For the first time in 25 years, NATO’s highest military body will be chaired by a Briton. At the end of a long election campaign, Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach was elected on 16 September by the Alliance’s Chiefs of Staff to replace Czech General Petr Pavel as Chairman of the Military Committee. So that means two of the five key military positions in NATO will be occupied by British officers given that Army General James Everard was appointed Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR) last March.
Peach will officially take up his post in June 2018 and will hold office until at least 2021. He will take over the reins of the Military Committee “at a time when the Alliance must modernise to face new and ever adapting threats. Having spent the last year in the hugely rewarding position of the UK Chief of Defence Staff, I know I am ready to take on this challenge,” he stated in a NATO press release. Eighteen officers have chaired the Military Committee since 1963, five Germans, three British, two Canadians, two Italians, two Norwegians, one Czech, one Danish, one Dutch and one Belgian … but never a French one.
And challenges there will be. As senior military advisor to the Secretary General, Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, and the North Atlantic Council, the highest civilian body in NATO, Peach will have to juggle with the budget, terrorism and migration flows, while composing with Russia’s moves in eastern Europe.
Through the Military Committee, he will also be responsible for providing guidance to the two strategic commands, namely Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation, led by French Air Force General Denis Mercier. “This appointment underlines our leadership role in NATO and I know Sir Stuart will relish these new challenges,” said Britain’s Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon.
The election of Peach will also cut short the latest rumours of a change of position by the United Kingdom vis-à-vis the Alliance. Despite Brexit due for March 2019, London reaffirmed in a document published on 12 September its intention to participate “unconditionally” in maintaining peace in Europe. Remarks reiterated on the occasion of the appointment of General Peach, which, according to British Prime Minister Theresa May, points to “the importance of the Alliance to the United Kingdom.”
There is probably no need to recall that Britain, to name only its military involvement in Europe, commands an EFP (Enhanced Forward Presence) battalion in Estonia and deploys 150 military personnel in Poland.