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NATO installs new leader at Virginia command

Friday - 9/28/2012, 3:31pm  ET

By BROCK VERGAKIS
Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. - The former commander of the French Air Force took over NATO's only command in North America on Friday, where he'll focus heavily on shaping the 28-nation alliance's future in a time of shrinking defense budgets.

Air Force Gen. Jean-Paul Palomeros replaced fellow Frenchman Gen. Stephane Abrial as the commander of Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk. Among other things, the command develops military concepts and doctrines, determines what capabilities the alliance will need in the future and educates and trains NATO staff in the U.S. and Europe. Much of Palomeros' efforts will be focused on what NATO calls "Smart Defense," where member nations share military resources and forgo the purchase of others.

"I do believe that smart defense is the way forward to make sure we can acquire the necessary military capabilities in the future despite a period of economic austerity. Smart defense is about a smarter use of resources," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said following Friday's command change ceremony.

Twenty of NATO's 28 member countries cut their defense budgets between 2008 and 2011. The Allied Command Transformation staff in Norfolk itself is about 100 people fewer than it was when Abrial took over in 2009. Abrial spent much of the past year traveling to Europe to get member nations on board with the new defense spending strategy, acting as Rasmussen's special envoy on the issue.

In his new job, Palomeros said he will focus on creating partnerships and military capabilities with an eye on affordability.

"We must look into the future," Palomeros told reporters. "The life and deaths of soldiers and sailors could depend on our job today in ACT."

Palomeros is now the second non-American officer to head a major command in North America.

Abrial's appointment followed France's formal return to NATO. In 1966, French President Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of the NATO command and evicted all allied troops and bases to assert its sovereignty over its own territory.

"The fact that I am being replaced by another European commander - also French - does not generate headlines. But this apparent lack of surprise is real news in itself. It is proof of the staying power of Europe's vital interest in a reinforced NATO," Abrial said. "It also highlights the fact that my country's reintegration into NATO's command structure represents France's long- term commitment to an increased engagement in the alliance as well as in a common European defense."

NATO's Allied Command Operations in Belgium oversees all military operations. The Allied Transformation Command in the United States conducts training, and develops and improves military capabilities for the alliance.

NATO's other strategic command _ Allied Command Operations, which oversees all military operations, including the war in Afghanistan _ is based in Mons, Belgium. It is headed by U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis, who was scheduled to leave this summer but has been asked to extend his tour until at least the end of 2012

Abrial plans to retire from the military this fall.

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Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)