In a week, I'll turn over both of my commands - U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany and Allied Command Operations, NATO, in Mons, Belgium. It is a very bittersweet time for me, after four years as the Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, seven years as a U.S. 4-star commander, and 37 years since graduating from the naval academy at Annapolis.
What a voyage! Certainly I've had my fair share of challenges along the way but we have also had plenty of great successes (due largely to the hard work of those on my various teams), and a few tie scores as well.
As I look back over these past four years in particular, there were a number of solid accomplishments and a few stubborn difficulties -- but at the center of it all were wonderful human relationships.
In the broadest sense, I tried to build bridges between leaders (military & civilian), organizations and government agencies (both public & private) and above all between nations (international).
A few of the accomplishments of this great Alliance while I was lucky enough to be on the team:
- Afghanistan - Our top mission, with well over 100,000 troops throughout the four years. Watch the movie; don't just look at the snap shots. Afghan Security Forces are nearly fully in the lead - 90% of Afghans are now protected by their own security forces as opposed to virtually none four years ago. Improvement across the spectrum of activity: Education (8 million children in school, 4 million girls), Connectivity (16 million cell phones), Health Care (65% now have access), Economy (8% growth annually and the promise of $2 Trillion in strategic minerals). Responsibility in Afghan hands (350,000 security forces trained by the coalition) but partners across the globe standing strong and committed to support. Afghanistan is now connected to the strength of the Alliance and partners around the world.
- Libya: Fastest deployment in the history of NATO. Incredible teamwork in the service of the people of Libya at the specific request of the United Nations Security Council. Evidence of the positive and powerful reach of NATO.
- Balkans and Kosovo - Kept the peace in our mission to help maintain a "safe and secure environment" and "freedom of movement;" and made the space for the political process to work. Agreement now signed. Future looks more promising than ever as governments pursue EU membership. We've come an amazing distance from the disasters and horrors of the previous decade.
- Piracy off the coast of Africa - Strong success. Down more than 35% in past 5 years, down 75% since 2011. Opening the passages, making the global commons safer, underpinning economic growth that leads to greater security for all. Strengthening the connections of global trade.
- NATO Bureaucracy / Command Structure Reduction - Economies/Efficiencies. From 11 major Headquarters to only 6. Streamlining, in stride with business world. More agile, more effective. Responsive to economic realities, leveraging technology for efficiency. Clean alignment - Land, Sea or in the Air responsibility is clear. Connected internally and externally for better situation awareness and agility.
But there is still significant work to do. There are several focus areas that remain important challenges:
- Syria - A huge human disaster, with perhaps 100,000 killed, 2 million pushed out of the country into refugee camps, and another 3 million internally displaced and facing a brutal situation. Clearly, there are no good choices. NATO must first and foremost defend the border with Turkey (which we are doing with Patriot missiles); and monitor the situation closely.
- Relationship with Russia - Fortunately, there are existing zones of cooperation: High North/Arctic, Counter-Piracy; Afghanistan, where Russia has provided weapons, ammunition, helicopters, intelligence, logistics, and support to the global effort; military exercises and engagement. We also have areas of disagreement over Georgia, Syria, and missile defense. The key is dialog and engagement.
- Cyber - Greatest gap between threat and preparedness. Front line of today and tomorrow. (Resources committed but working nation-by-nation not integrated yet. Must share current knowledge, pool resources for new technologies, and consider cyber deterrence way ahead) Preserving and strengthening the integrity of the connection.
- Financial crunch. Nations should take on financial challenges by ensuring security is in place first and stay engaged. I'd like to see NATO nations meeting the NATO goal of spending 2% of their GDP on defense -- only five nations do so today.
So personally, I'm ready to sail on. As I prepare to pass the baton to General Phil Breedlove, I'm encouraged and optimistic about NATO and EUCOM operations. I can't think of a better choice than General Breedlove. He is an exceptional leader who knows this terrain extremely well with eight tours in Europe.
For his consideration I pass along these suggestions:
- Keep Cyber at the top of your list of priorities
- Keep a close eye on NATO's south-eastern border. Be ready on Syria if called upon
- Keep the momentum going in ISAF. Work the transition to Resolute Support closely.
- Find ways to cooperate with Russia, especially in the High North.
- Build global partnerships, especially in the Mediterranean, Arabian Gulf, and eventually in the Pacific and other parts of the globe
- Maintain momentum in the Balkans, on anti-piracy, and streamlining the NATO command structure
- Encourage robust NATO member defense spending levels. Meet 2% as pledged.
As I wrap up, I am filled with gratitude. It was a profound honor to be part of a team of extraordinary people who accomplish so much and take on so many challenges. They inspire me every day with their enthusiasm, initiative, creativity, pride and loyalty.
I say "Thank You" to each and every one of our team members and their family members for their incredible work and sacrifice -- nearly 100,000 on the European command team, and many more on the NATO side.
As I conclude my military career and look back over 37 years I am awed by the changes. When I graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1976, the Cold War dominated everything. Today's world is a safer world, as the possibility of global conflict and an exchange of nuclear weapons is now greatly reduced. That's the good news.
On the other hand, we live in a vastly more complex world in which weapons of mass destruction are proliferating, trafficking moves weapons, narcotics, victims of human smuggling, cash, and terrorists across our borders and through the challenged global commons. We must continue to focus on creating security in this turbulent world.
So the fundamental question is, "How do we best create security in this complex 21st century?"
What I take away from my 37 years is that, in the end, we will not fully deliver security from the barrel of a gun.
Certainly, we will very much need our guns at times. There will be moments when we must reach for and apply lethal force; but to deliver security broadly in this 21st century, we need international cooperation, we need inter-agency cooperation, and we need private-public cooperation.
Then we've got to put it all together with effective strategic communication. We've got to use the social networks to move a message that says our values matter: democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press. Those values matter. We have to be prepared to defend them, but to deliver them we have to have this international, inter-agency, private-public strategic communication consortium. That's how we'll deliver security in the 21st century.
As I move on to my next chapter, I intend to stay connected to the evolution of global security. I will stay deeply involved in the robust global exchange of ideas, which again I believe is the critical connective tissue of global security.
Despite all the challenges for NATO, I believe in the Alliance. NATO is a force for good in the world. And it is the most powerful alliance in the world's history: over 50% of the world's GDP from only 28 nations; 3 million men and women on active duty; 24,000 military aircraft; 800 ocean-going ships; 50 AWACS; on and on. The Alliance remains vitally connected to all the sources of security across the globe. It has great power, and therefore great responsibility.
We are connected through this Alliance. And when we are connected, we are stronger; and that allows us to remain...Stronger Together.
I'm proud to have been a part of all this for the past four years.
My deepest thanks to all,
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, US European Command