The admirals take the reins

Secretary of Defence Robert Gates announced his nominations for some of the top command positions in the U.S. military on Wednesday.  His recommendations indicate that he is pleased with the current ‘maritime direction’ embodied in the Maritime Strategy and that the naval approach to strategy and operations will indeed inform the policies of the Obama Administration.  His choices include:

- Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and

- Marine General James E. Cartwright, Vice-Chairman.

Both officers are nominated for a second two-year term.

- Admiral James Stavridis, Commander of European Command.

Admiral Stravidis is currently the Commander of Southern Command.  In his new position, Stravidis will also be the NATO Supreme Allied Commander (Europe), and would have overall responsibility for Afghanistan. If he is confirmed, Stavridis would be the first naval officer to hold this post. Air Force Lieutenant-General Douglas Frazer has been nominated to succeed Stavridis at Southern Command. Frazer is currently the Deputy Commander at Pacific Command, and if confirmed, would be the first Air Force leader there.

- Admiral Robert Willard, Commander of Pacific Command.
Admiral Willard is currently the Commander of the USN's Pacific Fleet.

Mullen, Cartwright and Willard are all status-quo appointments.  Frazer comes from Pacific Command, where the strategic approach towards Asia has been one of pragmatic diplomatic overtures and maritime service-to-service engagement (the recent Impecceble Affair notwithstanding). The appointment of Stravidis indicates that the maritime influence has been recognized and endorsed with a recommendation for the first-ever appointment of a naval officer to a non-traditional post.

The rumoured pending nomination of Robert O. Work as Undersecretary of the Navy, who appeared at last year’s Maritime Security Conference and who is a respected analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, affirms the adoption of ‘new thinking’ by the USN.  Work is hardly a conventional proponent of sea power; his analysis lines up well with the new maritime strategy.  Work has what has been described a “clear links” to Richard Danzig, a former Secretary of the Navy and, more importantly, an advisor to the Obama campaign.  His expected nomination, along with that of Ambassador Ray Mabus as Secretary of the Navy, is an indication that the momentum toward a broader view of naval strategy that includes Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief as formal missions, collegial approaches towards consensus building among allies and coalition partners, and naval diplomacy will all be maintained.