Monday, 24 May 2010

Balkan Dreams

Over a decade ago, the brilliant writer Robert Kaplan published an award-winning study of the long history of turmoil, racial and religious hatred, conquest, and war in the Balkans. His evocative title was perfect for his themes of historical enmity and bitterness: Balkan Ghosts.
As I fly back from a three day visit of the region, I certainly had ample opportunity to see firsthand all that he describes; yet today, there seems to me to be real hope in the region for cooperation and security alignment, perhaps for the first time in the more than two millenniums of recorded history. I've now visited the Balkans several times in both my NATO and U.S. European Command (EUCOM) hats. My first stop was Kosovo, where we have 15,000 NATO troops leading a peace support operation.

Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis walks with Brig. Gen. Drazen Scuri, Col. Nikola Zupanic, and Maj. Gen Frank Kisner after arriving at Zemunik Air Base.
Things there continue to go well, and we are in the process of reducing the forces on the ground to 10,000 by January 2010. My first stop was Kosovo, where we have 15,000 NATO troops leading a peace support operation. Things there continue to go quite well, and we are in the process of reducing the forces on the ground to 10,000 by January 2010. We'll look for opportunities as next year unfolds to reduce even further.

Last week, I went to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I presided over the conclusion of a 39-nation, EUCOM-sponsored communications exercise called Combined Endeavor 2009. Bosnia and Herzegovina was the host for this remarkable display of connectivity and cooperation. The tri-partite Presidents, representing the three key ethnic groups in the country, came together to celebrate the event making it a success on many levels.

Admiral James Stavridis and Montenegro’s Speaker of the Parliament Ranko Krivokapic share experiences prior to official bi-lateral talks dealing with security and stability in the region.
A couple of days ago, I visited Croatia, where a special operation forces exercise with 10 nations and more than a thousand soldiers was in full swing. I rode out to sea in a U.S. Army helicopter with a Croatian Vertical Insertion Team, and then flew up north to the exercise control center. There I saw representatives from each nation doing practice hostage rescue, boarding at sea, direct action, intelligence gathering – all in a seamless spirit of international military partnering.
And finally, I visited Montenegro, a small and newly independent country on the Adriatic Sea. Above the beautiful and historic Bay of Korta, I joined the leadership of five Adriatic Charter nations discussing mutual support in the event of natural disasters. The mood of the conference was upbeat, and I departed very optimistic about the future.
Old ghosts die hard – especially in the Balkans. But, if a ghost is something that haunts our past, I am starting to believe not in Balkan ghosts, but rather in Balkan dreams – dreams of a region that truly works together in peaceful ways and is moving into a far brighter future.

Adm. James Stavridis
SACEUR and Commander EUCOM
ADM James Stavridis remarks at US-Adriatic Charter (A5) Chief of Defense Conference

"Stronger Together:” Civil-Military Relations and Disaster Preparedness

Good morning.

Minister Vucinic, Vice Admiral Samardzic, Chiefs of Defense, fellow heads of delegation, delegates, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I'm honored to join you in celebrating the beginning of an important conference–the 11th in a series of partnership building conferences over the last six years for the Adriatic Charter.

I am confident information exchanged here will yield lasting results beneficial to our trans-Atlantic partnership and to the collective security of our nations—and, especially those in the Adriatic region.

I would also like to sincerely thank our gracious Montenegrin hosts and the citizens of Budva for their superb hospitality.

As one of the oldest cities on the Adriatic coast, Budva has a rich history and culture spanning more than two and a half millennia.

And today, that national history and Montenegrin culture is alive in your buildings, your art treasures and your people.

It was here, just over 30 years ago, on April 15th, 1979, when Budva was the epicenter of a devastating earthquake which seriously damaged the municipality and left many people dead or without shelter and essential services.

Thankfully, after that dreadful earthquake much of Budva's old town was painstakingly rebuilt to its former glory and is now the jewel of an independent Montenegro.

Just thirty short years after disaster … Budva thrives.

The fact this symposium is held in Budva is proof that like-minded people, who share a spirit of renewed cooperation, can relegate the challenges of the past to history books… and step forward to write new history; new history based on common interest, mutual understanding, and cooperative security…. new history built on the strength of collective endeavor… history that delivers better capability in time of need.

Budva was rebuilt by the hard work of its citizens, but they were not alone. Together, they became stronger with assistance from the former Government of Yugoslavia and the international community; together, they became stronger with military airlift from the United States. From this tragic event, we learned when we work together, we are stronger together.

Conferences like this are fertile ground into which we plant the seeds of strong relationships; relationships that bear the fruits of shared ideas and shared experiences; ideas and experiences that bring us closer together … and make us "STRONGER together.”

This Charter has seen results of strength through common purpose, and I commend the members for their enduring commitment to enhance political, defense, and economic cooperation with each other and their neighbors.

The progress made since the Charter's beginning is noteworthy and meaningful. The results speak for themselves – and future results will reflect your hard work and commitment to strengthening shared security.

But this cooperative effort isn't limited to military integration and interoperability; rather, this endeavor is about reaching out to others with reassurance that working together yields better results.

If we learned anything from the 1979 earthquake, it is the need to embrace partners from across government, from throughout the international community, and even from the private sector … because in the face of disaster, our response must be appropriate and swift … and no single entity can handle the load alone. Each organization has core capabilities, true, but without partners, for want of ability, those capabilities may not be brought to bear.

Although very capable and generally agile, militaries seldom respond to disasters by themselves. Government agencies at all levels, non-government organizations, and international organizations will be called to ease human suffering, maintain security, and help rebuild.

Because responders need to react with speed and agility—discovery learning is poor practice in emergency responses. It is simply too late to establish critical linkages and begin planning after the disaster strikes. Great ideas birthed too late are of little value.

Therefore, we need to seize the great ideas of today, expand linkages, do the weighty thinking, plan, and exercise together today, so we can better work together for tomorrow.

Just last week, we concluded a multi-national communications exercise, Combined Endeavor, and a multi-national medical exercise. MEDCEUR. I was encouraged to see all Adriatic Charter nations actively involved in planning and executing these exercises. It is also noteworthy that Combined Endeavor was the first ever major exercise led by a Partnership for Peace nation–and the newest member of this Charter–Bosnia and Herzegovina.

MEDCEUR focused on increasing host-nation civilian and military engagement and capacity, or what I like to call "International Military and Interagency Partnering.” Exercise participants, including members from the local Red Cross, Civil Protection agencies, municipalities and development organizations, provided medical and emergency training as well as interoperability testing.

Much like this conference, the exercises improved interaction between military, civil, international and local agencies…all of whom have a role in disaster preparedness and response.

The results reaffirmed cooperative efforts are worth pursuing because many of today's challenges require a whole of government solution. …..Investment now will pay dividends later.

I thank you all for attending the conference, and I look forward to the discussions and results of the conference. This is important work and we need to pursue it with vigor.
Let's not wait for Mother Nature to prod us in the right direction—but work together today to be better prepared to respond– because, today, we are "STRONGER together।”

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