Adm. Stavridis: There will be fewer generals, less bureaucracy at NATO
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is right: The NATO hierarchy is too top-heavy and has too many layers of bureaucracy, says Adm. James Stavridis, supreme allied commander of NATO and head of the U.S. European Command.
Gates’ recentpleas for austerity are justified, Stavridis told reporters at a breakfast meeting this morning in Washington, D.C.
Among a series of fiscal reforms proposed by Gates earlier this month is the reduction of overhead costs across the U.S. military. Overhead makes up 40 percent of the Pentagon’s budget, and many of those expenses are unjustifiable, Gates contends. During the 1990s, the military saw deep cuts in overall force structure. The Army, for instance, was slashed by nearly 40 percent, but flag officers – generals and admirals – were cut only about half that. Management layers – civilian and military – and the number of senior executives grew during that same period.
In a May 8 speech, Gates called for cuts in bloated organizations that are more suited to “20th century headquarters superstructure than 21st century realities.” Two decades after the end of the Cold War led to steep cuts in U.S. forces in Europe, “Our military still has more than 40 generals admirals, or civilian equivalents based on the continent. Yet we scold our allies over the bloat in NATO headquarters,” Gates pointed out.
“Secretary Gates is on the right track,” Stavridis said. “We need to reduce overhead.” Fiscal responsibility is not just warranted at NATO but everywhere in the Defense Department, he said. Starting in 2012, “There will be a strong downward pressure on the defense budget,” he noted. “We’re going to have to make tough choices.”
In preparation for the fiscal year 2012 budget, Gates has directed every organization to consider how many executive or flag-officer billets could be converted to a lower grade, in order to create a flatter, more efficient, and less costly organization.
Stavridis said he expects NATO (including the U.S. component) to reduce the numbers of flag and general officers, as well as the size of staffs. “I am deeply engaged at the moment in an effort [to evaluate possible reductions] on the NATO side,” said Stavridis. “I’m looking to make significant reductions in staff size and flag and general officer size.” Within U.S. NATO staffs, some organizations will be downgraded and streamlined, he says. “I’ll be working on this over the course of the year.”
As NATO looks at trimming its excess bureaucracy, it is still shorthanded in critical jobs such as military trainers in Afghanistan.
Stavridis said there are currently 3,600 trainers there but the need is for 5,200. He recently appealed to every military chief in the NATO alliance for additional support. Training Afghan forces is the linchpin of the U.S. and NATO strategy to turn over security of the country to the Afghan government next year. For that reason, said Stavridis, filling that trainer shortage is NATO’s number-one priority today.