NATO’s new southern hub seeks to counter threats early

Adm. Michelle Howard and NATO Assistant Secretary-General Alejandro Alvargonzalez after cutting the ribbon on Tuesday, Sept.5, 2017, for NATO's new southern hub at the Allied Joint Forces Command near Naples, Italy.


By SCOTT WYLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 6, 2017

Note: This article has been corrected.

NAPLES, Italy — NATO will work to thwart threats to its southern borders with a new information hub that will collect data from Mideast and African countries where political unrest and economic strife can breed terrorism, drug smuggling and human trafficking.

“The hub provides a unique chance to join a community of organizations pursuing mutual goals of a safe and secure world,” Adm. Michelle Howard, head of Allied Joint Forces Command, said at the hub’s opening ceremony on Tuesday.

Howard said mass migration of refugees from African and Mideast countries into Europe in the past two years — and an increased security threat — drove the decision to create the center.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in February announced plans for the southern hub to be created by 2018. The announcement apparently came in response to calls by both President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for the alliance to play a greater role in combatting terrorism.

Howard said the hub’s plans accelerated after her bosses ordered it to take shape. The hub shouldn’t be viewed as counterterrorism, she said, so much as a means to get a handle on all types of threats.

The hub, which will have a staff of 80 members, is another step in NATO’s long, gradual transition from a Cold War defense bloc to an international security force, said Trevor Taylor, professorial fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “This is NATO signaling it can be relevant and useful.”

More thorough analyses and tracking will help identify terrorists who might mix in with the influx of immigrants, he added.

A more concerted effort to analyze the countries surrounding southern Europe is a good idea because the problems that push people to become terrorists in Iran are different from Syria or Libya, Taylor said. “It’s become a rough neighborhood.”

Since NATO’s 2011 military intervention in Libya, which resulted in the toppling of longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi, the country has disintegrated into a virtual failed state with a mix of militias, a weak government and terrorist groups such as the Islamic State competing for territory. Even though Libya is located on the doorstep of southern Europe, NATO has shied away from sending ground troops to help restore order.

The hub won’t gather intelligence as much as make sense of data that groups in other countries collect, including civilian and academic entities, said French air force Col. Erik Asselin, who will help oversee the center.

The military isn’t accustomed to working with civilian agencies and vice versa, requiring mutual trust to be built, Asselin said.

“It’s going to require a new mindset,” Asselin said.

Twitter: @wylandstripes


Correction: This story has been updated to correct the rank and spelling of French air force Col. Eric Asselin.

Logo for NATO's new southern hub at the Allied Joint Forces Command near Naples, Italy.

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