By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]
Portugal is to lose its NATO south Atlantic regional command centre in Oeiras, near Lisbon, and be replaced by a new operational command centre with less power.
At present, Oeiras is one of three major European regional command centres within the current NATO command structure.
The Atlantic Alliance reached an agreement on the cost-cutting measure last week, with the decision to axe the command centre and replace it with an operations centre under the direct jurisdiction of the Command Centre for the Allied Forces – SACEUR.
The decision was taken during a working dinner held in Brussels by ministers of Defence in all 28 NATO participating countries as part of an overall restructuring of the entire NATO organisation.
NATO’s General Secretary, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, wants to save €1.5 billion over the next few years by reducing the current number of NATO committees and bodies from 400 to 200.
Now only three key NATO agencies will remain operational out of 14 while military personnel will be slashed from 13,000 to 9,000 full-time staff.
With these reforms, partly introduced because of changing realities since the fall of the former Soviet Union, Portugal will lose some of its strategic importance within the NATO organisation.
The outgoing PS Defence Minister, Augusto Santos Silva, said that the changes were in line with government expectations but added that there would still be a “significant NATO presence” in Portugal.
Before the current changes, Oeiras was one of the three main NATO European Command Centres (Strategic Level 2) under the direct command of SHAPE – the Operational Strategic Command Centre which is located at Mons, Belgium.
Instead Portugal will get a Strike Formation Command – a rapid deployment naval force which will be in charge of various naval forces including the United States 6th Squadron.
In order to offset changes at Oeiras from a regional command centre to an operational command centre, NATO’s Communications and Information Systems School, which is currently based in Rome, will also be relocated.
The United States, which pays 22% of the total NATO bill, believes that these reforms will enable the Alliance to better focus its resources on strike and projection capacities.
NATO has had an Atlantic Alliance command centre in Oeiras since 1971 under various names and strategic setups.
The first of these regional command centres was called COMIBERLANT and was responsible for military and logistical operations on NATO’s south-western flank of South Europe and North Africa.
That name changed to CINCIBERLANT in 1982 and then CINCSOUTHLANT in 1999. It was renamed the Lisbon Joint Command in 2003 and since 2009 has been run by the French Lieutenant-General Phillipe Stoltz.
Among the most important military actions carried out from Oeiras in recent years has been Operation Ocean Shield against piracy in the Indian Ocean, particularly from Somalia, in which Portuguese vessels took part.
But from last Thursday its powers were transferred to the other two command centres at Brunssun, in Holland and Naples in Italy.