General James L. Jones, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

SACEUR General James L. Jones (© SHAPE)

As Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR), US Marine Corps General James L. Jones is in charge of Allied Command Operations from Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons, Belgium. General Jones ends a distinguished military career, which included combat tours in Vietnam and Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, with reflections on his four years as SACEUR.

NATO Review: What are your expectations of the Riga Summit?

Gen. James L. Jones: This Summit occurs at a strategic moment in the history of the Alliance. NATO is still reinventing itself, as it shifts from being a massive Cold War static force aligned against a potential enemy. Where once it was uniformed and static across a clear line dividing East and West, today the Alliance provides a new military capability that is much more agile, deployable, and expeditionary. We now have over 38 000 people deployed on three different continents engaged in a wide array of missions. The Alliance still needs to re-explain itself in terms of who we are, what we do, what we stand for, why our publics – on both sides of the Atlantic – should support it, and why it is important to our collective security.

If you examine the range of missions that NATO is involved in now, we can see a growing awareness, both within the Alliance and within the public domain, that the Alliance is changing to do things that are relevant to our future collective security. It will continue to evolve and grow as one of the world’s most important institutions. It’s going to continue to add new members and it’s going to continue to operate at strategic distances.

NR: Will the Summit be dominated by Afghanistan?

Gen. Jones: While Afghanistan is certainly NATO’s most important operation, the Alliance is executing important operations in multiple theatres. KFOR is a critically important mission and a very large NATO force is operating in Kosovo to provide security and stability. Operation Active Endeavour [in the Mediterranean], in its own right, is involved in an exciting phase of bringing together NATO and non-NATO countries such as Russia, Ukraine, and some Mediterranean Dialogue countries – Algeria, Morocco - and other countries in North Africa for the first time to work on matters of collective security. The future is very bright for these kinds of new relationships.

NR: What is the significance of Stage 4 expansion of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)?

Gen. Jones: It essentially means that 37 sovereign nations have taken on the collective responsibility for security, stability and reconstruction in Afghanistan. This is a historical moment for the Alliance made possible by the recent decision by the US authorities to transfer some 12 000 soldiers to NATO. This brought about a renewed sense of commitment, certainly a unity of command, unity of effort and focus of 37 sovereign countries that are engaged in making Afghanistan a success.

NR: What are the challenges facing NATO in Afghanistan?

Gen. Jones: We should never lose sight of the fact that NATO is in Afghanistan to provide security and stability while reconstruction goes on. NATO forces are doing just that throughout most of Afghanistan.

Presently, we’re having a bit of a different tactical challenge presented to us in Region South but I’m confident that we’ll successfully overcome the opposition and get on with the business of reconstruction in that region. It’s important to note that southern Afghanistan is a region that has never really had any permanent troops. It’s the heartland and spiritual home of the Taliban, if there is such a thing. It is the heartland of the poppy production. It has had criminal elements, corrupt officials and virtually no reconstruction to speak of before NATO expanded into the region in July.

It’s a remote part of Afghanistan, but we do not view this mission as an impossible task. I think we’ll see that we need more focus on key aspects of reconstruction by the international community. There need to be police reforms, including adequate pay, and a complete overhaul of the judicial system, so that prosecutors can, in fact, bring cases to court. The courts need to be free of corrupt officials so they can start putting people in jail where merited. I also think there has to be more media visibility and attention with regard to the success, or lack thereof, in issues pertaining to development.

I think that we critically need more success in the counter-narcotics campaign. The narcotics situation in Afghanistan touches every aspect of Afghan life, to include the security of the country. I’m convinced that some of the energy that the Taliban and other criminal elements currently have stems from the revenues from narcotics, which now fund their operations. Two or three years ago this was not the case and it did not cause us that much of a problem. The crop was not as big and the relationships between the violent elements were not as well defined. Today, this has changed and if not addressed, it will cause Afghanistan a long-term problem in terms of what it hopes to achieve in the future.

NR: Are you optimistic about the future of Afghanistan?

Gen. Jones: Yes. The Afghan people are ready for the promises of democracy. They have proven their bravery in the parliamentary and the presidential elections. I believe the narcotics trade has to be brought under control, and the Karzai government has to be seen leading this effort. This means putting people in jail, making arrests, having an open society that shows that the court system is working. These are the things that I believe the Afghan government can and should be held accountable for, while the rest of the 37 countries involved work to do everything they can to signal to the people of Afghanistan that there are better days ahead.

NR: Will you be able to declare the NATO Response Force (NRF) fully operational before the Summit?

Gen. Jones: We have been successful with the NRF in initial operations, achieving initial operational capabilities. We had a successful live exercise in Cape Verde recently. We have also instituted the command and control capabilities and all worked well. The difficulties are with force generation for the NRF and this is because I believe we have not successfully addressed the financial reforms with reference to how we support the NRF. The force generation for NRF 7 still has significant logistical shortfalls and neither NRF 8 nor 9 are fully resourced.

What it all comes down to is a question of national will. If nations do the things they say they will do, then they must also have the will to provide the necessary resources. You can’t have situations where you keep asking the Alliance to do more without sufficient national commitments.

NR: What is your relationship with Allied Command Transformation?

Gen. Jones: The relationship between the Strategic Commands is excellent. Together, we’ve championed ideas such as the Intelligence Fusion Centre, NATO Response Force, NATO special operations forces, and multinational logistics. These are all vibrant and ongoing concepts within Allied Command Operations and Transformation.

NR: Do you expect progress at the Summit on cooperative capability programmes like Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS), theatre missile defence and strategic airlift?

Gen. Jones: Anything dealing with the industrial base always involves excessive delays. AGS is a good example but I think we’re on the way to making some headway in filling the short-term gap in strategic air capabilities.

NR: Will NATO have a continuing role in the Balkans after completion of the status talks on Kosovo or will the EU take over completely?

Gen. Jones: That’s a very political question. The answer is probably ‘yes,’ but we’ll just have to wait and see what the political will is; what the EU wants to do and what NATO wants to do. What we need to do is let the situation play itself out, carry out our mission, stay with it, and then return to the discussion a little bit further down the road.

NR: What stands out as your most important achievement as SACEUR?

Gen. Jones: It has been a great honour to be able to come back to Europe, having grown up here as a young man. I was exposed to NATO as a teenager, and always supported what NATO represented then for the free world. In its transformed state, NATO now has a potential of doing the same for the future of many additional countries, which is very exciting. For me, it’s been a wonderful adventure and a great honour. I leave full of hope and with best wishes for this important Organisation.

I can’t pick out any one thing for you that stands out in my mind. I think it’s all been important. Probably the thing that I’m most encouraged about is the “cultural” transformation of the Alliance. I think we’ve just scratched that surface and I believe there is still room to develop the intellectual possibilities and potential for where NATO can go in the future. It’s been very interesting to watch the debates as they go back and forth as to which side of the argument will prevail. Will we want NATO to be reactive or can NATO make greater contributions at greater strategic distances? I believe that NATO can significantly contribute to the collective security of its members and prevent future conflicts by helping struggling democracies achieve democracy in some of the undeveloped parts of the world. Proactive missions are always cheaper than reactive missions. All we have to do is look at the Balkans and probably the future of Afghanistan to see how correct this assertion is.

NATO should be an Alliance that is more agile and one that works closely with our non-partners as well. I’m very, very proud of the Mediterranean Dialogue and the many friendships that we’ve made in North Africa. Those ties won’t necessarily lead to NATO membership, but they lead to dialogue over common security challenges. Partnerships elsewhere in the world with countries like Australia and South Korea, Japan and others, are exciting prospects that may be realised in the future.

I look forward to watching NATO continue to reach its full potential in the 21st century and to helping articulate the need for it to continue in its current direction, albeit with some more internal transformation in order to achieve the fullness of its incredible potential.

NR: What will you do next?

Gen. Jones: I think I’m going to continue doing this job right up until the Riga Summit. There’s way too much going on for me to worry about post-retirement plans. I intend to do everything I can to make sure my successor has a full and complete turnover. After the change of command, I will probably first enjoy time with my family as I’ve been separated from them for a long time. I will then take some time to think about where I can be helpful in the future and how I can continue to contribute to the Alliance in another capacity.