On the 5 September 2017, NATO's new southern ‘information hub’ was opened at the Allied Joint Forces Command near Naples, Italy. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had announced in February—in response to calls by both US President Donald Trump and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for the alliance to play a greater role in combatting terrorism—plans for the southern hub to be created by 2018.
The information hub, to be known as NATO Strategic Direction South Hub (with its own website), will focus on a variety of current and potential issues to include destabilization, potential terrorism, radicalization, migration and environmental concerns. The new centre will also coordinate and work alongside agencies outside of the NATO and national military structures as they concentrate on southern regions to include the Middle East, North Africa and Sahel, sub-Saharan Africa and adjacent areas, waters and airspace.
“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.
Mass migration of refugees from Africa and the Middle East into Europe in the past two years — and an increased security threat — drove the decision to create the centre, according to Howard, which will have a staff of 80 personnel. According to French Lt. Col. Erik Asseun, who will help oversee the centre, rather than gather intelligence the hub will attempt to make sense of data that groups in other countries collect, including civilian and academic entities.
NATO’s Southern flank poses a set of unique challenges to the alliance, with complex and diverse threats from both state and non-state actors, as discussed in this 2016 report by Carnegie Europe. Libya is one of the key areas of instability on NATO’s southern flank. Since NATO’s 2011 military intervention in Libya under UN Security Council Resolution 1973, the country has disintegrated into a virtual failed state with a mix of militias, a weak government and groups such as the Islamic State competing for territory. While NATO has offered to help Libya build effective security and defence institutions, the alliance has been unwilling to send ground troops to help restore order.
Margherita Bianchi, Guillaume Lasconjarias and Alessandro Marrone, Projecting Stability in NATO’s Southern Neighbourhood, NDC Conference Report, NATO Defense College No. 03/17 – July 2017