NATO's Defense Planning Committee has confirmed U.S. Admiral James Stavridis as the alliance's new top military commander, making him the first naval officer to hold that post.

Admiral Stavridis will replace U.S. General John Craddock as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

Stavridis has been heading the U.S. Southern Command, overseeing U.S. military operations in South and Central America.

In announcing the appointment in March, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Stavridis "has done a spectacular job" in Latin America, and is probably one of the best senior military officers the United States has.

Traditionally an American officer commands alliance military forces from its headquarters in Mons, Belgium, while a European civilian serves as NATO secretary-general, with offices in Brussels.

Former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen will replace Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO secretary-general in July.