Thursday Inbox: Is it appropriate to send a retired general to be ambassador to USNATO?

From our inbox, a question about the recent nomination to NATO:

I don’t know Doug Lute.  And I have no reason to doubt that he is a smart and very accomplished person, who has earned the President’s trust.  However, that’s not the issue.  What *is* an issue is the fact that Lute is a military man.  And I think there need to be some probing questions asked asked about the appropriateness of sending a retired general to be ambassador USNATO.

The U.S. Ambassador to NATO is actually a shorthand title — s/he is the U.S. Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council (NAC).  The NAC is NATO’s political decision-making body.

The United States has, of course, had veterans in the USUN job before, but never, to the best of my knowledge, a retired career military person.  Indeed, the whole point of the North Atlantic Council is that it is run by civilians.  That’s why it is the top and sovereign body in NATO.

Those responsible for this appointment either don’t know or care about the history of NATO and why the NAC exists.

Sending a career military man to [USUN] USNATO is similar to, although different in degree, naming a Secretary of Defense who is a retired general.  In the United States, we have civilian control of the military.  These kinds of appointments blur that distinction in a dangerous way.

By the way — lest anyone make the argument that, since Lute is retired, we really should just ignore his whole military career and view him as a civilian, that is a laughable argument on two fronts:

(1) The only thing that makes him a candidate for any senior government job is that very military experience; and

(2) The White House even calls him *General* Lute in their announcement of the nomination!  So much for the civilian stuff.

A final note:

There is actually a quasi-counterpart to the North Atlantic Council for military reps at NATO — the NATO Military Committee.

Can one assume that, when the current 3-star who is the U.S. rep on the Military Committee leaves, he will be replaced by some just-retired FSO?  Of course, the answer is no.

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Below via history.state.gov | The Chief of Mission has the title of U.S. Permanent Representative on the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Prior to 1 July 1967 the Representative on the Council of NATO was the Chief of the U.S. Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization nad European Regional Organizations at Paris.

 

Since post was created, only five six of those appointed as ambassador to USNATO were career diplomats from the U.S. Foreign Service. One of those FSOs and the sole female appointee is Victoria Nuland, former State spokesperson and current nominee to be Assistant Secretary for the EUR Bureau. Update: One of our readers wrote to inform us that although Kurt Volker was a “non-career appointment” to the USNATO position he actually was a career FSO for a number of years. We understand that he was not in the Senior Foreign Service when appointed ambassador. Whether by mistake or oversight, both Volker and Nuland are listed by history.state.gov as non-career appointees.  Since Volker was in the FS and Nuland is currently in the FS (just promoted to FE-CM in 2012) we’re listing them both as FSOs in this blog post.

Only one previous appointee is a retired former military official – William Henry Draper Jr. who served during World War II as a major in the infantry, left and became a banker but stayed in the Army Reserves.  He later became a brigadier-general after World War II,  was promoted to major-general, and became the first under secretary of the Army from September 18, 1947 to February 28, 1949.

General Lute graduated from West Point in 1975 and left active duty in 2010.

Lieutenant General David R. Hogg is currently the United States Military Representative to the NATO Military Committee (USMILREP).

Updated to clarify details on Volker and Draper. Thanks to readers who helped!   

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