Allied Forces Southern Europe was one of two major NATO commands in the
Mediterranean area, the other being Allied Forces Mediterranean based
on the island of Malta, responsible for naval activities in the region.
Some of the first exercises of the new command took place in 1952.
Operation Ancient Wall was a series of military manoeuvers involving
ground small unit tactical training, land-based tactical air support,
and carrier-based air support.
The drawdown of the British Mediterranean Fleet, the military
difficulties of the politically-decided command structure, and the
withdrawal of the French from the military command structure forced a
rearrangement of the command arrangements in the southern region. Allied
Forces Mediterranean was disbanded on 5 June 1967, and all forces in
the south and the Mediterranean assigned to AFSOUTH.
The Atlantic Alliance had a difficult birth. Even with the evidence of a visible common threat - the Soviet expansionism - it was not easy to overcome old attitudes between nations with different cultures, traditions, political inclinations, and who had been in some cases enemies during the recent world conflict. The task of creating an effective defensive alliance in which these nations were to maintain their full individual sovereignty was very demanding. It is said that the closest known precedent was dated some 24 centuries before, when the ancient Greeks formed the "amphiktionia," confederacies of towns governed by a council of delegates which had responsibility over a large spectrum of common decisions.
The year 1956 was full of events which significantly influenced the
geostrategic situation in Europe. In February, the opening of the 20th
congress of the Soviet Communist Party marked the beginning of the
"destalinizations." In March, both Tunisia and Morocco became
independent. In July, the President of Egypt Gamal Abd El Nasser
nationalised the Suez Canal. In October, the Hungarian people's
rebellion started, repressed by a Soviet intervention. Almost
simultaneously the Suez crisis was escalated by the Israeli "Sinai
campaign" followed by the French-British intervention, which was not
approved by the U.S. The Alliance's solidarity seemed to reach the
lowest level just as the Cold War was reaching a peak.
The following years saw a growing Soviet political penetration in the
Mediterranean, while Western influence in North Africa and the Middle
East was noticeably reduced. Cyprus became independent in 1960, followed
by Algeria in 1962. Although the discussions between President
Eisenhower and Mr. Khrushchev at Camp David in September 1959 had seemed
to open the door toward further negotiations, the downing of a U.S. U-2
aircraft over Russian territory caused the next summit to abort. The
construction of the Berlin wall in 1961 was a further contribution to
A change in Malta's foreign policy was the origin of a major change in
AFSOUTH's organisation. Acceding to a request by the Maltese government
and following an Italian invitation, NAVSOUTH was moved to Naples in
1971, to facilities on the little island of Nisida previously occupied
by the Italian Air Force Academy. Notwithstanding the withdrawal of the
headquarters from Malta, NATO signed a seven-year agreement with that
government on the use of certain facilities.
Another period of
serious tension in the Mediterranean made evident the need for NATO
Allies to keep a close watch on events which, even if not in the area
covered by the Treaty, were taken by the Soviets as opportunities for
military build-up. During the Yom-Kippur War, in October 1973, Soviet
Navy units in the Mediterranean were doubled, reaching a peak close to
The situation which significantly marked the life and future of AFSOUTH
were the events following the collapse of the Yugoslav Federation and
eventually the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
NATO's involvement began with a
political statement made in February 1992, calling on all parties to
respect cease-fire arrangements in order to allow deployment of United
Nations peacekeepers. In July, the United States launched the operation
"Provide Promise," to deliver supplies to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
10 July 1992 the Foreign Ministers of the North Atlantic Alliance
discussed, at Helsinki, the NATO contribution to the monitoring of
sanctions mandated by the United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
Welcoming the Western European Union's (WEU) Ministers' decision to
establish a naval monitoring force, they agreed on a corresponding NATO
force to be drawn from NATO's Standing Naval Force Mediterranean. They
also required the NATO force to act in close co-operation and
co-ordination with the Western European Union naval force. Another
‘first' for NATO was to take place in the southern region.
Turn of the Century
While Balkan operations were the focus of the attention of AFSOUTH
planners and operators, the Headquarters could not lose sight of other
important events which marked the year of NATO's 50th Anniversary. 1999
was indeed a year of great changes within the Alliance. New members were
admitted and a new military command structure took shape.
held an official Accession Ceremony of the new NATO members – the Czech
Republic, Hungary and Poland -- on 17 March 1999. With formal
accession, Hungarian military personnel were integrated in the AFSOUTH
staff, while Hungary became member of the Southern Region and part of
AFSOUTH's area of responsibility. A few weeks later, another milestone
was marked on the road towards adapting the NATO military arm to its new
Italy and NATO
In Italy, NATO membership was the result of lengthy domestic debates and longstanding dissensions engrained within the population and different political factions. However, the desire for peace and security was palpable and the path toward NATO membership was considered to be the most viable option for the country. For the drafters of the North Atlantic Treaty, Italy's privileged position in the Mediterranean region made it a valuable strategic partner that could help secure the defence of NATO's Southern Flank.