Questions and answers with Admiral James Stavridis, outgoing Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR)

  • 13 May. 2013 -
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  • Last updated: 13 May. 2013 10:51

Admiral, perhaps one of the most striking moments during your tenure was the crisis in Libya. What went well? What does NATO need to work on?

Libya was a real test for the Alliance. Under extremely tight timelines NATO responded more rapidly than at any time in its history to the UN's call to protect the people of Libya. We learned that when there is international political consensus on the need for a military response to a crisis, the militaries of NATO are ready to respond immediately and in an integrated way to achieve the mission. But we also learned that NATO could not have carried out the operation without the unique capabilities that only the United States can provide such as drones, or intelligence and refueling aircraft. Such capabilities are vital for our operations. And I encourage Allies to invest in modern capabilities. We also saw that the fusion of information gathered by intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance also requires more practice. This is exactly why NATO is renewing its focus on more vigorous exercises now and in the near future to fully test our systems and refine those vital tactics, techniques and procedures. Overall, however, Operation Unified Protector will remain a proud moment in the history of the Alliance and I am gratified to know that I was a part of that moment.

From the time you touched base in Mons in 2009, the NATO military command structure underwent a complete structural and conceptual overhaul. Has the spirit of the Organization been preserved? Has the Alliance's ability to conduct crisis management operations been altered?

The spirit of cooperation and collaboration continues to run strong throughout ACO even as we have streamlined the number of headquarters from 11 to 6 and reorganized our structure to more clearly align with core missions of NATO. Now, with two joint force headquarters (one in Brunssum and one in Naples) and three commands (one each for land, sea, and air) the NATO command structure reflects the agility and efficiency required to achieve its missions while maintaining the efficiency demanded by today's fiscal realities. Within SHAPE we established the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Center or CCOMC. This state of the art facility manned by expert teams from across the Alliance is focused on sensing and analyzing current and emerging areas of concern for NATO. It allows us to stay connected with international actors and to be ready when our leaders call on us to begin planning. The structure of the NATO command may continue to evolve but our shared values will always be at the core of what we do. Those values are the spirit of our organization and that will not change.

Admiral, with the success of Operation Active Endeavour and NATO's contribution to counter-piracy, how do you see NATO's future maritime role evolving?

I am deeply gratified by the tremendous progress that has been made against piracy in recent years off the east coast of Africa where our Ocean Shield mission is ongoing. Since 2011 the incidents of piracy there have plummeted by more than 75% and we are coming up on a year without a new instance of a ship getting hijacked. This success was achieved to some extent with NATO naval power, but only as one part of an overall comprehensive international effort that involves several navies, civilian shipping companies, local governments and the people in the areas affected. This inter-agency, international, public-private approach is how I see NATO's maritime role evolving. No one nation, no one agency, no one entity can tackle the broad challenges our maritime forces can expect to face therefore I have said many times we will must act together to take them on. Because we truly are stronger together.

Could you share an anecdote with us - one you experienced during your time at the helm of Allied Command Operations - which brings a smile to your face?

The location may surprise you, but one thing that makes me smile is my memories of meeting with Afghan soldiers in their country. Today there are almost 350,000 Afghan security forces, both Police and Army. I attended many training events, graduations, and other ceremonies with them over four years. But the best things to see were the literacy training classes, where to date over 300,000 Afghan young men and women -- denied education under the Taliban -- learned to read and write. The look in their faces -- the hunger to learn -- always made me happy, and the memories of those particular visits will always be with me. It was something for which I pushed hard and personally, and I'm very proud and pleased with the results. I'm smiling right now thinking about it.