GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany — Rare will be the occasion when the U.S. military will operate by itself and instead will rely on partnerships with other nations going forward, said the U.S. Army in Europe's top officer.
Calling any circumstance where the U.S. takes action unilaterally "highly unusual," Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army spoke to about 150 students at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.
"Building partner capacities" is one of the tenants of how the Army operates in Europe and beyond going forward, the general said, talking about operations and conditions across the theater.
Currently, the U.S. operates with 41 countries in Afghanistan, 32 countries in Kosovo and 25 in Bosnia.
"We will go forward with our allies and partners, developing common tactics, procedures and policies," Ham said. "We do it because we cannot conduct operations as a single nation any longer."
The size of the Army in Europe is growing smaller, slashed from a Cold War high of 200,000 to a current size of about 70,000 soldiers. Ham indicated the end goal for troops in Europe is about 32,000, which presents numerous challenges given obligations of:
-NATO Article 5, which says an armed attack on one nation is an armed attack on all NATO nations -Operation Iraqi Freedom -Operation Enduring Freedom -Activity in the Balkans -Theater security cooperation; and -Training exercises in Europe.
"The challenge is this: how I can accomplish the mission with less people and capability while operating with the same capacity?" Ham said. "We're concerned about sustaining the level of commitment to joint exercises throughout the theater. And we think we can sustain it by building partner capacity."
In building partnerships, the 33-year Army veteran said the relationship between the U.S. and other countries is not senior to junior.
"That's just not the case," he said. "We will learn as much from our partners as they will learn from us."
"The more nations involved, the more legitimacy it has, along with involvement from organizations like the United Nations," Ham said, when asked about the "why" of building partnerships. He also spoke about geographic proximity, "some nations are very difficult to access. For example, we rely on Afghanistan's surrounding neighbors for support."
In speaking with the students gathered from 45 countries like Afghanistan, France, Ukraine and others, Genera; Ham talked about keys to success during disputes and discussed what role a military plays in the plan.
"In most cases, the military is an essential but nondecisive aspect to success," he said. "It is the rare circumstance where the military is the decisive instrument."
In building partnerships, there will be pitfalls, according to Ham. For instance, he said U.S. and partner militaries work "great" on an operational level, but face challenges on the tactical level. He said that exercises and education are keys to success, but added time, money and resources are precious because of war and struggling economies.
"We have to be persistent about developing tactical relationships," he said. adding. "There are great challenges, but the U.S. is not alone."