The Accidental Admiral

A Sailor Takes Command at NATO
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Published:October 1, 2014

After he was selected to be NATO’s sixteenth Supreme Allied Commander, The New York Times described Jim Stavridis as a “Renaissance admiral.” A U. S. Naval Academy graduate with a master’s degree and doctorate from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, conversant in both French and Spanish, this author of numerous books and articles impressed the Navy’s leaders and senior Pentagon civilians with his wide range of interests, educational background, keen understanding of strategic doctrine, mastery of long-range planning, and command of international affairs.

Since NATO had previously been led by generals, Stavridis saw his assignment as the first admiral to take command as somewhat “accidental.” As the American and NATO commander in Europe responsible for 120,000 coalition troops serving in fifty-one nations, on three continents and at sea he had come a long way since almost leaving the Navy for law school five years after receiving his commission.

The Accidental Admiral offers an intimate look at the challenges of directing NATO operations in Afghanistan, military intervention in Libya, and preparation for possible war in Syria—as well as worrying about the Balkans, cyber threats, and piracy, all while cutting NATO by a third due to budget reductions by the twenty-eight nations of the alliance. More than just describing the history of the times, Stavridis also shares his insights into the personalities of President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, and Chuck Hagel, Afghan President Hamid Karzai; Generals David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, John Allen, and many more.

Known as an innovator and an early adopter of technology and social media, Stavridis’ ability to think “outside the box” and sail in uncharted waters is unmatched. He shares his insights on leadership, strategic communications, planning, and the convergence of threats that will confront the United States and its allies in the near future. Stavridis is an advocate of the use of “Smart Power,” which he defines as the balance of hard and soft power. He explains that in creating security in the twenty-first century it is critical to build bridges, not walls, and stresses the need to connect international, interagency, and public-private actors to achieve security.


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Product Details
  • Subject: Biography & Memoirs
  • Hardback : 288 pages
  • Illustrations: 32
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (October 1, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1612517048
  • ISBN-13: 9781612517049
  • Product Dimensions: 6 X 9 in
  • Shipping Weight: 21.44 oz
  • "His chapters on ‪leadership, strategic ‎communications, and‪ innovation are also useful words for all military leaders."—Parameters
  • “Coalition warfare, whether based on established alliances such as NATO, or so-called coalitions of the willing like that against the Islamic State (ISIS) group, continue to be the order of the day and appear to be Canada’s preferred method for sending forces off to what we rightly or wrongly call ‘war’ these days. This highly engaging account of one man’s approach to this type of generalship (or more accurately the art of the admiral) is both timely and a very worthwhile read.”—Canadian Naval Review
  • “Stavridis says he wants to show the reader not what happened during his four years, but rather why it happened. He proceeds to take the reader on a tour of challenges: from the toppling of Qadhafi to the civil war in Syria, Israeli security, a resurgent Russia, the Balkans, and finally, of course, Afghanistan. Thus the first few chapters are a whirlwind of individuals, meetings, and events. Among all this, he often pauses within chapters to highlight some of the more important senior military and political officials that make up the NATO alliance. His new memoir is a refreshing dose of honesty, intelligence, and reflection—much needed in today’s Navy and tomorrow’s leaders.”—Naval War College Review
  • “First, Stavridis provides valuable historical perspective of the major conflicts that occurred or were ongoing during his time at the helm of NATO/EUCOM. Second, he shares his views on strategic leadership to include the advantages and pitfalls that come with Twitter, Facebook, and the other tools of a more interconnected world. Fans of Admiral Stavridis’s previous works are surely going to enjoy The Accidental Admiral. For new readers, it can serve as a valuable introduction that will then pull them toward his other works.”—Naval Historical Foundation
  • "Stavridis’ perspective on how he arrived as the first admiral to ever hold the senior position at NATO proves interesting. After taking command in 2009, he recounts in six chapters his most pressing challenges. He does this primarily through a geographical lens with chapters focused on Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, the Balkans, Israel, and Russia. In each chapter he paints a candid picture from a strategic leader’s viewpoint on how he approached the problems he encountered in each region. After the historical tour of challenges, he shifts to a discussion of leadership in a broader sense. There are five chapters on various aspects of leadership. Most of these leadership tents are valid, not just at the four-star military level, but to all leaders.”—Military Review
  • "Adm. Stavridis has been variously called a 'renaissance admiral,' 'a military intellectual,' 'the best of the new breed of military officers.' All appropriately laudatory, but I suspect he’d settle for something simpler—the son of a man who set a high standard by serving as a (naval) officer for more than 30 years, perhaps; a devoted husband and a proud father, who was chosen to speak to his daughter’s NROTC graduating class; an accidental admiral, a sailor and a patriot, whose success and service to his country was no accident at all."—The Washington Times
  • “Stavridis writes with a career’s worth of confidence in never being too concerned with rocking the boat. He continues to consider himself a ‘disruptive innovator,’ based on a career advanced with ‘house money’ and never expecting advancement. In The Accidental Admiral, he appeals to modern militaries to consign their traditional introspective and repetitive practices and instead develop akin to the modern technological world, which embraces risk and innovates rapidly.”—Australian Defence Force Journal

  • "The Accidental Admiral is valuable, and perhaps even vital, for those seeking to understand the history and context of major foreign policy decisions during the Obama administration. On balance, Stavridis agreed with President Obama’s decisions more often than he disagreed with them. But some of those disagreements were on hot-button issues. Most notably, the Admiral endorses a longer and firmer commitment to Afghanistan and associates himself with Senator McCain’s interventionist position on Syria. Stavridis, however, does this without any of the buck-passing or back-biting that have featured prominently in many other recent foreign policy critiques. Accidental Admiral has many other strengths. The book offers rich lessons in the challenges of running too many headquarters, regularly interacting with dozens of foreign heads of state and senior defense officials, and overseeing major military operations in multiple hotspots. The book’s 10th chapter on leadership should be mandatory reading for all military officers, and not just in the United States. 'Spend at least one-fourth of your disposable time on personnel matters, and 'Make mentorship a priority,' Stavridis intones. The Admiral clearly understands the human factor in everything as well as anyone – not least in the context of leadership."—War on the
  • “Adm. Stavridis, through his recollection of his friendship with Amb. Rogozin and others, demonstrates that he understands well the importance of partnerships and friendships in navigating global crises as part of the “smart power” agenda that he personally promotes. U.S. foreign policy—toward Russia and in general—would benefit if it remembered that isolating adversaries may feel moral, but resolving crises requires a foundation of personal engagement. The White House could learn a lot from Adm. Stavridis.”—The Diplomatic Courier
  • The Accidental Admiral covers only a short period of time but it is packed full of absorbing and fascinating stuff. His book is one of the best autobiographies of a senior officer to appear for many a year. Stavridis, who is a prolific reader of everything from social media to newspaper editorials in three languages, also writes extremely well and without a plethora of acronyms. After so many dry and dull military stories, the Stavridis story is like a cleansing gale of salt air. His autobiography is breathtaking and unputdownable.”—Warships International Fleet Review
  • "Much of the strength of the book lies in its style and structure. The text is admirably succinct but retains warmth and candour throughout, which make for an engaging read. A good balance is struck between specific events during the author’s command and general issues of concern to today’s senior officer… In this concise and readable memoir, Admiral Stavridis has provided an insightful overview of NATO operations during his eventful command. More importantly, perhaps, he has made a well-informed contribution to the debate about the future of the Alliance."—The Naval Review
  • “Admiral Jim Stavridis is one of the most forward-thinking military officers and enlightened leaders of his generation. Afghanistan, Libya, the Balkans, Syria, piracy and cyber threats were just a few of the enormous challenges he superbly handled as Supreme Allied Commander at NATO. The Accidental Admiral gives readers a window into what it is like to wrestle with the toughest 21st century problems of strategy and diplomacy.”—Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Defense, 2008-11; author of Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War
  • “Admiral James Stavridis may be an ‘accidental admiral’ but he is no ordinary commander. He is equal parts thinker and doer, asking hard questions and continually challenging himself and the men and women under his command. His tour of duty as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe encompassed some of the most trying and important issues of our time in Europe and the Middle East. A rollicking and fun read.”—Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of The New America Foundation; Director, Policy Planning Staff, U.S. Department of State, 2009-11
  • "Admiral James Stavridis is a military intellectual who has written an engaging, deeply thoughtful book about leadership in the crucible of great events. In particular, his arguments about the continued relevance of NATO are prescient given the crisis in Ukraine. His defense of Generals Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus, and John Allen is both poignant and necessary. This book should be required reading for young officers.”—Robert D. Kaplan, best-selling author of Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History and The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate
  • “Jim Stavridis is a unique breed of leader—at once both a seasoned practitioner, and a thoughtful, charismatic intellectual. He embodies the very definition of a ‘renaissance man.’ A generation of our leaders benefited from working for and with Jim—myself included. Readers of The Accidental Admiral will benefit from the insights of a proven leader's reflections of a pivotal time in history.”—Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, USA (Ret.), Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan, 2009-10; co-founder and partner of the McChrystal Group
  • “There was nothing accidental about Jim Stavridis becoming an Admiral or Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. He is one of the best of the new breed of military officers—equally proficient at waging war and waging peace, equally learned in military history and cultural history. Whether dealing with Afghanistan, Russia or the Middle East, Jim has always demonstrated an ability to find new ways to look at and try to resolve age-old problems. In The Accidental Admiral, he brilliantly shares hard won lessons learned on the application of ‘smart power’ in the modern world and also offers readers critical insights into leadership, innovation, planning and communication. After I got to know Jim and to appreciate the range of his intellect and interests, I regularly would ask, ‘What are you reading Admiral?’ The books he recommended were always great reads from which I learned a lot. The same will be true for anyone who reads The Accidental Admiral.—Joseph I. Lieberman, Senior Counsel, Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman; United States Senator, Retired

Adm. James Stavridis, USN (Ret.) is a 1976 distinguished graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who spent over 35 years on active service in the Navy. He commanded destroyers and a carrier strike group in combat and served for seven years as a four-star admiral, including nearly four years as the first Navy officer chosen as Supreme Allied Commander for Global Operations at NATO. After retiring from the Navy he was named the dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 2013. In addition, he currently serves as the U.S. Naval Institute's Chair of the Board of Directors. He has written articles on global security issues for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Atlantic Magazine, Naval War College Review, and Proceedings and is the author or co-author of several books, including Command at Sea 6th Ed. and Destroyer Captain.

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3 Reviews
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5.00 Stars
Master Leader and Commander
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
By: Francis G. Hoffman
An engaging book from a proven, creative and independent leader. Admiral Stavridis may have risen to the most senior position at NATO by a fluke; but his success is no accident, as he was the most intellectual naval officer of his generation. He earned his stars though persistent self-education, formal schooling to include a PhD from the Fletcher School (which he now heads), and by dint of professional success and development in a series of tough jobs including command at U.S. Southern Command and Supreme Allied Command, Europe. "The Accidental Admiral" is chock-full of insights, a skipper now looking back at the wake of his career. In succinct chapters, he captures the various challenges he faced in the crucible of command. His unique perspective and ability to think long-term and strategically, and transcend various cultures and communities with empathy is evident in almost every chapter. The chapters on strategic planning, leadership, innovation, strategic communications could be required reading for any graduate school in international affairs or business administration. Enthusiastically recommended for students of U.S. security challenges, and those interested in the leadership development of the next generation of national security professionals.
Highly Recommended.
Monday, October 27, 2014
By: Capt. Peter Swartz, USN (Ret.)
Highly recommended. Don’t push it aside. I read it on the flight back from Europe. Chapter list will give you an idea of what he covers: -Individual chapters on each NATO operation: Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, The Balkans. -Individual chapters on dealing with Russia and with Israel. -(Four-star) Leadership Challenges and Pitfalls: “McChrystal, Petraeus, Allen . . . and me.” -Chapters dealing with lessons learned and advice for the future, on How leaders make things happen; Strategic communication; Strategic Planning & Strategy; Innovation; NATO; “Convergence” (“What keeps me awake at night”). You may not be interested in all of it, but there’s at least one chapter that you will find important and very useful. And it’s all an easy read. Again, highly recommended.
In Ike's mold—a future Secretary of Defense if we are lucky...
Friday, December 12, 2014
By: Robert David Steele
This is three books in one, and none of them do justice to the author, who is easily considered by my naval officer colleagues to be a person of most extraordinary intellect and absolute integrity -- he is considered a "five star" flag in every possible respect, and there are many of us whom he has mentored or who run with those he has mentored, who hope he will one day be Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State or both. I discussed this book with CAPT Scott Philpott, USN (Ret), among those selected by the author as an innovator, and this point cannot be overstated: to the extent the Services have toxic leadership that must be retired, those mentored by Admiral Stavridis and a few other leaders (General Tony Zinni, for example) are the vanguard for a new generation of leaders who are agile, clear, daring, frugal, and above all, able to bring to bear intelligence with integrity. As I go through the book a second time, I see time and again evidence that this author was an original thinker who prospered in the face of massive bureaucratic resistance to change. I am reminded of how Admiral Crowe refused Admiral Rickover's "invitation" to join the nuclear submarine force, risking career termination only to go on to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then Ambassador to the United Kingdom. There is absolutely no question in my mind but that this author is destined to return to government at the Cabinet level. The first book, chapters 1-8, is a politically nuanced account of an extraordinary career. The author is one of two plebes from his Naval Academy class to make four star rank, the other being Marine Corps General John Allen. While there are portions of this first book that I might take issue with, I note with interest that the author uses quote marks as a form of loyal dissent, and a careful patient reading of this first third of the volume will yield some gold nuggets. The second book, chapters 9-16, is where most of the lessons learned are to be found. This is a handbook for innovative leadership, and richly suited as a guide for mid-career officers and leaders in any domain, military or civilian. The word that jumps out at me, although it does not appear in the book, is "hybrid." This may be the only senior officer that actually gets what I have been saying for 25 years, to wit, we not only need to get serious about all the non-state threats and all threats all the time (what he calls convergences, when many small threats come together to create a firestorm larger than any state can handle), but we must come together across all boundaries. He stresses multinational, inter-agency, and public-private alliances. The third book is a combination of appendices, a world-class annotated bibliography that in divided between non-fiction and fiction, with the fictional works being of great historical and cultural importance, and a world-class index. Although "intelligence" is not properly presented in the index, there are a number of important references to intelligence successes and failures throughout the book, and it is therefore one that intelligence professionals should study. Published by the Naval Institute Press, and including 24 pages of high-quality photographs, this is easily a five-star book, but one that does not quite do justice to the five-star admiral who uniquely blends military sagacity with strategic, innovative, diplomatic, cultural, and legal understanding. This book is a pre-quel -- it avoids a direct confrontation with the powers that be, and hints at the revolutionary so ably concealing his potential in a diplomatic guise.


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