Scaparrotti succeeds Breedlove as EUCOM commander
STUTTGART, Germany — Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti took the helm Tuesday at U.S. European Command, where he will lead more than 60,000 on a continent where the military mission has transformed during the past three years into a frontline bulwark against a resurgent Russia.
“We must demonstrate to potential foes that if they start a war, we have the capabilities and capacity to ensure they regret it,” said Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who presided over the ceremony at EUCOM headquarters. “Because for a force to deter a conflict, it must show it can dominate a conflict.”
Carter, who credited retiring Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove for leading EUCOM out of a post-Cold War posture that viewed Russia as a partner, called Scaparrotti the right man to lead a command that has taken on added importance in the wake of turmoil along NATO’s eastern and southern flanks.
“‘Scap’ has a proven track record of performance under pressure in environments of significant complexity and uncertainty,” said Carter, who also chastised Russia for its “nuclear saber rattling” during the past year.
Such talk “raises troubling questions about Russia’s leaders’ commitment to strategic stability, their respect for norms against the use of nuclear weapons, and whether they respect the profound caution that nuclear-age leaders showed with regard to brandishing nuclear weapons,” Carter said.
Scaparrotti, who comes to Europe after leading U.S. forces in Korea, has led large numbers of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition to heading EUCOM, Scaparrotti also will serve as NATO supreme allied commander, the top military officer in an alliance that has sought to transform itself in the wake of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
“We face a resurgent Russia and its aggressive behavior that challenges international norms,” Scaparrotti said, adding that forces must be “ready to fight should deterrence fail.”
In brief remarks, typical for an incoming commander, Scaparrotti said he intends to carry forward Breedlove’s efforts.
Carter also said NATO, which has expanded its presence in eastern Europe and beefed up its crisis response forces is now better positioned to contend with new threats.
NATO also is examining the possibility of establishing a rotational presence of four battalions in the Baltics, further reinforcing its presence.
Carter told reporters en route to Stuttgart Monday that NATO decisions on an expanded presence in eastern Europe could come in June and would be on top of the plan by the U.S. Army to place a rotational heavy brigade in Europe next year on full time basis.
“The NATO force Gen. Breedlove leaves behind is stronger than the one he inherited,” Carter said.
The two generals are scheduled to attend a change of command ceremony at NATO’s military headquarters in Mons, Belgium, on Wednesday.
For Breedlove, a nearly 40-year military career will come to an end in the weeks ahead when he formally retires from the Air Force. Much of the former fighter pilot’s career has been spent in Europe, where he served multiple tours as a Cold War warrior, and finally as the head of all U.S. and NATO forces. During his tenure, he developed a reputation for blunt, plain talk about what he saw as a “revanchist Russia” aiming to upend the post-Cold War order.
“My career started here in a Cold War trying to keep the peace. I think my career is now ending here trying to prevent a Cold War and continue to keep the peace,” Breedlove said.
Breedlove said EUCOM was in good hands with Scaparrotti, whom he called an “intelligent, deliberate and personal,” leader, also experienced in leading large coalitions.
“He is a soldier’s general,” Breedlove said.