It was impossible to predict how long AFSOUTH would have to cope with the Balkan problems. It will be "as long as needed". Meanwhile, the headquarters remained projected towards its normal long-term basic commitments: to be able to defend peace while projecting stability. Exercise programs therefore could not lose their momentum and continued along a pattern of effectiveness and with the increased involvement of non-NATO partners. To be able to cope with the new complex array of commitments, AFSOUTH was also planning for construction of a new facility, where a state-of-the-art headquarters will guarantee all the needed working command, control and communication resources while providing much better quality of life. AFSOUTH celebrated its 50th Anniversary on 21 June 2001. After 50 years of a happy marriage with the city of Naples, the headquarters was preparing to move a few miles west, in a compound called AFSOUTH 2000.
Fifty years represented more than two generations for the AFSOUTH staff. The first generation is to be credited for having built a credible defence structure from nothing. This structure contributed to deterrence when a new war in Europe was a concrete possibility. The second generation had the difficult task of continuing with the pattern of deterrence through preparation; even if AFSOUTH remained a neglected southern ‘flank' and NATO resources continued to concentrate on central Europe. At the same time, command and control technology was changing at growing speed, leading to a widening gap with the rest of NATO. Notwithstanding that, NATO's overall defensive capabilities in the south continued to increase, up to a point where AFSOUTH could offer ‘strategic leverage' to the main NATO defences in central Europe. However, it was only with the end of the Cold War that the Alliance acknowledged that all the warnings received from AFSOUTH about the many endemic sources of instability in the south were well founded. These anticipated challenges became a reality only NATO was capable to cope with.
With progressive acceleration, AFSOUTH capitalised on the attention received during the first out-of-area crisis, the Gulf War, to demonstrate its capability to plan and conduct large-scale operations, to protect peace and help manage a major international crisis. It was no accident that the Gulf War did not spill into the Mediterranean. Soon after, countries like Germany, The Netherlands and Canada - which had not been present in the southern command - decided to extend their NATO commitment to AFSOUTH. In a few years the Naples headquarters saw the number of nations represented on its staff to grow from five to 14 and more came afterwards.
The main credit to be given to the current generation of AFSOUTH leaders and staff members was that they had kept the momentum going - even at times leading the Alliance toward its new roles. They had shown that that old taboos (like out-of-area operations) were a relic of the past. All the major missions which were envisaged by the new NATO strategy had been tested at AFSOUTH: the new relationship with the United Nations, OSCE and WEU; peace missions in support of the international community; humanitarian operations; the openness with which non-NATO members have been progressively associated as real partners in these activities.
Unfortunately, on 11 September 2001, whilst AFSOUTH was proudly looking at the results achieved in five decades, the news of the absurd terrorist attacks in the United States suddenly changed the international scenario. The evil forces which many times AFSOUTH planners had indicated as an emerging major threat to peace and stability hit with inconceivable barbarism.
The Alliance's reaction was well in proportion, with a display of cohesion, firmness and unanimity with no precedence. AFSOUTH stood ready to take its share.