within the full spectrum of military operations anywhere.
What kind of internal reform may be required for NATO to operate beyond the Euro-Atlantic area and yet maintain its cohesion?
We are in the process of restructuring the two Strategic Commands to create one for operations and one for transformation. It is the Transformational Command that will provide the vehicle by which nations can join in the transformational dialogue and adapt their militaries. Greater investment in command and control and intelligence will be important as will trying to keep common operating procedures as common as possible, and making sure that the capabilities' gap doesn't widen. It will be up to people like myself and other leaders in NATO to articulate the importance of this venture. Once again, this relates to a more efficient use and understanding of how we get and spend our resources.
How has the military profession changed during your career and what skills are required for a soldier in the 21st century?
The changes have been dramatic. In the United States, we went from a conscripted force to an all-volunteer force 27 years ago. When we did that we embarked on a grand adventure to arrive at today's force which is easily the most educated, the brightest and the most capable force that I have ever been a part of. The young people coming in to the military today are extraordinarily bright, know exactly what they are doing and are joining for the right reasons. Their concept of service would be inspirational to those heroes of the 20th century who gave us the world that we currently enjoy living in. Having said that, the military is more complex and technical today. We demand more of our young officers at an earlier age than we ever did before. The education of soldiers, officers and non-commissioned officers alike, is proceeding at an amazing pace. It's not uncommon, for example, to find individuals with college degrees in the non-commissioned officer ranks today. And it's not uncommon to find individuals with PhDs in the commissioned officer ranks. Successful military officers today must know not only their specific area of service, but also how to work within a combined arena. They must also be conversant in at least one foreign language. And they must have a global perspective and appreciation of the world as it is evolving to make a contribution commensurate with their stations in life and the uniforms that they wear. As I go around SHAPE headquarters, I see evidence of this on the international scale every day. I am surrounded by outstandingly smart and dedicated people who are making tremendous contributions to an Alliance whose best days are, in my opinion, still to come.