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NATO “Hub" to address challenges from the south

Story by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Patton

NAPLES, Italy – A new center aimed at understanding and coordinating responses to the south will soon become a reality as the NATO Strategic Direction South Hub prepares to begin work.

The NSD-S Hub, under the roof and lead of the southern Italy-based Allied Joint Force Command Naples, is designed to focus on concerns such as destabilization, potential terrorism, radicalization, migration, environmental pollution and natural disasters. Officials say the new center aims to focus on southern regions to include the Middle East, North Africa and Sahel, sub-Saharan Africa and adjacent areas, waters and airspace.

"The Hub is not going to command big military operations,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a February press conference. "The hub is a hub for collecting information, for improving situational awareness and for coordinating efforts and activities.”

The NSD-S Hub is a natural progression for NATO, as the staff at JFC Naples has been busy conducting Mobile Training Team events with partners and hosting study days of various countries at the Naples headquarters. It’s these partnerships and contacts that personnel are banking on coming through when it comes to the hub.

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 there’s a lot of existing expertise in NATO which it should be the Hub’s first priority to coordinate in order to successfully address the challenges involved with the new center. He said a key to the Hub's success will be the engagement of allies and partners for who it is hoped will send some of their best experts to help staff the Hub.

According to McNulty, a key to the early stages of the Hub will be the sharing of good analysis and sifting out what’s important effectively. This should allow NATO and others to be less surprised by and reactive to events, such as the case during the 2011 Arab Spring.

Initially, about 100 military and civilian personnel, mainly from JFC Naples and supplemented by voluntary national contributions, will man the Hub. 

Officials working to get the Hub established say it’s not just NATO and national military structures that will benefit from the center. The hub aims to also connect personnel across the civilian spectrum of regional development and crisis handling.

McNulty said coordination is already happening between NATO and partner organizations such as the European Union, African Union, United Nations, academics and non-governmental organizations.

He said these stakeholders are eager to see the Hub fulfil its role.

"There is a lot of interest and a lot of demand,” McNulty said.

Mel McNulty,  the JFC Naples political advisor,  responds to a question during an Academic Study Day at JFC Naples on May 16. The NATO Strategic Direction South Hub will collect,  collate,  analyse and disseminate information in order to contribute to NATO’s comprehensive understanding,  situational awareness,  decision making and information sharing for the south during peacetime,  crisis and conflict. Photo by French Navy Chief Petty Officer Sebastien Laurent. 

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