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NATO’s New Strategic Direction South Hub in Naples: Strategy and Balkan Activities

January 8, 2018


By Elisa Sguaitamatti

Over the last few decades, NATO’s Southern flank has been dealing with a host of unique challenges, with a range of complex and diverse threats from both state and non-state actors. As a result, the environment has often called for a policy response framework that reflected the heterogeneity of the landscape. For this reason, NATO decided to establish a new focal point for Southern European countries by opening the Strategic Direction South Hub (NSD-S Hub) at Allied Joint Force Command Headquarters in Lago Patria (Naples) on 5 September 2017, which has been fully operational since December 2017.

Some Background History

The idea of a South Hub follows the strategic adaptation process launched in 2014 but actually dates back to the official decision agreed upon during NATO’s Warsaw Summit in July 2016. This defined specific measures to grow the military capacity of the Alliance in the South. In particular, the need for a NATO-based unit capable of understanding and working on evolving challenges of troubled and equally important areas for the Atlantic Alliance, namely Middle East and Africa.

However, the creation of the Hub was only announced later, on 15 February 2017, by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at one meeting with Ministries of Defence of Member States. After this came a formal directive from the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Curtis M. Scaparrotti who reiterated the desire to “establish a Hub, within the NATO Command Structure to collect, collate, analyse and disseminate information to contribute to NATO’s comprehensive understanding, situational awareness, decision making and information sharing for the South during peacetime, crisis and conflict.”

On the Italian side, the whole project was strongly supported by the Italian Government – first and foremost by Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti – and approved by all NATO Member States in the framework of a wider NATO’s strategy in addressing threats from close and yet unstable contexts. Moreover, the Italian Government often underlined the necessity of such a structure on its Italian territory because of Italy’s several vital interests in Africa and the Middle East mainly due to its geographical proximity. Moreover, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Angelino Alfano officially remarked that “the Hub – strongly desired by Italy and set in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea – will operate on multi-layered dimensions. And it will be the focal point from which the Alliance will project stability in the Southern flank, in particular by means of defensive capacity-building initiatives for partner countries. This is an important step forward towards a dynamic, modern NATO, which is ready to adapt to new challenges and to provide security, alongside the mutual strengthening of the revival of European defence.”

Although it is undeniably true that this is a significant development, the Hub constitutes only a first step towards the definition of a more structured approach as outlined by Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni at a seminar of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly for the Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group, held in Rome on 23 and 24 November 2017.

JFC Naples (JFCNP) Overview

The Emblem Explained

The NATO Strategic Direction South Hub emblem was designed to illustrate its core mission pillars: it is round with the words “NATO Strategic Direction – South Hub” inscribed around the circle from the top to indicate the importance of the Hub within NATO. Inside the circle predominantly sits the map of “the South.” It brings to the forefront the general focus area of NSD-S as it is defined. There are no distinct borders placed because understanding opportunities requires the Hub the work outside of acknowledged boundaries. JFCNP is located at the center because the infrastructure and people of JFCNP are the heart of the Hub.

Top Priorities and Goals

It is noteworthy that both the purpose and the structure reflect the complexity of military and security policies, as well as the multitude of economic, ecologic and demographic developments affecting Europe’s neighbourhoods. Indeed, the Hub has been designed to focus on a variety of current and evolving security issues such as destabilisation, potential terrorism, radicalisation, migration and environmental concerns like pollution and natural disasters. To this end, in the early stages the Hub will focus on Southern affected areas to include the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa and specifically on five countries – Libya, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, and Jordan – due to their strategic importance to peace and stability in the Middle East and North Africa.

Moreover, embedded in the concept of the Strategic Direction South Hub is the coexistence of four functional areas: information collection, management and sharing; understanding, monitoring and assessment; coordination of NATO’s activities in the South, and implementation of the Framework for the South. Besides, an essential role is to synchronize, coordinate and enable work alongside agencies outside of NATO, teaming up with regional development and crisis handling experts, like academics, charitable organizations, law enforcement officials and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In the near future, the Hub is likely to become a focal point between national and military structures, professors and experts, international organisations as well as non-governmental organisations, fostered by the fact that it is dealing with non-classified information. Hence, it is going to serve as a platform to develop and provide ideas, expertise and knowledge of highly experienced NATO civilian and military experts to support non-NATO entities.

Organizational bodies

Knowledge Management and Engagement (KM&E)

Knowledge Management and Engagement will direct the Hub activity and coordinate the individual functional Hub sections for the Deputy Director. The Cell will share and manage information flow around the Hub and act as the central point of contact for willing Allies and Partners to report bilateral activities in the context of the NSD-S framework.

The Comprehensive Research and Analysis Section (CRAS)

The Comprehensive Research and Analysis Section (CRAS) is responsible for providing information and evaluation on existing, emerging and future security threats and crises in the southern region by following a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary and medium-long term approach.

The Engagement Coordination Section (ECS)

The Engagement Coordination Section will contribute to coordination and synchronization of NATO’s and willing Allies’ activities in the South. Activities will include liaison/interaction within agreed partnership and cooperative security activities, key leadership engagements, Defence Capacity Building initiatives and training and education activities in the South at all levels to maximize security enhancing effects and increase understanding.

The Civilian-Military Engagement & Coordination Section (CME&CS)

The Civilian-Military Engagement & Coordination Section will contribute to the situational awareness and comprehensive understanding in the NATO Strategic Direction South area, through the establishment and maintenance of a permanent and robust civil liaison network.  The section will also help coordinate the NATO approach and activities in this area. It will deliver quality products for the South based on newfound understanding and collaboration, through facilitating a common understanding by all the actors with interest in the region and developing a mutual respect and trust with NGOs.

A Joint, Multi-Layered and Coordinated Effort

The added value of the Naples-based unit comes from its capacity to understand and analyse problems, challenges and opportunities in Africa and the Middle East- not only through the NATO lens, but also thanks to a close collaboration with the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations. Several contributions from different actors will make it likely to adopt a holistic approach in setting common answers for common problems.

On this aspect U.S Navy Admiral Michelle Howard, former interim Commander of the Allied Joint Force Command Naples and the first African-American woman to have been the Commander of a U.S navy ship, in early September 2017 commented that the spirit of the South Hub is “a commonly joint endeavour which can be summed up in a fantastic African proverb which says ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Hence, this is what we should do, we should all work together.”

A month later, on 20 October 2017, the same spirit of joint effort was inherited by U.S Navy Admiral James Foggo who assumed command from U.S. Navy Admiral Howard after leaving the Pentagon where he was serving as the Director of Navy Staff. He is now the newly appointed Commander of Allied JFC Naples and U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Director of a combined NATO staff responsible for planning, preparing, and conducting military operations throughout the Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s (SACEUR) Area Of Responsibility.

JFC Brunssum and JFC Naples

In order to accomplish the full spectrum of Alliance missions, at the operational level NATO Command Structure consists of two Joint Force Commands (JFCs): one, in Brunssum (the Netherlands), and the other one in Naples (Italy).  Admiral Foggo remarked that “JFC Brunssum and JFC Naples work to anticipate evolving details and craft approaches to address them. They are clearly not twins but definitively brothers.”

This is because they operationalise the Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s strategic vision across NATO’s ever-changing set of military challenges, focus on command and control of military forces and employ a common series of structures across classic military functional areas such as strategy, operations and intelligence. In particular, a large part of the operational capabilities consists of the NATO Response Force (NRF), a highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force which comprises land, air, maritime and special forces components that the Alliance can deploy quickly to wherever it is needed. The NATO NRF responsibility rotates each year between JFC Brunssum and JFC Naples.

However, there are some differences since each JFC is assigned specific missions. On the one hand, Brunssum has been involved in counter-terrorism actions and policies overseeing Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan as well as in countering a perceived Russian threat to the Eastern countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) through the Enhanced Forward Presence initiative.

On the other hand, the NATO installation in Lago Patria represents a technologically-savvy home that has experience dealing with the neighbouring Balkans (where NATO is present with official venues and deployed troops in three military missions), and more recently, with Africa and the Middle East. Through active participation in NATO-sponsored programs such as NATO support to the African Union, Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, JFC Naples fosters stability through dialogue, training and exchange, upholding the democratic values of peace and stability of the Member States.

Additionally, a remarkable example of NATO’s role in the Mediterranean is represented by the maritime security operation “Sea Guardian” as it has currently maritime situational awareness functions with potential counter-terrorism and capacity building activities. From the Italian perspective, where Italy participates with two vessels that rotate throughout the year, the operation is a testing ground for the cooperation between NATO and the EU, as Sea Guardian complements the EU mission EUNAVFORMED also known as Operation Sophia.

By and large, JFC Naples is therefore prepared to conduct a host of military operations throughout the NATO Area of Responsibility to deter aggression, defend the NATO’s territory and forces, safeguard freedom of the seas and economic lifelines and preserve the security and integrity of NATO nations.
Although JFC Naples has no permanently designated Area of Responsibility, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Scaparrotti can designate an approved Joint Operations Area (JOA) to meet the requirement for exercises and operations. JFC Naples can be also assigned Areas of Interest (AOI) beyond NATO’s territory to monitor and analyse regional instabilities, military capabilities and transnational issues, to identify their potential military consequences which may directly or indirectly influence NATO’s security interests.

Furthermore, JFC Naples is committed to the development, conduct and evaluation of exercises to train Allied and Partner headquarters and forces in NATO joint/combined procedures. JFC Naples is to contribute to crisis management and deterrence by ensuring that headquarters and forces are at the ideal state of readiness for the conduct and support of operations wherever they might occur.

JFC Naples Current Missions in the Balkans

Currently, JFC Naples has command and control in the Balkans over one enduring operation, i.e. Kosovo Force (KFOR) led by newly appointed Italian Army Major General Salvatore Cuoci and three military missions overseen by Military Liaison Office in Belgrade (Serbia). Its headed by senior military representative Brigadier General Cesare Marinelli, NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo (Bosnia Herzegovina) and NATO Liaison Office in Skopje (Macedonia).

Kosovo Force (KFOR)

Since June 1999 NATO has been leading a peace-support operation – the Kosovo Force (KFOR) – in support of wider international efforts to build peace and stability when NATO’s 78-day air campaign against Milosevic’s regime, aimed at putting an end to violence in Kosovo, was over.

KFOR’s mission is “to contribute to a safe and secure environment as mandated by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, to coordinate the international humanitarian effort and civil presence, to support the development of a stable, democratic, multi-ethnic and peaceful Kosovo and of the Kosovo Security Forces (KSF)” through the provision of advice, training and capacity building. The KSF is an all-voluntary, multi-ethnic and lightly armed force which carries out basic missions such as crisis response, assistance to civilians and emergency tasks.

Unlike the past decade, today KFOR also conducts synchronized and transparent patrols with the Serbian Armed Forces and above all operates an automated surveillance system to protect the 14th-century Visoki Decani Monastery. All around the ancient building a KFOR barrier gate is to be found, draped in camouflage and topped with barbed wire, where incoming vehicles must state their purpose, surrender their passports, and submit to a search if the guards armed with AK-47s think it’s necessary.

Such is the protection required for this UNESCO-heritage site, almost 20 years after the end of NATO’s bombing campaign. Monasteries like Decani are tiny islands of medieval Serbian Orthodoxy in a sea of Albanian nationalism and Islam. However, inter-ethnic incidents have decreased significantly and the security situation in Kosovo has greatly improved, including in the areas populated by Serb majorities.

Kosovo Serbs and other minorities have been integrated in local security institutions. Nowadays, except the Orthodox Monastery of Decani, monitored by KFOR soldiers, the other religious sites of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which were considered at risk, are under the protection of the Kosovo police. KFOR remains vigilant and it keeps collaborating with the security institutions in Kosovo and the international community to ensure that Kosovo has the proper means to deal with any potential security challenge.

Moreover, KFOR has been positively committed to preserve regional stability for municipal elections as happened on 22 October 2017, when more than 2,000 NATO-led KFOR service members provided a safe and secure environment when 19 municipalities peacefully elected a mayor in proportional representation.

Recent Events

On 16 November 2017 an important event helped further consolidate the relations between NATO and the Kosovar region. The newly appointed JFC Naples Commander, Admiral Foggo, went to Pristina for the Kosovo Force change of Command ceremony at Camp “Film City” and visited troops and the local authorities. On this occasion, Major General Cuoci relieved Major General Giovanni Fungo and assumed his duties as the 22nd Commander. From September 2016, Major General Fungo commanded more than 4,000 women and men from 28 nations where his motto, “Trust and Commitment,” helped shape his operational plans.

In concert with progress-makers in the region, General Cuoci and Admiral Foggo are now committed to working with local leaders such as President Hashim Thaci as well as the international community to expand mutual trust and commitment to peace and security. Thanks to continuous progress in the Kosovar context, Major General Cuoci’s chose “Enduring Commitment” as the new KFOR motto. It is an interesting testament to Italy’s perceived importance in the region (and perhaps a compliment) that high-level NATO positions in Kosovo have so often been given to Italian officers during the KFOR period.

The NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade (Serbia)

Unlike other Western Balkan partners, Serbia has no future ambitions to join the North Atlantic Alliance, which fully respects the Serbian policy of military neutrality. However, the NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade has been a vital contact point between NATO and the Serbian authorities since its establishment in December 2006. Some important highlights include the improvement of political dialogue and partnership with NATO on issues of common interest such as military cooperation, defence and security sector reforms and regional stability for neighbouring Kosovo.

In particular, the Military Liaison Office in Belgrade – which has been led by Italian Brigadier General Cesare Marinelli since February 2016 – has had a key role in facilitating Serbian military cooperation under the Partnership for Peace Program (PfP) by implementing the agreed priorities in the field of military, public diplomacy, and political dialogue. Militarily, another important tool has been the Planning and Review Process (PARP). Since 2007 it has helped develop the interoperability and capabilities of forces made available for NATO training, exercises and operations as well as promote wider defence and security sector transformation and reform efforts.

As for defence and security cooperation, since the harmonization of the first Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) in 2015, IPAP is currently the main cooperation framework between NATO and Serbia that allows the Alliance to provide assistance to Serbian authorities in achieving their reform goals. Additionally, training is also an important part of the security sector and, thanks to the Operational Capabilities Concept (OCC) Evaluation and Feedback Program, Serbian personnel is trained to meet NATO standards. Serbia is also actively engaged in the NATO Building Integrity (BI) Program – a defence capacity-building program aimed at reducing the risk of corruption in the defence sector.

Finally, Kosovo remains a core topic for dialogue between the Liaison Office in Belgrade and Serbian officials, given the presence of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), which continues to ensure a safe and secure environment.

Recent Events

Serbia’s policy of military neutrality was reiterated by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during a meeting with Brigadier General Cesare Marinelli, Chief of NATO’s Military Liaison Office in mid November 2017. However, the Serbian President added that “as an independent and sovereign state, Serbia will cooperate with various alliances and states, including maintaining good relations with NATO, with the goal of preserving peace, security and stability in the region.” More generally, the two authorities talked about concrete partnership activities that should further develop NATO-Serbia relations and increase mutual understanding.

Moreover, on 12 December 2017 Brigadier General Marinelli met with KFOR Major General Cuoci to discuss cooperation between NATO Liaison Military Office Belgrade and KFOR. The primary goal remains to strengthen links between the two missions on information sharing and enhance Belgrade’s role to KFOR. Security and political situation in the Western Balkans was also discussed, highlighting the core role of NATO’s missions in maintaining regional stability.

NATO Headquarters Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina)

NATO carries on its commitment to Bosnia-Herzegovina that began when it deployed 60,000 soldiers there in the immediate aftermath of war 18 years ago. Originally, the Implementation Force (IFOR) mission was to separate the former combatants and to implement the Dayton Peace Agreement (also known as General Framework Agreement for Peace). In November 2004, when the Stabilisation Force (SFOR) mission – aimed at deterring hostilities, stabilising the peace and contributing to a secure environment – ended, NATO Headquarters Sarajevo came into being with a much smaller presence but with a mandate specifically focused on Defence reform, an essential pre-requisite for integration into European and international institutions as well as a key element of national security.

Nowadays, the mission statement is to “exercise full responsibility for the military implementation of the General Framework Agreement for Peace, and to assist defence reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its integrations into Euro-Atlantic structures” in such a way that it provides assistance in building the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina with effective command and control and a transformed military structure. Another aim is to provide assistance in implementing transparent budgetary and efficient processes and in ensuring effective democratic and civilian surveillance of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The guidance of the Headquarters is crucial for national security and fulfillment of integration ambitions.
Moreover, the NATO Headquarters Sarajevo also performs supportive tasks, such as intelligence activity, planning and control of NATO activities in the territory and detention of persons suspected of war crimes.

In light of this, the NATO Headquarters Sarajevo has basically been the facilitator for reform in defence and security structures, coordinating NATO programs and activities as well as the supporter of Bosnia and Herzegovina government authorities in their effort to build capacities essential to achieving long-term objective of full European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

NATO Liaison Office in Skopje (Macedonia)

Like some other Western Balkan countries, Macedonia has had a long-standing ambition to join the Northern Atlantic Alliance and, in spite of the recent crisis during the political elections last year due to Western-driven interferences, remains fully committed to NATO membership. In this context, the NATO Liaison Office in Skopje has been a core element in shaping Macedonia’s relation with the international organisation.

Over the last decade the NATO Liaison Office in Skopje has been mostly stability-oriented and its tasks have been conducive to some military, technical and supporting operations, especially benefiting KFOR and other NATO missions in the Balkans. Their activities are also aimed at presenting and representing NATO in the country.

In 2016, the Commander of Joint Force Command Naples designated Slovenian Navy Captain. Gorazd Bartol, Chief of  NATO Liaison Office in Skopje. Since then, he has been advising “governmental authorities on defence aspects of security sector of reform and NATO membership to contribute to Euro-Atlantic integration and to provide support to all NATO-led operations within the Balkans Joint Area of Operations.”

According to Captain Bartol, resolving the name issue (the name Republic of Macedonia is still not accepted by Greece) by reaching a mutually acceptable solution will be crucial for Macedonia’s accession to NATO. He has often underlined the need and the paramount importance of reform and stability. In his view, the formation of the new government is a step in the right direction, even though it is now necessary for the government to pursue reforms and for all parties to abandon factional politics and divisions, and engage constructively in the political process.

Another example of the NATO Liaison Office’s role in maintaining regional stability was seen with the municipal elections held on 15 October 2017. For the sixth time, the country’s citizens voted for mayors and municipal councils in 80 municipalities and in the city of Skopje. Together with a team of international observers, the Office Skopje had the opportunity to inspect multiple ballot stations in the Skopje region, such as in the municipalities of Shuto Orizari, Chair and Butel, as well as in Shipkovica village in the Tetovo region. The international observers concluded that the election process had been executed in a fair, democratic and peaceful manner

Recent Events

The A5 Adriatic Charter meeting between Macedonian officials and the NATO Liaison Office Skopje took place in Ohrid between 30 November and 2 December 2017. The Minister of Defence, Radmila Sekerinska, the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, the acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence Secretary Laura Соoper and Captain Bartol officially opened the A5 Adriatic Charter Ministerial meeting under the motto “Integration is the goal, cooperation is the way”.

Mrs. Sekerinska stated – in front of the delegations of the US, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Serbia, Kosovo and NATO that the strategic goal of the country is membership in NATO, for which she said that is a key priority and guarantee for the regional security, stability and development. “In order to achieve that goal we all must work together and with dedication. I would like to underline that we do not ask that the membership is received as a gift or gained right, but as a result of dedication, fulfilled criteria and secured domestic and political stability,” said Sekerinska.

She added that the country will show results and will prove that it deserves to become the 30th NATO member nation. On the other hand, Prime Minister Zaev fiercely emphasized that the Adriatic Charter was the reason for achieving the standards and criteria for membership in the Alliance. He also maintained that after failing to receive the membership, Macedonia was pushed into regressive political processes which culminated with the heaviest political crisis in the country. However, with the assistance of the “democratic forces and free-minded citizens,” Zaev averred, the country slowly but surely overcame the hurdles and continues to believe that the Euro-Atlantic integration and regional cooperation are necessary for long-term stability of the region.


Although it is still too early to predict the outcomes of its joint, multi-layered, coordinated and holistic approach, the recently-inaugurated NATO Strategic Direction South Hub represents the first step towards a NATO response to evolving and challenging issues affecting Europe’s neighbourhood, especially in unstable and often war-torn regions of the world. Located in its southernmost flank, the South Hub is likely to become the NATO observatory and main pillar to counter terrorism and violent extremism as well as a promising point of reference, even possibly a game-changer, in comprehensive understanding, decision making and information sharing for the South during peacetime, crisis and conflict. Only time will tell if the benefits brought by NATO’s South Hub will outweigh some possible drawbacks.




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