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After reading this BBC article about the new SACEUR, General Philip Breedlove, United States Air Force, it occurred to me that SACEUR has always been an American officer.

Supreme Allied Commander Europe (In order of appointment)

  1. Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. Army

  2. General Matthew Ridgway, U.S. Army

  3. General Alfred Gruenther, US. Army

  4. General Lauris Norstad, U.S. Air Force

  5. General Lyman Lemnitzer, U.S. Army

  6. General Andrew Goodpaster, U.S. Army

  7. General Alexander M. Haig, Jr., U.S. Army

  8. General Bernard W. Rogers, U.S. Army

  9. General John Galvin, U.S. Army

  10. General John Shalikashvili, U.S. Army

  11. General George Joulwan, U.S. Army

  12. General Wesley Clark, U.S. Army

  13. General Joseph Ralston, U.S. Air Force

  14. General James L. Jones, U.S. Marine Corps

  15. General Bantz J. Craddock, U.S. Army

  16. Admiral James G. Stavridis, U.S. Navy

  17. General Philip M.Breedlove, U.S. Air Force

Further research showed that 19 of the Deputy SACEUR have been British with the remainder being German.

Having looked on the website of SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) the reason for SACEUR always being American is explained as:

  1. The United States remains the strongest military power within the Alliance.
  2. Having an American officer in charge of the Alliance's military operations symbolises the continuing commitment of the United States to the defence of Europe and reassures those European nations concerned about potential threats to their security.
  3. Nuclear weapons remain the ultimate weapon of deterrence for the Alliance, and because the bulk of these weapons come from the United States, it is important to have an American officer in command.

Side Note: To balance the leading role played by Americans in the command structure, other key NATO positions have been reserved for non-Americans.

Source: SHAPE

This explains the reasons relatively clearly, but it seems a bit like "We have the most and biggest guns so we're in charge" kinda thing. What I'd like to know is:

When NATO was originally formed was there any resistance to the setting of the precedent that the President of the United States nominated SACEUR, and that SACEUR would always be American?

Where there any political reasons for SACEUR being American beyond the Americans wanting to retain control of a force that heavily comprised of their troops and wanting to retain tactical control of their nuclear weaponry?

Why is it that only British and German officers have served as his Deputy? and who chooses the Deputy SACEUR?

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Interestingly, Jean-Paul Paloméros (French) is commanding the Allied Command Transformation (the organization that succeeded SACLANT, the "Atlantic" equivalent to SACEUR). –  Yannis Rizos Jul 4 '13 at 15:26
    
Having just looked that up, the precedent of having a US Officer in overall command and a British/Non-US Officer as their deputy is still apparent, until 2007/2009. Thanks for pointing that out! XD –  Kobunite Jul 4 '13 at 15:32
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"Where there any political reasons for SACEUR being American beyond... the obvious" - is there any plausible reason to suspect that there were additional reasons aside from 3 listed in the question? –  DVK Jul 5 '13 at 14:14
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Well, was the US reluctant to join unless one of their generals was SACEUR? could it have been related to the debt owned to the US by most of the other NATO members? was it because France wouldn't accept a British general or vice versa? This kind of issue (command of troops) is often complicated with nations not liking their troops being under another's command, it seems to me that someone may have challenged the reasons given when NATO was being formed. –  Kobunite Jul 5 '13 at 14:41
    
France left NATO in 1966. Although there were discussions about cooperating in case of war after that, this would surely remove the possibility of a French Deputy commander. –  Oldcat Jul 29 at 22:58

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Short Answer: Pragmatism.

Long Answer: Looking at the history, there does not appear to have been much resistance to the US "running the show." This is probably due to the fact that the US, UK, and Canada were the initial parties pushing for something like NATO. This desire was intensified by the Berlin Blockade. Not to mention the fact that at the time of formation, and up to today, the US had, and has, the most powerful military. One last preliminary point, there is no formal selection process codified by NATO for selecting SACEUR or DSACEUR.

When NATO was originally formed was there any resistance to the setting of the precedent that the President of the United States nominated SACEUR, and that SACEUR would always be American?

Looking through NATO's explanation of the formation of NATO nothing indicates that there was resistance to the US nominating SACEUR. In the context of post-WWII Europe this makes sense for a couple of reasons.

The first is that President Eisenhower, then General Eisenhower, was extremely popular in Europe after WWII, and had extensive experience organizing a large military in Europe from his time as Supreme Allied Commander.

The second reason is that most of Europe was still completely devastated from the effects of WWII. They simply did not have the resources to contribute on the same scale as the US, and accordingly probably did not think it would have been proper to insist that SACEUR wasn't an American. Indeed, when the Soviet Union and Finland signed their treaty the Norweigian Foreign Minister, Halvard Lange, asked the US and UK what they would do if the Soviet Union attacked Norway.

The third reason seems to be that during the initial years of NATO, from planning to its formation, high ranking military members of the member states were heavily involved in structuring the organization. These people were likely less driven by politics than elected officials, and more driven by the stark reality that if the US was not heavily involved in NATO the organization would fail.

Where there any political reasons for SACEUR being American beyond the Americans wanting to retain control of a force that heavily comprised of their troops and wanting to retain tactical control of their nuclear weaponry?

The reasons you mention definitely played a part, but as mentioned already, the US was contributing the bulk of the military force, had been one of the original parties pushing for NATO, and the other member countries wanted the US to be in charge.

Why is it that only British and German officers have served as his Deputy? and who chooses the Deputy SACEUR?

Again, this seems to be a function of custom. I could not find anything on a formal selection process for DSACEUR, let alone SACEUR, so I'm inclined to believe that the countries agree on a name. It has probably traditionally been someone from the UK, and then later on the occasional German, because those countries were the biggest contributors after the US.

It is worth noting that the Secretary General of NATO has always been a European. So, you have a bit of balancing going on. The US runs the military. The Europeans run the diplomacy.

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