Souda Bay Base An­chors NATO Role

RCN News - - Contents - By Daniel Gouré, Ph.D., Lex­ing­ton In­sti­tute

Since the end of the Cold War, the Mediter­ranean re­gion has been peace­ful, but that is no longer the case. Con­flict has ex­ploded in ar­eas that border the sea: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, North Africa and the Ara­bian penin­sula. While some of these con­flicts place mar­itime trade routes at risk, the re­cent dis­cov­ery of the rich oil and nat­u­ral gas re­serves in the Mediter­ranean fur­ther com­pli­cates mat­ters, rais­ing the specter of con­flicts over nat­u­ral re­sources. Luck­ily, NATO main­tained some of the Cold War in­fra­struc­ture in the eastern Mediter­ranean, which is prov­ing to be of in­es­timable value to ad­dress new threats.

One ex­am­ple is the Souda Bay com­plex on the north­west coast of the Greek Is­land of Crete, a mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity open to NATO coun­tries. The United States Naval Sup­port Ac­tiv­ity (NSA) Souda Bay oc­cu­pies about 110 acres and shares a home with the 115th Com­bat Wing of the Hel­lenic Air Force. A Hel­lenic Naval Base also oc­cu­pies a large por­tion of the north and south coasts of the Souda Bay har­bor, and there is a civil­ian air­port nearby in Ha­nia. One unique char­ac­ter­is­tic of Souda Bay is that it has the only pier in the Mediter­ranean large enough to dock an air­craft car­rier.

The U.S. and Hel­lenic Air Forces use Souda Bay rou­tinely to sup­port joint train­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Ac­cord­ing to Gen­eral Frank Gorenc, Com­man­der, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, and U.S. Air Forces Africa, Com­man­der Al­lied Air Com­mand, “Suc­cess­ful part­ner­ing ac­tiv­i­ties like this lead to tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits dur­ing peace­time con­tin­gen­cies and crises. Con­tin­u­ing our part­ner­ship with the Hel­lenic Air Force al­lows both na­tions to en­hance in­ter­op­er­abil­ity and readi­ness. Any op­por­tu­nity our forces have to fly in new airspace with one of our NATO part­ners is ben­e­fi­cial. No na­tion can con­front to­day’s chal­lenges alone.”

The naval and air bases at Souda Bay have also helped NATO in the past by sup­port­ing joint U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force re­con­nais­sance mis­sions and air re­fu­el­ing sup­port in Op­er­a­tion Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991, the Global War on Ter­ror­ism and Op­er­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom. Souda Bay will be­come even more valu­able as the ISIS threat con­tin­ues. Fa­cil­i­ties at Souda Bay are not only use­ful in times of cri­sis, but also in times of peace. The NATO Mar­itime In­ter­dic­tion Op­er­a­tions Train­ing Cen­ter (NMIOTC) lo­cated at Souda Bay trains mem­bers to im­prove ex­e­cu­tion of sur­face, sub­sur­face, aerial sur­veil­lance and spe­cial op­er­a­tions in sup­port of sanc­tioned mar­itime in­ter­dic­tion op­er­a­tions. Such skills are nec­es­sary to counter piracy, ter­ror­ism and il­le­gal traf­fick­ing. Greece funded the con­struc­tion of NMIOTC and the Hel­lenic Navy cov­ers on­go­ing op­er­a­tion and main­te­nance costs.

Souda Bay will con­tinue to be a fo­cal point for Amer­i­can naval and air forces in the re­gion. The bay’s fa­cil­i­ties are in close prox­im­ity to Is­rael (650 miles) and Syria (1,340 miles), which al­lows NATO to project power into these and sur­round­ing coun­tries, as nec­es­sary. Sec­ondly, Athens does not limit the use of its fa­cil­i­ties to its forces only. Amer­ica should com­mend Greece for its un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to pro­vide NATO with nec­es­sary air, naval and train­ing fa­cil­i­ties to sup­port op­er­a­tions in the re­gion, while con­sis­tently sur­pass­ing the min­i­mum of 2 per­cent of GDP on its de­fense bud­get as far back as 1988. Even though Athens’ econ­omy has been in re­ces­sion for five years, Greece is a ded­i­cated NATO ally and has re­mained loyal to its de­fense re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

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