Stavridis Highlights NATO’s Progress as ‘Force for Good’
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
MONS, Belgium, May 13, 2013 As the flags of NATO’s 28 nations cracked in the wind during a change of command ceremony here today, the alliance’s outgoing and incoming supreme allied commanders noted the symbolism.
Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis passed the flag of Allied Command Operations to Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, who becomes the 17th commander of alliance forces, following in the footsteps of General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower and Army Gen. Matthew Ridgway.
Stavridis was the first U.S. Navy officer to hold the position. The flags, he said “are a beautiful, powerful symbol of how we sail together.”
The 28 NATO flags, joined by the flags of 22 partner nations, also fly in Afghanistan, and “they represent why we will succeed in Afghanistan,” Stavridis said.
“I will miss being part of a 50-nation coalition taking on jobs like Afghanistan,” the admiral said.
NATO has made extraordinary progress in Afghanistan, Stavridis said. “We have collectively built an Afghan security force of 350,000, … and they will take control of their country completely on General Breedlove’s watch,” he added.
In the next few months, Afghan soldiers and police will protect more than 90 percent of the Afghan population, the admiral noted, citing a few more facts to highlight the progress. Afghan life expectancy has risen from 42 years old to 62 over the past decade. More than 9 million children are attending school, including 3.5 million girls. Afghans use 17 million cell phones, and there are dozens of radio and television stations broadcasting in the country. More than 70 percent of the population has access to health care.
“These are signs of progress that are undeniable,” he said. “Challenges remain, but I believe we will succeed in Afghanistan because of the larger coalition.”
The admiral said he looks at the alliance effort in Libya with quiet satisfaction, because the alliance saved tens of thousands of lives by its timely intervention in the skies over the nation. Aircraft, aircrew and ships from NATO and partners such as Sweden, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates worked together to protect life in Libya, he added.
Along with the European Union, Stavridis said, NATO has made great progress in Kosovo. The alliance has withdrawn many of its troops, and the admiral said he believes there finally “may be peace in the Balkans.”
Looking ahead, Stavridis said he sees great challenges in Afghanistan and the need to protect NATO ally Turkey from the civil war in Syria spilling over its borders. NATO still needs to train together to be able to work together, he said, and this will be a problem as troops deploy out of Afghanistan and financial pressures cause governments to look for easy ways to cut defense budgets.
Finally, the alliance needs to continue to build a stronger strategic partnership with Russia, Stavridis said.
“NATO matters to the world,” he added. “NATO brings security. NATO is a force for good in the world. I’ve been proud to be a part of it for four years.”