Center for Strategic Decision Research


The Security of Southwestern Europe

His Excellency José Veiga Simão
Minister of Defense of Portugal

Although Southwestern Europe is regarded as an area that enjoys a high degree of stability and does not pose visible security challenges to our Alliance, it acts as an important interface between Southern Europe, the North Atlantic, and the Mediterranean. Under NATO’s new Strategic Concept, I believe the area’s importance will increase. Therefore I would like to discuss this region, particularly the Mediterranean basin and the Atlantic Ocean areas, while stating that my choice of topic does not reflect a lesser interest in the issues that currently dominate the debate on European security: namely, the situation in the Balkans, NATO enlargement, relations with Russia and Ukraine, and the future of Partnership for Peace.


Throughout history, the Atlantic has been of vital importance to Europe. Portugal has always regarded this ocean as a unifying link between Europe and North America and, more broadly, with Africa and South America. This continues to be the case today.

In the new NATO structure, the Regional Command located in Oeiras, near Lisbon, will be responsible for a vast area of the Atlantic, including the vital sea lanes of communication from the South Atlantic to the north of Europe and in the approaches to the Mediterranean Sea. Under the guidance of SACLANT, this headquarters essentially will be responsible for planning and conducting air and maritime operations in its area of responsibility. The defense of the Portuguese mainland within the NATO framework also will be SACLANT’s responsibility. However, SACEUR will play a key role as a Supporting Commander for operations conducted in the ACLANT area. And while SACEUR and SACLANT have defined geographical areas of responsibility in the NATO structure, the new concepts of supported and supporting commands will be more and more important, as flexible tools for future NATO activities.

Given its geographical position, the Regional Command in Oeiras will be very well placed to interface between the two strategic commands, the Atlantic and Europe, and, within the SACEUR’s area of responsibility, with Regional Command South in Naples. We anticipate, therefore, that the Regional Command in Oeiras will play an important role in developing a flexible and coordinated strategy to deal with non-Article 5 missions, namely, peace-support and humanitarian operations in the Western Mediterranean and on the Northwestern coast of Africa. We also believe that it should become a full-fledged CJTF command with a land component able to advance operations with other nations and to work with non-governmental organizations as well. The results of the exercise Strong Resolve 98 have shown the need to develop procedural codes and appropriate simulation techniques for these types of operations.



The Mediterranean link with Africa is an important one because this is a continent where we can anticipate serious security challenges, not in terms of threats to NATO but rather in terms of humanitarian crises. All of us can recall dramatic pictures that appear on television screens from time to time that show African countries engulfed by civil war and the inevitable humanitarian disasters that ensue from these conflicts. We are currently in the middle of a tragic example of such catastrophes in Guinea-Bissau, where Portugal, as well as other NATO countries, has had to mount evacuation operations to withdraw thousands of citizens from NATO and non-NATO countries and is now channeling humanitarian aid there. I believe that NATO should consider how it could help in such emergencies, perhaps by creating a small cell to help with operational logistics.

South America

As far as South America is concerned, most of the countries there share our values and can make important contributions to our common security. Brazil has sent three ships to participate in the exercise Linked Seas 97, and Argentina will participate in the Multinational Specialized Units to be deployed in Bosnia. We welcome the cooperation of Latin American countries with NATO activities and welcome also their contributions to NATO exercises and operations, which are decided on a case-by-case basis.

The Southern Mediterranean

Turning to the the southern shore of the Mediterranean, I believe that the key objective of NATO’s policy should be to devise a cooperative framework involving as many countries as possible from that area. The Mediterranean Dialogue is an important first step, but we must go further. We have already agreed that we can draw on PFP experience as we consider how to develop the Dialogue further. To be more precise, all the Allies have agreed that strengthening this Dialogue could eventually lead to PFP-inspired activities for the six Mediterranean partners. This would not be an extension of the PFP program, but a new organic model, inspired by PFP and adapted to the political and strategic conditions of this area, to be gradually implemented with carefully selected countries. It must be shown to these countries in a concrete way that we consider them partners for peace and development.

We believe that too much emphasis has been placed on possible threats to Europe from the southern shore of the Mediterranean. This talk has unwittingly caused some of the countries in this area to have misguided perceptions about our aims. We must try to dissipate these misconceptions by developing more confidence-building measures, increasing the intensity of the Dialogue, and promoting the association of our Mediterranean partners with NATO activities, including their active participation in NATO military exercises linked to peace and security.


To conclude, I would like to say that NATO is a unique organization capable of structuring multilateral security-related cooperation with a wide number of countries and, if need be, to project power in a coordinated way. As we ponder the security challenges of the next century, we believe that NATO will have an increasingly important role to play not only in traditional Washington Treaty matters but beyond them as well.

NATO cannot be an all-purpose organization, nor can it spread its wings to every part of the globe. I believe, however, that the unique combination of skills and resources at NATO’s disposal can make a difference in many situations. The Mediterranean is an area of traditional concern for Europe and one that I believe is already a NATO priority. However, we should not be afraid of looking at other areas where Europeans and North Americans have moral, social, and economic interests and responsibilities, and where our collective purpose can make a significant contribution to international peace and security.


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