Nato considers expansion of missions in Middle East and North Africa

Alliance discusses relaunch of relations with Global South amid battle of narratives over war in Ukraine

Swedish soldiers stand on top of parked Stridsvagn 122 tanks during training outside Visby on the Baltic island of Gotland, Sweden. Reuters
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Nato allies will this week discuss the possible appointment its first special representative to the southern community as it seeks to strengthen ties with the Middle East, North Africa and Sahel regions, senior Nato diplomats said on Tuesday.

Nato's 32 foreign ministers are scheduled to discuss more than 100 recommendations made by a panel of independent experts to bolster relations with the alliance's southern neighbourhood during a two-day meeting in Brussels starting on Wednesday. The report was requested by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg last year.

The meeting is expected to be dominated by the war in Ukraine ahead of the next Nato summit in July in Washington as the alliance celebrates its 75th anniversary.

Deepening relations with the Mena region is a matter of urgency for many Nato members. Western diplomats said they feel the need to highlight their narrative on the war in Ukraine, which has been weakened by Russian disinformation campaigns and accusations of double standards over the war in Gaza.

“A special representative for the south is very important for some countries which have been pushing for deliverables for the Washington summit,” said a senior Nato diplomat. “That could also include more money for activities with these countries.”

“It's about staffing and engaging funding for more projects in the South in defence and advising missions."

“We need to get our narrative across to those countries. We need to engage in dialogue,” said another senior Nato diplomat.

Nato's hub for Mena is in Naples, Italy, where about 60 people are based – a fraction of the alliance's total workforce, which is 4,000 at its headquarters in the Belgian capital alone.

Nato is reportedly considering opening an office in Amman, which would be a first in the Arab world.

“Nato allies are committed to further strengthen our ties with partners that share the alliance’s values and interest in upholding the rules-based international order,” the chairman of Nato's military committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, said during a visit to Jordan in September.

“Jordan is, among them, a close friend and a highly valued partner.”

Some diplomats cautioned that appointing a special representative to Nato's southern neighbourhood was only “one of the possibilities being considered”.

Deepening relations with the global South is not all about countering Russia, a third senior Nato diplomat said. “We have our own positive reasons to want to deepen those partnerships for our own security."

There are currently three special representatives that report to Mr Stoltenberg. They include the special co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, Thomas Goffus, the special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, Javier Colomina Piriz, and the special representative for women, peace and security, Irene Fellin.

Nato recently appointed its first native Arabic-speaking official, British citizen Farah Dakhlallah.

Updated: April 03, 2024, 7:37 AM