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American Forces Press Service

NATO, Eucom Commander Outlines Challenges Ahead

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2013 – Winding down four years as commander of U.S. European Command and as supreme allied commander for NATO's global operations, Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis called on NATO members to live up to their defense spending commitments and to continue working together to address challenges confronting the alliance.

The admiral outlined a long list of challenges Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove will take on when he succeeds Stavridis next month. The Senate confirmed Breedlove's nomination last week, and change-of-command ceremonies are expected to take place in mid-May in Stuttgart, Germany, and the NATO headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

Stavridis will travel to Berlin later this month to deliver what he called "a bit of a valedictory address" to outline challenges facing the NATO alliance. "There are many," he acknowledged in his blog posting today.

Cyber is at the top of the list, the admiral said, citing the mismatch between the potential threat and the alliance's preparation for it. He noted tremendous skill and capability in the cyber realm across NATO's 28 nations, but caveats and concerns about technology, intelligence and knowledge sharing that hamper their ability to work together effectively.

"We simply need to break down barriers to cooperation here, recognizing the sensitivity of the material involved," Stavridis said. He pointed to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, as "a good start," and noted more exercises and planned events that promote cyber cooperation.

Stavridis outlined other challenges: proliferation, trafficking, piracy and fragile states such as Afghanistan, Mali and Syria. But some of the most difficult challenges facing the alliance are rooted in financial crunches impacting member nations' defense budgets, he said.

Stavridis noted that NATO's members account for more than half the world's gross domestic product and collectively spend nearly $1 trillion on defense. This spending level dwarfs that of any possible opponent or combination of opponents, he said.

But citing declining European budgets and the fact that the United States represents nearly three-quarters of NATO's defense spending, Stavridis called the current model "unbalanced and sustainable over time."

He called on NATO nations to meet their own self-assigned goal of spending 2 percent of their GDPs on defense. The United States spends "well over 3 percent," he noted, even with recent budget cuts.

"American taxpayers will begin to feel that the European allies and partners are 'getting a free ride,' as some already say in the U.S.," Stavridis warned.

Stavridis recommended ways to "enhance efficiencies and add 'bang for the buck" as nations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean work through the financial crisis. He urged more pooling and sharing of resources under the "smart defense" initiative, improved cooperation and sharing of best practices among special operations forces, and more joint training and live exercises to increase interoperability within the NATO Response Force.

In advancing these efforts, Stavridis emphasized the importance of a comprehensive approach that works across the political, economic, humanitarian, cultural and private sectors. To address the next pandemic, for example, all entities -- military and civilian, foreign and domestic, public and private, academia, and nongovernmental and multinational organizations -- must pool and share resources and capabilities, he said.

"To meet these many challenges, there is much to be done on this side of the Atlantic, and inevitably NATO will continue to be a useful platform for encouraging a re-emergence of European defense," Stavridis said.

The admiral expressed confidence in Breedlove's abilities to take the alliance forward.

"I have known General Breedlove for many years and can tell you that his impressive credentials, professionalism, and dynamic leadership make him an ideal choice," he said of Breedlove's confirmation. "I can think of no better officer to lead the men and women of Allied Command Operations and U.S. European Command over the coming years."

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