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NATO’s Transformation Command Reinvents Relations with U.S.

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2012 – Though the location of its headquarters and the way it works with the U.S. military has changed since its inception, NATO’s Allied Command Transformation has forged a stronger relationship with the United States, the organization’s commander said here yesterday.

Gen. Stephane Abrial of the French air force, NATO’s supreme allied commander for transformation, broke down the command’s history and evolution in remarks at the Defense Writers Group.

When NATO established Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Va., the idea was to locate the command near U.S. Joint Forces Command and that the synergy would spur innovation for the alliance and for the U.S. military.

The NATO command, formed in 2003, was to lead alliance transformation efforts and develop doctrine for coalition operations. Abrial said he looked forward to building on the relationship with Joint Forces Command. But in 2010, the United States decided to disestablish that command.

“The Joint Forces Command disestablishment came as a surprise to many of us,” Abrial said. When the allied command was established in 2003, he noted, the idea was to tie the two commands together under a single commander. American officers, therefore, led the command until Abrial succeeded Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, now commander of U.S. Central Command, as commander of NATO’s transformation command in 2009, while Mattis remained as commander of Joint Forces Command.

“We both had the feeling from the outset that we needed to ensure the two commands didn’t drift apart,” Abrial said. “This was also a concern from many nations, I may say.”

The two commands established formal links – initially from commander to commander, and then at all levels. “We institutionalized the relationship to ensure it didn’t go away,” he said.

The result was that the relationship between the two commands increased and improved, the general said.

Abrial recalled he was in command for just over a year when he received a call from then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, who told him that the United States would disestablish Joint Forces Command.

“She told me that it did not mean a decrease in interest from the U.S. to the alliance or from the U.S. to Allied Command Transformation, and that our relationship will increase and we will work more together in the future,” he said. “I said, ‘Thank you,’ and that I was hoping that the words would become deeds.”

And they did, he said.

He worked closely with Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, now chief of staff of the U.S. Army, who had succeeded Mattis as commander of Joint Forces Command. The NATO personnel at Allied Command Transformation were involved in every decision involved in Joint Forces Command’s disestablishment, Abrial said. “We were a part not of decision-making, but decision-shaping, as it were,” he said.

Joint Forces Command cased its colors on Aug. 4, 2011, the French general said, and the change required a different set of relations with the U.S. military. He checked off what happened with the three tiers of the command’s mission.

“The one tier which dealt with concept development, modeling and simulation and so on – everything which is still in Norfolk [and] Suffolk – continues working with my headquarters as if nothing has happened,” he said. “It is exactly the same way.”

Joint Forces Command’s next-tier missions moved to U.S. combatant commands or the services. This meant that the NATO command needed to “replug” with them, Abrial said. With Joint Forces Command, his command had one outlet, he said. With the move, Allied Command Transformation had to establish ties with many other organizations, he said, and did so.

At the top level, Abrial said, was the opportunity to move to the Pentagon.

“I would say it has increased both our visibility and our relationships at the top level with both the political and military sides of the Pentagon,” he said. “Today, 16 months after the decision was made, I can confirm that Mrs. Flournoy was right: Our relationship with our American friends has increased and improved. So it was a very positive move.”


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Gen. Stephane Abrial

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