The top U.S. commander in Europe emphasized the importance of NATO and the United Statesí forward presence in Europe, while acknowledging that he continues to prod the allies to meet their financial defense commitments.
Europe continues to matter greatly for the United States, Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, commander of U.S. European Command and supreme allied commander for Europe, told the House Armed Services Committee March 15.
U.S. military bases in Europe represent the ìforward operating bases for 21st-century security,î not bastions of the Cold War, he told the committee.
The U.S. force in Europe has decreased about 80 percent from the height of the Cold War, he said, when the United States had 450,000 service members serving at some 1,200 bases. Today, Eucom consists of 64,000 joint forces, representing less than 5 percent of the U.S. military, spread across 21 major bases and smaller supporting sites.
Stavridis called the current force posture in Europe appropriate. Rotational forces to serve about two-month deployments there, he said, will help make up shortfalls due to troop reductions.
Noting the transformation in Europe over the past generation ìfrom a security consumer to one of the most important security producers, Stavridis cited the shared values and economic and security interdependence that make the region strategically important today.
Stavridis recognized, for example, the $4 trillion trade route across the Atlantic Ocean. ìThat binding of our economic interests will continue to make Europe our most important trading partner, collectively, he said.
And Europe’s location, he said, makes it vital in terms of U.S. support for operations in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
ìGeography matters,î Stavridis told the House panel. ìEurope in that regard is critically important.
At the heart of the U.S. relationship with Europe stands the NATO alliance — a historic bond that includes 28 nations, Stavridis said, that collectively possess 24,000 combat aircraft, 800 ocean-going ships and 50 airborne warning and control system aircraft.
NATO ìis a powerful, capable alliance that has stoodî with America in missions across the region and beyond, Stavridis said. Ninety percent of non-U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan are from Europe, he said.
So the alliance matters,î he said. ìNowhere else in the world will we find so many trained, capable soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who will stand with us on missions from the Balkans to Libya to the Levant, to Afghanistan, and indeed around the world.
Europeans remain our most steadfast, reliable, battle-tested, and important global partners as we confront the strategic risks and military challenges of the 21st century,î Stavridis said in his written statement. ìNo other region so readily combines the same commitment to shared values, high-end military capabilities and capacity and willingness to stand with America – as our European allies and partners have demonstrated at great cost and sacrifice over the past decade – in this centuryís fight for freedom and the pursuit of global security and stability.
While praising NATO alliesí operational contributions, Stavridis conceded today that many have fallen short in their military spending. Collectively, they spend about $300 billion a year on defense – about half what the United States spends, but more than China and Russia spend, combined, he said.
But the bad news is, in my view, is that they are not meeting their own targeted 2 percent of [gross national product], Stavridis said. He called that commitment, which all members vow to spend under NATO rules, ìa minimum in order to maintain the appropriate levels of interoperability with the United States.
On one hand, ìwe want to have the full advantage of their spending and their integration with us, Stavridis told lawmakers. ìOn the other hand, we need to encourage them to step up and to spend appropriately so we are in balance with them. We continue to do that.