The commentary on the War in Ukraine is both expansive and inconsistent in quality. A number of high-quality perspectives exist, yet there are just as many armchair experts and agenda-driven zealots, let alone troll accounts, clogging the conversation so that sorting the wheat from the chaff is not a simple task. This article does not aim to offer another take nor to categorise perspectives. Rather, the intent is to point an Australian audience in the direction of a very relevant and highly credentialed commentator whilst providing some context for those less familiar with NATO.
GEN Christopher G Cavoli is dual appointed as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) in charge of NATO’s Allied Command Operations (ACO) and as Commander of the United States European Command (USEUCOM). He recently addressed a Swedish forum where he provided an overview of NATO’s military response and, perhaps of most interest to this audience, his personal observations on the War in Ukraine.
The video of the presentation, GEN Cavoli’s presentation goes until 11 minutes with his observations commencing at approximately 8:20 and being followed by a question-and-answer session, for a total of 20 minutes. Please note that this video is not available via the Defence Protected Environment (DPE)
A transcript is available if you are not able to view the video.
I’d implore readers to prioritise watching said presentation or reading the transcript before continuing – his words are much more valuable and worthy of your time than mine.
Context of GEN Cavoli
In command terms, GEN Cavoli is the direct successor of GEN Dwight Eisenhower, who was appointed as the first SACEUR of NATO in April 1951. The SACEUR is responsible to NATO's Military Committee, the highest military authority in NATO, for the overall direction and conduct of military operations for NATO. His command is exercised from the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) at Casteau, Mons, Belgium. He is responsible for the command of all NATO operations, missions, and activities from peacetime through to crisis and conflict.
In Australian terms, the best analogy is that of Chief of Joint Operations (CJOPS), as far as SACEUR is responsible for command and control of the forces assigned by NATO Allies and Partners, much as CJOPS commands forces assigned from the Services as force providers. Clearly, the scale and span of the command are considerable, with nine subordinate operational commands including component commands and three geographic Joint Force Headquarters (JFC). Per the transcript, NATO forces transferred to SACEUR were up to “140 Allied ships at Sea, 32,000 Allied ground troops on the Eastern Flank, 135 aircraft for NATO Air Operations and all this in addition to the 170,000 troops and hundreds of aircraft already under National command on the Eastern Flank States” during 2022. SACEUR is also responsible for the maintenance of response plans for which he can call on reinforcements of 100,000 personnel at 10 days, 200,000 at 10-30 days, and 500,000 at 30-180 days of notice to move.
As Commander of USEUCOM, GEN Cavoli is also a national commander. USEUCOM consists of over 64,000 permanent personnel, in addition to several thousand more at any given time who rotate through Europe. Beyond the significance of his current appointments, GEN Cavoli has had a long and distinguished career.
GEN Cavoli is a commentator who is watching the War in Ukraine closely. His observations bear consideration for the Australian audience; both for those seeking to better understand the character of that conflict, and for his professional judgement regarding its implications for what militaries will need moving forward. I’d offer that any one observation would be well worth further discussion, but of course, they should be considered as a whole.
Will Hitchen is a serving Australian Army Officer. He is currently posted as an embed to NATO. The views offered here are his own and do not reflect any official positions.