General Breedlove: US Depends on European Allies and Partners to ‘Fully Defend Our National Security Interests’

SACEUR Gen. Philip Breedlove, May 23, 2013Our many shared values, interests, and economic interdependence with Europe provides unique opportunities and assets for collective security as well as global security cooperation. The United States depends on our willing and capable Allies and partners throughout Europe to work with us to fully defend our national security interests and to respond to crises around the world. Time and again, our Allies and partners in Europe have proven essential to U.S. military operations by allowing us access, including bases, transit, and overflight rights for U.S. forces as well as providing enhanced legitimacy and operational capability through the participation of Ally and partner nation military forces in undertakings in Europe, around Europe and often far from Europe….

The forces assigned to EUCOM are the U.S.’s preeminent forward deployed force and fulfill the United States’ primary treaty obligation to NATO. Our permanent presence also allows us to maximize the military capabilities of our Allies. Permanently stationed forces are a force multiplier that rotational deployments can never match….

After years of force structure and other personnel reductions, fewer than 65,000 U.S. military personnel remain permanently stationed in Europe to secure and advance U.S. national interests from Greenland to Azerbaijan and from the Arctic to Israel. The size of our military presence forces difficult decisions daily on how to best use the limited resources we have to assure, stabilize, and support. I ask you for your support and favorable consideration of the U.S. role in addressing the new European security environment and helping me set the theater….

EUCOM is working within the framework of a new European security environment, focused on countering three primary security threats: Russian aggression in the East, foreign fighter flow between Europe and the Levant, and transnational threats stemming from North Africa….

Russia views Ukraine as part of its sphere of influence, regardless of the views of the Ukrainian people. While Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine are the most current manifestation in a pattern of continuing behavior to coerce its neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe. Beyond its actions in Georgia and Ukraine, other examples of this pattern are abandoning the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaties; the ZAPAD 2013 snap exercise along the borders of the Baltics and Poland; intercepts of U.S. aircraft and shadowing of U.S. ships in international airspace and waters; basing Russian fighter aircraft in Belarus; threats to deploy nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles in Kaliningrad; and pressure on former Soviet states through the manipulation of prolonged, “frozen” conflicts….

[T]he flow of returning foreign terrorist fighters to Europe and the United States in both the near- and mid-term poses a significant risk, including to our forward based forces in Europe. Foreign terrorist fighters are active in multiple conflict zones, gaining experience and contacts that could lead them to conduct terrorist attacks after returning home. Actively encouraged by ISIL, returned foreign fighters are mounting so-called “lone wolf” attacks. This problem will grow in scope as the flow of returning individuals increases over time….

The security environment on Europe’s Southern Flank, broadly defined as the Middle East and North Africa, is likely to remain unstable and likely grow more complex for the next decade or longer. This environment is characterized by political chaos; ethnic, tribal, and religious tensions; pervasive corruption; and weak security institutions. These factors have created conditions that allow illicit trafficking, to include the smuggling of narcotics, humans, and weapons into Southern Europe and beyond. Transnational criminal organizations continue to take hold and further destabilize the region, posing a growing economic and security risk to countries on Europe’s Southern Flank. The threat of highly contagious diseases spreading through unmonitored personnel movements and illicit trafficking channels, such as the Ebola virus, represent another potential threat.

The countries of southern Europe are currently facing massive migration flows from Northern Africa. In August 2012, Greece began an operation to curb and tackle illegal migration into its country. In October 2013, Italy began a similar operation to patrol the Strait of Sicily and the southern Mediterranean following the death of more than 350 African refugees off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Since its start, Italy has intercepted or rescued more than 100,000 illegal migrants while 3,000 have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Dealing with illegal migration adds to the burdens of Allied Navies, particularly Italy’s, and pulls them from other missions. Due to concerns raised by European countries along the Mediterranean Sea, FRONTEX launched Operation ORION TRITON in October 2014 to help nations cope with the illegal migration crossings from North Africa and the Middle East. Although most European countries do not perceive the ongoing situation in North Africa as a direct threat to their national security, the majority views the increased illegal migration flow as a serious economic and humanitarian problem. EUCOM continues to work with our Allies on this issue….

The NATO 2012 Deterrence and Defense Posture Review and the September 2014 Wales Summit Declaration affirm “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.” EUCOM maintains a safe, secure, and effective theater nuclear deterrent in support of NATO and enduring U.S. security commitments, with the EUCOM AOR a critical component of the U.S. Global Strike mission. Through rigorous and effective training, exercises, evaluations, inspections, operations, and sustainment, EUCOM ensures that United States nuclear weapons and the means to support and deploy those weapons are fully ready to support national and Alliance strategic nuclear directives.

The U.S. stands side-by-side with our NATO Allies to provide safe, secure, reliable, and effective nuclear forces to deter aggression against Alliance members. EUCOM and STRATCOM work closely together to provide U.S. leadership options to assure our Allies of our commitment, and as part of Operation ATLANTIC RESOLVE, EUCOM has forged a link between STRATCOM Bomber Assurance and Deterrence missions to NATO regional exercises….

The resurgence of a revanchist Russia, and the emergence of new risks emanating from across the Mediterranian, places us in a new security environment that drives new ways of thinking. Accurately assessing these changes is critical to ensure we react properly to state and non-state actors who are not complying with international norms. As one of only two forward positioned Combatant Commands, EUCOM is in a front row seat for the action, and our staff, both at the headquarters and component levels, has the expertise and relationships to adapt….

As the Commander of EUCOM, we need the resources to remain decisively engaged in the EUCOM Theater, to have the stabilized force structure to effectively meet our challenges brought by the new European security environment, and to defend our nation forward. If we do not stand up and take the initiative to set the theater, someone else will. We need credible, enduring capabilities that will assure, deter, and defend while shaping the theater with a coordinated whole of government approach. As long as I have the watch over EUCOM, I will relentlessly pursue a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace.

Excerpts from Statement by General Philip Breedlove, Command of U.S. Forces Europe, to the House Armed Services Comittee, February, 25, 2015.

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Image: SACEUR Gen. Philip Breedlove, May 23, 2013 (photo: NATO)