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Deputy Director readies “Hub” for opening

Story by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Patton
NAPLES, Italy – There’s a lot of buzz around the southern-Italy based Allied Joint Force Command Naples headquarters building lately, and the talk of what’s coming with the NATO Strategic Direction South Hub will soon switch to what’s happening inside the new center.

It’s a challenge French Air Force Colonel Eric Asselin, deputy director and acting director of the NSD-S Hub, is ready to face.

"We have something like a blank page to build this Hub,” said Asselin. "I feel very happy because I have a lot of people totally involved, and they have a very big will to do something new.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced the decision to create the Hub in mid-February of this year. Since that time, Asselin and his team have filled the empty page with a vision and concept to bring the new center to its grand opening on Sept. 5, 2017. The NSD-S Hub is expected to achieve final capability at the end of the calendar year.

The NSD-S Hub, under the roof and lead of JFC Naples, is designed to focus on a variety of current and potential issues to include destabilization, potential terrorism, radicalization, migration and environmental concerns. A role of the new center is also to coordinate and work alongside agencies outside of the NATO and national military structures as they focus on southern regions to include the Middle East, North Africa and Sahel, sub-Saharan Africa and adjacent areas, waters and airspace.

"There are a lot of expectations at the political level and the strategic level, so we will be, for sure, in the spotlight,” Asselin said. "We only have one opportunity to make a first good impression.”

Officials say the Hub is already linked with many organizations, and they are hoping the list continues to grow.

Although progress has been steady in preparing the NSD-S Hub for its opening, Asselin cautioned there’s still work to be done as links are developed, especially with non-military actors, such as non-governmental organizations, academic and international organizations. The French colonel also stressed the importance of taking time to build trust, confidence and credibility with the Hub’s stakeholders.

Asselin compared the Hub to a baby getting ready to enter the world next month, and it will continue to grow as it reaches its full potential.

"This is a starting point,” said Asselin. "The 5th of September, we ring the bell for everybody, so we tell the world, OK, we are here...the baby is shouting, come, come and see us, and we have the will to work with you.”

According to Asselin, as the Hub readies to take on the role of becoming an enabler for unity of understanding, knowledge and action, a critical factor in the center’s success will be in all parties, military and non-military alike, to be both consumers and contributors.

"If we want to succeed, we have to share, and to share means to give and to receive,” Asselin said.

Officials say partnering with non-military organizations 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 organizations.

"With NATO and with the non-military actors, our will is to reach some goals which are not so different,” said Asselin.

The Hub deputy director also cited the phrase "promoting conditions of stability and well-being” included in Article 2 of the 1949 NATO treaty.

Although work remains to be done, Asselin said 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,” said Asselin.

French Air Force Colonel Eric Asselin,  center,  deputy director and acting director of the NSD-S Hub,  speaks with Romanian Army Colonel Florin Liuta,  Aug. 8,  2017.
(Photo by German Air Force Master Sgt. Dennis Tappe)

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