Nato Ready for Action Far Away from Home
Henri Du Plessis
'Figuring out who are good guys and who are bad guys'
Almost two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces are stepping out of their traditional area of operation and preparing for action further from home.
The alliance's 26 member states unanimously agreed earlier this year to send a naval task force on a look-and-learn mission around the coast of the African continent.
The visit to Cape Town this week by the powerful Standing Nato Maritime Group 1 task force represents the first move by the organisation, outside its traditional areas of operation.
The purpose of the operation was to test Nato's logistic ability to send a maritime force on a distant deployment, to increase Nato commanders' knowledge of new waters, to make contact with other maritime forces, and to improve the alliance's ability to plan and conduct operations far from home territory, said Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent, commander of the Allied Maritime Component Command.
"This mission is mainly aimed at increasing our regional awareness," he said at a press conference on board a task force ship at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.
Burnell-Nugent slammed a suggestion that Nato was looking for a new reason for its existence after the end of the Cold War.
"I don't think Nato needs to look for a reason to exist. It is the strongest alliance ever, I think, in the history of the world and it clearly benefits all of its member states.
"It was my idea to send a task force on a deployment outside our traditional areas and when I proposed the plan my staff suggested it would be very difficult to get agreement from the member states."
Burnell-Nugent said the deployment did not have any mandate to act in a peace-keeping role or to take action anywhere.
"This deployment has nothing to do with peace-keeping or with operations against any specific parties," he said.
"We are here to essentially figure out who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. You are a bad guy when you smuggle drugs, weapons or people, when you practise piracy and when you threaten the rights of others to safe passage at sea.
"We are here because of globalisation. Our member states' international trade has expanded worldwide and therefore Nato should be able to operate worldwide."
The fact that a deployment around the coasts of the African continent was the first such an operation, also did not mean that Nato had a specific interest in anything happening on the continent, he said.
Apart from territorial waters, the sea belonged to all and it was vital that forces were ready to protect the interests of the countries they represented by keeping open sea lanes that were essential for international trade and free movement of ships.
The Nato ships, docked at the V&A Waterfront, will leave Cape Town early on Monday to begin an extensive three-day programme of exercises with the South African Navy. They are open to the public from 10am to 3pm today and tomorrow.
The Standing Nato Maritime Group 1 is usually a squadron of eight to 10 destroyers and frigates. This deployment however, involved only six ships from different Nato member states, including a German Navy tanker for refuelling at sea.
Welcoming the force to Cape Town, the Chief of the South African Navy, Vice-Admiral Johannes Mudimu, said he was happy South African Navy ships had the opportunity to exercise with some of the best maritime forces in the world.
"Through these exercises, we are able to improve our own training, gain a lot of new knowledge and share that knowledge with our allies in Africa," he said.
With acknowledgement to Henri Du Plessis and Cape Argus.