The new NATO Strategic Direction South Hub (NSD-S Hub), under the roof and lead of the southern Italy-based Allied Joint Force Command (JFC) Naples, is gearing up for its grand opening on 5 September. Focussing on southern regions including the Middle East, North Africa and Sahel, sub-Saharan Africa and adjacent areas, waters and airspace, the NSD-S Hub will concern itself with issues such as destabilisation, potential terrorism, radicalisation, migration, environmental pollution and natural disasters.
Initially, about 100 military and civilian personnel, mainly from JFC Naples and supplemented by voluntary national contributions, will man the Hub. The NSD-S Hub is expected to achieve final capability at the end of the calendar year.
When launching the project last February, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed that “the Hub is not going to command big military operations,” but rather was designed “for collecting information, for improving situational awareness and for coordinating efforts and activities.”
Mel McNulty, the JFC Naples political advisor, said deconfliction and coordination are two of the main tools the hub will bring to allies and partners to enhance comprehensive understanding, situational awareness, decision making and information sharing for the south.
“There are a lot of actors engaged in the southern region, but who is doing the coordination?” McNulty asked. “There is a proliferation of multilateral and bilateral engagement in the region, but little evidence of deconfliction.”
McNulty stressed that a key to the Hub’s success will be the engagement of allies and partners and their willingness to share good analysis. “If we want to succeed, we have to share, and to share means to give and to receive,” agrees French Air Force Colonel Eric Asselin, deputy director and acting director of the NSD-S Hub, who stresses the importance of taking time to build trust, confidence and credibility with the Hub’s stakeholders.
“We have something like a blank page to build this Hub,” he says. “There are a lot of expectations at the political level and the strategic level, so we will be, for sure, in the spotlight,” he remarks, well aware that “we only have one opportunity to make a first good impression.”
Partnering with non-military organisations is crucial because it enables a more holistic understanding of a certain area or problem. Although NATO entities can use products the Hub develops to make choices, Asselin envisions it will be just as beneficial for other organisations. And although progress has been steady in preparing the NSD-S Hub for its opening, Asselin cautions that there’s still work to be done as links are developed, especially with non-military actors, such as non-governmental organisations, academic and other international organisations.
But he’s confident the Hub will be able to make outputs quickly. “We are building the form, and we are thinking about the content, but next month, we’ll be in the content,” he says.