by Admiral James Stavridis

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” —Henry Ford

Over the past four years, I’ve had the privilege to command the exceptional men and women of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Allied Command Operations and the United States European Command. During this time, I have continually assessed NATO’s future and that of our U.S. forces in Europe. Our commitment to Europe and the Alliance has paid tremendous dividends and continues to be mutually beneficial to our security and integrated economies. As I depart these two great organizations, I have no doubt NATO represents America’s strongest, most important and enduring strategic partnership.

So what’s next? At the top of my list, we need to ensure the Alliance and EUCOM have the right mix of military capabilities, which are interoperable and work together under a shared vision. Cooperation and integration across the strategic, operational and tactical spectra are nonnegotiable and central to our long-term security.

Why Europe Still Matters

The United States and Europe have enduring symbiotic interests in supporting peace and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. Our economies, our militaries and our societies are deeply intertwined. Together, the U.S. and Europe represent roughly 50 percent—$4 trillion—of the world’s economy. Geographically, American participation in military and political affairs in Europe and NATO, and the resulting positioning of our forces in Europe, allows us to provide a rapid response to crises across three continents, in the world’s foreseeable hot spots.

We share fundamental values with our European allies and partners, including key principles of democracy, the rule of law, free markets and enduring human rights. Our joint participation in recent operations in Afghanistan, Libya, the Balkans, the Horn of Africa and other areas clearly demonstrates Europe’s willingness to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us to face the many complex challenges of the 21st century.

Moving toward NATO 3.0

Following World War II, NATO was established as more of a political alliance than an effective military organization. There was no supreme commander and no NATO military headquarters. The outbreak of the Korean War and Soviet atomic weapons testing spurred the U.S. and Western European nations to form NATO and to establish a military force under NATO’s control.

NATO was designed to maintain peace within Europe, encourage political integration across the continent and provide the security umbrella under which economic development and reconstruction could flourish. Necessity brought about the creation of SHAPE, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, tasked with coordinating the military arm of NATO and ensuring the defense of Allied nations against the former Soviet threat. Equating this to systems development, I call this period NATO 1.0.

In response to the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, the Alliance began military operations, outside traditional norms, using a force structure from the Cold War. I refer to this period as NATO 2.0. For the first time, NATO deployed forces outside of Europe to help stabilize Afghanistan and counter the threat from al-Qaida. Now, after 11 years of committing resources and troops to train, build and fight alongside the Afghan security forces, the Alliance is able to transfer security responsibilities back fully to the Afghans.

Preparing for the Future

The foundations are in place, but much remains to be done to ensure that the Alliance remains relevant well into the 21st century. This phase of reorientation and renewal is what I like to call NATO 3.0. At the Chicago Summit in May 2012, political leaders agreed to chart a course for the Alliance’s future, called NATO Forces 2020. The objective is to generate deployable, interoperable and sustainable forces equipped, trained, exercised and led in such a way as to ensure they will be capable of meeting future challenges. This, in essence, is NATO 3.0.

NATO 3.0 has three primary pillars. The first requires no change as the Alliance remains vigorously focused on the full range of Alliance missions, including its core commitment to Article 5 collective defense.* The second area of focus for NATO is crisis management. NATO must be prepared to address emerging security threats affecting the Alliance’s interests, quickly and effectively. The third pillar is cooperative security. NATO must build relationships with international economic and political actors as well as public and private, nongovernmental organizations equipped to address root causes of conflict.

Two key initiatives—Smart Defense and the Connected Forces Initiative—will enable NATO’s military forces to support those three core tasks of the Alliance.

Smart Defense: Smart Defense enables countries to work together to develop and maintain capabilities they could not afford alone. At the Chicago Summit, NATO Allies agreed on a package of 22 Smart Defense projects to improve operational effectiveness and economies of scale and to build closer links between Allied forces. Some of the agreed upon projects include: a NATO Universal Armaments Interface to allow the flexible use of fighter munitions across the Alliance; a multinational pool of Maritime Patrol Aircraft; standardization of modular medical facilities for multinational operational deployments; and deployable airfields called Deployable Air Activation Modules. The new Allied Ground Surveillance System will help provide crucial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for our forces on the ground.

In addition to these Smart Defense projects, NATO is implementing other multinational programs including a collective missile defense system, called the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). This program, to be embedded in Europe at sea and ashore over the next five years, will counter the ballistic missile threat to Europe from nations that don’t share our democratic values.

Connected Forces Initiative: It will remain critical to maintain the strong bonds of interoperability among NATO allies and partners as the ISAF mission draws to a close at the end of 2014. The aim of the Connected Forces Initiative is to ensure our respective forces can communicate and operate seamlessly with one another. This requires cultural awareness, common doctrine and procedures, as well as compatible equipment. NATO will emphasize working together through joint and regional combined training and exercises, helping the Alliance maintain a high degree of standardization and adapting to new technologies and capabilities as they emerge.

Through Smart Defense and CFI, our goal is a NATO 3.0 fit for the next decade and beyond, with a renewed culture of cooperation allowing all Allies to provide more security for its citizens, even during austerity.


NATO 3.0 will continue to strengthen our network of partnerships across the globe. We have many partners around the world—Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Korea, Singapore, Mongolia and others. And we want to continue developing more global partnerships. Operation Urgent Protector in Libya highlighted some of these emerging partnerships, where five Arab nations participated alongside NATO forces.

Meanwhile, our U.S. force posture in Europe continues to evolve. At the height of the Cold War, we had almost 450,000 U.S. troops and 1,200 U.S. bases in Europe. Today, we have about 80,000 troops and just a few dozen key bases around the continent. But we are not just reducing numbers, we are modernizing our capabilities. Some notable changes include: adding four new Aegis destroyers (home porting them in Spain); bringing the CV-22 Osprey vertical lift aircraft to the U.K. and adding some additional command and control targeting and intelligence capabilities. We are also enhancing regional special operations forces’ response capabilities with the NATO Special Operations Forces Headquarters and activating an aviation detachment in Poland to enhance other regional training opportunities.

Stronger Together

Unquestionably, the solidarity and cooperation between the United States, Europe and our global partners remains essential. After more than 60 years of tremendous accomplishment, the awesome capabilities of this Alliance continue to grow and evolve. It is clear that the United States is stronger when it stands with its allies both within NATO and beyond. The core strength of these alliances lies within the relationships that our people, both civilian and military, have with their counterparts in these countries around the world. These are the partnerships that hold nations together in friendship and trust, but they must be tended to like any vibrant relationship. By continuing to develop and nurture the multifaceted partnerships cultivated over the past decades, we will face the threats of the 21st century “Stronger Together.”

–Admiral James Stavridis served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander of U.S. European Command from June 30, 2009, to May 10, 2013, when Air Force General Philip Breedlove assumed command. Stavridis will serve as dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School.

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