ACM Peach as CMC: A review of senior NATO posts held by British Officers

The latest news that Air Chief Marshal Stuart as the next Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee or CMC has been hailed by journalists and watchers as a success point for Brexit and helps strengthen the UK’s position as a leading power.

This has, however, made me think back as to the UK’s personnel contribution to NATO’s military structure. The UK has, since NATO’s founding, held the number 2 position in the Headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander, or Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) or Allied Commander Operations (ACO). In easier terms, it is the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe or DSACEUR for short. During much of the Cold War, a German General also held such a post alongside his British counterpart but now it is just a British four-star officer (usually from the British Army). Scarmonger and chief rumour maker for the Sunday Times Mark Hookham wrote that the British position of DSACEUR would be threatened with Brexit but that is TOTAL RUBBISH. The UK will undoubtedly hold this position unless the UK government turns ala pacifist.

Dropping down the NATO military forces structure, senior British military officers have held the positions in the NATO Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) and the land-based Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC). Both, like DSACEUR, have historically been UK-led commands because of NATO’s historical structure: MARCOM sort of  originated from Eastern Atlantic Command or EASTLANT which was under the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT). Actually, both SACLANT and EASTLANT were four-star commands (The former UK Commander-in-Chief Fleet was the head of EASTLANT). A post-9/11 structure saw EASTLANT evolved into Allied Maritime Component Command Northwood (MCC Northwood), sharing maritime operations with what was then MCC Naples. Finally, in 2012, all NATO Maritime planning, operations and advice was centralised at MARCOM. Having stayed in the UK’s maritime area and city, MARCOM continued to be led by a Royal Navy ViceAdmiral, only one-star lower than the Commander of EASTLANT. (Update: MARCOM could have also originated from Allied Command Channel (ACCHAN), a smaller part of SACLANT and EASTLAnt).

The ARRC, formerly at Rheindalen, Germany, now based in Imjin Barracks, Innsworth, Gloucester, England, has a more British origin, originating from the last British Army warfighting corps, I (BR) Corps which was part of the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR). That unit was a major part of Northern Army Group, or NORTHTAG, the NATO army group that would defend the northern part of West Germany from any Eastern bloc attack during the Cold War. Cold War over/won, I (BR) Corps was dissolved and transformed into the ARRC. Unlike the transition from EASTLANT to MARCOM, the Commander of I (BR) Corps and eventually remained a British Army Lieutenant General. The ARRC is not the solely rapid response force for NATO; ARRC’s website states nine responses forces. ARRC also does have any active units under its control until given warning orders. Nevertheless, it is quite clearly a chief response force, especially given that the British Army is the highest quality trained land force in NATO after the US Army.

So far I’ve shown historical NATO commands that are still helmed by senior British officers. Well, the present Allied Air Command (AIRCOM) in its former namesake, Allied Air Forces Central Europe (AAFCE), deputised by an Air Chief Marshal, reporting to the Commander of AAFCE who also was the four-star United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). AAFCE at the height of the Cold War commanded two two Allied Tactical Air Forces, two and fourth. At around the time, NATO’s Southern flank also had and aerial command, AIRSOUTH, commanding two, later three other tactical Allied Tactical Air Forces. Move on to post-Cold War, there wee many NATO allied air forces but the RAF continued to hold the number two position in first Allied Forces Central Europe (see the good historian Colin Mackie or Gulabin’s record under “SENIOR ROYAL AIR FORCE APPOINTMENTS” page 77–he gives different names or see AIRCOM’s own history ), to Regional Command Allied Forces North Europe in the form of a three-star Air Marshal. Just before the formation of AIRCOM, There was Headquarters Allied Air Command Ramstein or HQ AC Ramstein and another NATO air command in Izmir, Turkey. I don’t think the RAF held the deputy commander’s position when AIRCOM became fully active until August 2016 when RAF Air Marshal Stuart Evans took the position. As AIRCOM’s senior leadership page states, the Deputy Commander’s position is rotated between RAF (UK) and Germany on a regular basis, the last non-British Deputy Commander actually being French Lieutenant General Dominique de Longvilliers. So unlike the Cold War and immediate post-Cold War days, the UK doesn’t dominate AIRCOM.

Moving back up to the naval commands, the Royal Navy sends a Rear Admiral to commands Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO), NATO’s premier Maritime Battle-staff and the Alliance’s primary link for integrating U.S. Maritime Forces into NATO operations. This command, directly report to SACEUR, also has historical origins from Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINCSOUTH) which commanded Naval Striking and Support Forces Southern Europe or STRIKFORSOUTH. A quick Google search, however, reveals that the deputy commander of STRIKFORSOUTH which later became STRIKFORNATO was an American. The good Colin Mackie, under his page ROYAL NAVY SENIOR APPOINTMENTS, page 220, reveals that a Royal Navy Rear Admiral took reigns on deputy commander onwards since January 200 and remains so up to today. It should be noted that STRIKFORNATO is not the same as the disestablished NATO Striking Fleet Atlantic which was under SACLANT for decades, during and after the Cold War. That command did have a Royal Navy Commodore in charge, but possibly not since inception. Today, that position is now the Deputy Director, Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Center of Excellence, of same Royal Navy rank.

Okay. Who else. Ah yes, the Chief of Staff, NATO Allied Command Transformation (ACT). Moving back a few years, the UK once held ACT’s Deputy Commander’s position in the form of a four-star officer until July (First Admiral Sir Ian Forbes and then Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope) before the UK was ‘downgraded’ to the post of Chief of Staff. Al of this can again be found on Colin Mackie’s pdf files under : MINISTRY OF DEFENCE AND TRI-SERVICE SENIOR APPOINTMENTS page 36.

Other senior UK officers in NATO commands but not as top-level leaders include the Deputy Chief of Staff – Plans, Allied Joint Force Command Naples, currently Major General Ian Cave. Previously, a British Army Major General Rob Weighill also held this post but I’m nor sure if this post is always given to a British Army officer. The other NATO JFC, JFC Brunssum also recently has a British Army Major General Karl Ford as its Deputy Chief of Staff – Plans as of September 2017 (thanks again to Colin Mackie for the information). Is is always a case there? Not sure. Finally, the Deputy Commander to NATO’s Rapid Deployable Corp Italy or NRDC-ITA has been a British Officer, present holder is Major General Edward Smyth-Osborne, past holders include David Campbell, George Norton and Tom Beckett (all information again on Google). Colin informed me that the UK held this post as far back as 2003, starting with Major General The Honorable Seymour Monro.

As with historical commands, the UK also once held the Deputy Commander of JFC Brunssum and before that, Allied Forces Northern Europe; in fact it held the full commander’s position until January 2004. It held this deputy commander’s position until around December 2015, when its transferred to some Italian Lieutenant General. The UK also previously held the Director General of the NATO International Military Staff position, and held it several times in the past. Royal Marines Lieutenant Generals have also held the the Deputy Commander’s position in Allied Land Command (LANDCOM), specifically Lieutenant General Ed Davis and Lieutenant General Gordon Messenger, who is now full General and Vice Chief of the Defence Staff. Land Command was initially Allied Land Forces South-Eastern Europe (LANDSOUTHEAST) but I’m unable to to find whether any previous UK officer held its deputy commander’s position. There are further other post but I won’t cover them here–mostly Brigadier posts. You can find an extensive list with no names in this parliamentary reply (which funnily forgets to include the head of the ARRC in its table) or this older one (many positions outdated or removed) or check http://www.gulabin.com (his is very messy–you have to find them in each of his pdfs.)

What is the point of all of this? Well, it mostly shows that the majority of historical NATO commands positions given to UK officers since NATO’s formation or since the Cold War are still held by UK officers today. It is definitely or mostly certain the UK will retain the DSACEUR, MARCOM Chief and ARRC positions, unless it retreats from the NATO and global role. It most likely will retain the deputy commander’s in STRIKFORNATO, despite the uncertainty over the size of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. Moving down the line again, the UK could move up to ACT’s deputy commander’s position, given that it held that position, as well as previously deputy commander, SACLANT or it could just “hold the line” in the Chief of Staff.

The information above clearly shows the UK only dominates MARCOM and not the two other major NATO services commands. As noted, it once held the number 2 position in AAFCE, lost it around post-Cold War, and now holds it but on a rotational basis with Germany. That could be said to be strange, given the average state of the German Air Force or Luftwaffe (then again, choice of who leads what is also possibly independent of the state of their own armed forces). It is really sad that they UK doesn’t hold the deputy commander’s position in LANDCOM anymore, or even on of the senior leader holders. It could do so, but then this would suck away a 3-star British Army or Royal Marine officer, and lead to calls of “more officers than equipment” (more about this in a later post).

The UK never dominated JFC Naples or its predecessor so that’s ok. It sadly “vacated” the role of deputy commander in JFC Brunssum. I guess that doesn’t matter, since the UK now hold’s the role of deputy commander, Resolute Support (RS) Mission, taking over from the Italians–JFC Brunssum’s core operation is to oversee RS. JFC Naples’ on the other hand is rather long -winded; I don’t think the UK would make much of an impact holding a senior role there. As for the NRDC-ITA, the UK may hold this position until some other European nation sends its equivalent general to take over. For the wider UK appointments to different parts of NATO as mentioned in this parliamentary reply, well the UK will probably still keep those positions.

This is all 1) not considering how NATO appointments are made and 2) what impact these senior British officers can made on these commands. 1) is crucial and I’ve not bothered to go into deep research–I believe the detailed explanation would most probably negate most of what I wrote above. This goes back to ACM Peach’s appoint as NATO CMC. This appointment was and has been through a vote and the UK played it well to win it. If the other positions mentioned above are made by voting, then the UK should strategise to win core NATO post. This could be contrasted with 2) as well, remember these work for NATO, although they originate from the British Armed Forces. Certainly really top figures like DSACEUR, the head of MARCOM and ARRC shape their commands towards a bring a dose of British military ideas to them. Nevertheless, NATO commands are NATO, that is, multinational. Being British matters yes, but being NATO-ish and achieving the objectives of each NATO command and the organisation as a whole. Coming back to the role of CMC, NATO states it as “ the principal military advisor to the Secretary General and the conduit through which consensus-based advice from NATO’s 29 Chiefs of Defence is brought forward to the political decision-making bodies of NATO.“. No where does it suggest the officer uses his country’s origin to shape the Secretary General towards his/her country’s defence policies. Certainly, I haven’t seen General Petr Pavel shaping the Secretary General towards Czech Republic ideas or beliefs. So inasmuch Deborah Haynes and other defence journalists were worrying their hairs of over ACM Peach’s possible loss, NATO would still be NATO and there still would be a size of amount of British officers in NATO and dear old England, oops, the UK.

So here’s my little background of British senior officers in NATO commands, how they remain or change due to historical positions.

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