By Nigel Chamberlain, NATO Watch
NATO marked the official opening of a new Special Forces HQ in Casteau, Belgium on 12 December. In a ceremony in Mons, NATO's supreme commander Adm. James Stavridis said the new command centre will ensure that national elite units will continue to develop their capabilities by training together.
NATO’s Special Operations Coordination Centre (NSCC) was created in 2006 and NATO’s Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ) was created in 2010. The new NSHQ will enable the special forces of contributing nations to better train, plan, and work together. Stavridis said, "I expect this to be a venue for ideas about equipment and technology. We can share and learn from each other”.
NSHQ coordinates all Special Forces across NATO operations by directing the activities of Special Operations Component Commands. “The new headquarters, which accommodates about 200 personnel will be the centrepiece of NATO Special Operations well into the 21st Century”, according to the NATO statement.
Associated Press reports that this is part of a larger move aimed at offsetting the effects of deep defence cuts and better co-ordinating the elite military units. It is part of NATO's ‘Smart Defence’ initiative, the objective of which, according to Stavrides, is to “build connections” and to preserve the capabilities developed by NATO's special forces in Afghanistan.
Faced with the reality of reducing defence budgets, despite NATO Secretary General Rasmussen’s efforts to encourage greater spending, it is recognised that elite units are much cheaper and easier to deploy than conventional forces. As Stavrides said, "One of the real comparative advantages of special forces is bang for the buck. They are very cost-effective because it is a relatively small number of people who create enormous effect".
Associated Press reports that:
So far 26 of NATO's 28 members have declared their intention to participate in the new command, along with three neutral nations: Austria, Finland and Sweden. The only NATO countries not participating are Luxembourg, which doesn't have a commando force, and Iceland, which doesn't have an army. Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland have been invited to join.
In June this year, a NATO Watch briefing reviewed a video in which NATO Special Operations Forces (SOF) led an airborne, televised mock-assault on a village compound in Tampa, Florida. Their objective, before an appreciative audience, was to rescue the Mayor of Tampa who said it had been “pretty cool” to fire a 50 calibre weapon, the “ultimate Boy Toy”.
The vision articulated during the Tampa exercise was of a network of Special Forces worldwide to combat international terrorism, piracy and trafficking. Closer working partnerships will encourage development of the recurring NATO themes of burden sharing and interoperability. The video indicated that US Special Forces have led the way in teaching and training at NSHQ:
The NSHQ is the centrepiece of the NATO SOF Transformation Initiative (NSTI). It provides focused Special Operations advice to the SACEUR and the NATO Chain of Command and provides on a collaborative, inter-dependent platform to enhance the Alliance SOF network.
A masked Australian Special Forces soldier was interviewed during the Tampa mock-assault. During his speech at the National Press Club in Canberra, Australia on 13 June 2012, the NATO Secretary General said, “I see particular scope for closer cooperation between our Special Forces”.