Retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis served as commander of U.S. European Command and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander-Europe. (Army)
Retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis was the supreme allied commander in Europe and four-star chief of U.S. European Command from 2009 to 2013. Stavridis is now the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University outside Boston. As the U.S. and NATO alliance are moving quickly to redraw Europe’s military map in response to new signs of Russia’s aggression, Military Times’ Pentagon reporter Andrew Tilghman caught up with Stavridis for a conversation about the changes on the horizon for EUCOM. Stavridis spoke by phone April 17 and what follows here was edited for brevity and clarity.
Admiral Stavridis, let’s look at the map of EUCOM today. I’ll ask you to tell us where you think U.S. military assets there might be shifted most effectively in response to concerns about Russia. Let’s start with maritime.
A. OK, we’re in the process of adding four Arleigh Burke destroyers and they will be based out of Rota, Spain. I think it’s a perfect opportunity to rotate those ships and other deploying battle groups to do some work up in the Black Sea, to go up and conduct exercises up there with our NATO partners — Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria. Just kind of operating up there in a presence mode.
At the same time, I think even more important, in the north, I would recommend that we have an especially strong contribution for BALTOPS, the annual Baltic operations exercise. I would hope that we would be adding some ships, and preferably some amphibious assault ships with some Marines up there.
What should change on the aviation side?
A. I think this is a good time to revisit the decision to downsize the fighter squadrons [from eight several years ago down to six currently].We can continue to station them in Spangdahlem and Ramstein [air bases in Germany] and amp up the rational presence in the Baltics — Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania have excellent facilities where we do the Baltic air police mission. I would also send a detachment down to Romania to [Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base], so it’s a two-pronged piece.
Also, we’ve just added the CV- 22 Ospreys, the Special Forces variant [with the 352nd Special Operations Group, stationed at the RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom]. I would move some of those in a rotational sense forward to operate, basing them out of Poland where they could jump up into the Baltics and also down to Romania and Bulgaria. Lask [Air Base in Poland] is the one that probably makes the most sense.
Q. And for the ground forces?
A.We’re in the middle of going down to two brigade combat teams and I think it’s probably prudent to relook at that. I’d look at [increasing that to] three or, better yet, four. I think in terms of rotational presence, you’d get the most bang for your buck up with Estonia and Latvia and Poland. Let’s face it, Poland is the largest, most capable military in that part of Europe so it would be very logical to springboard the ground forces out of there. You’ve also got very good facilities to operate in there. You already have a contingent of Marines down in Romania. So if you’re going to increase ground forces, I’d push the Marines to the Romanian side and the Army toward the Baltics and Poland. The tracks are well trodden for logistics.
Q. Poland has signaled an interest in hosting a permanent U.S. Army presence. Do you think it makes sense to look at permanently basing an Army brigade combat team in Poland?
A. I think it’s certainly plausible. But I’m not sure given the investment we’ve made in facilities in Germany and Italy, which is where the BCTs are now; I’m not sure it makes a huge amount of sense to pull a BCT forward into Poland. You can accomplish so much with rotational training. Let’s find a base where we can be in a rotation, and make it a pretty constant rotation.
There’s a lot of talk in the Pentagon about a “rotational presence.” What is the value to moving U.S. military units into an eastern European base for several weeks or several months?
A. First there is psychological value. The very fact that there are U.S. forces present, physically there. It’s hard for us as Americans to appreciate how psychologically reassuring the Europeans find that. Second, there’s the training aspect. It ups the game of our NATO allies. Thirdly, it provides interoperability, so that when we do operate together we have the command and control system in place. Four, it allows us to exercise our logistics chain. If we are capable of rotating a BCT in, we know how that transportation path works and thus if we do need to move larger forces in we can do that.