NATO won't be spared Defense budget ax, commander says

Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week promised to cut the Department of Defense budget. Monday, NATO Commander James Stavridis promised to do the same.

Dani Pozo/AFP/Newscom
Spain's Defense Minister Carme Chacon speaks with US Adm. James Stavridis (l.), supreme allied commander of NATO, during their meeting at the Ministry of Defense in Madrid on Feb. 23. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has promised to make defense cuts at the Pentagon, while Stavridis has promised to make cuts at NATO.

As Defense Secretary Robert Gates begins another push for Pentagon cuts, NATO is preparing to follow suit.

Adm. James Stavridis, the supreme allied commander of NATO, said Monday he will look to make "significant" cuts of both flag officers – generals and admirals – as well as staff for the US and NATO allies.

The comment follows a speech by Mr. Gates at the Eisenhower library in Abilene, Kan., May 8, in which the Defense secretary promised significant belt-tightening at the Pentagon – one of the dominant themes of his tenure. In the speech, Gates mentioned the Pentagon's European operations, noting that the US military has cut its forces in Europe by about 40 percent since the 1990s – yet the reduction in generals and admirals has been about half that.

Stavridis took up that point at a breakfast for defense writers in Washington Monday: “There is room to reduce overhead both in terms of flag and general officers and in terms of staff size, both on the US side and on the NATO side.”

For years, Brussels-based NATO has been considered top heavy: too many top brass for too few troops. But with many European countries struggling financially – and with federal deficits putting pressures on the Pentagon’s own budget – scrutiny of NATO spending is increasing. This year’s baseline Pentagon budget is $708 billion, with 40 percent of that figure just to maintain department's bureaucracy.

One example of what Stavridis could do: put more European commands – such as US Army Europe, currently headed by a four-star general – under less-senior officers. That would allow for smaller staff.

The planned cuts will be more symbolic than substantive, perhaps. But they represent part of Gates’s attempt to build a larger reform legacy, experts say.

Gates will have to fight. “The services have been in the mindset of they don’t like to give [senior billets] away,” said Joseph Wood, a senior resident fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and a former Air Force officer.

But Mr. Wood says the time could be right if the uniformed leadership at the Pentagon gets behind the plan. “This is an area that could use reform,” he says.


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