An Article 5 deployment
The deployment was one of eight measures taken by NATO to support the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, following the invocation of Article 5, NATO’s collective defence clause, for the first time in the Alliance’s history.
The deployment started on 6 October and was formally named Operation Active Endeavour on 26 October 2001. Together with the dispatch of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to the United States, it was the first time that NATO assets had been deployed in support of an Article 5 operation.
Since October 2001, NATO ships have been patrolling the Mediterranean and monitoring shipping, boarding any suspect ships. Compliant boarding operations are essential to the successful continuation of the operation. They are limited to trying to establish whether a vessel is engaged in terrorist activity.
Moreover, in March 2003, Active Endeavour was expanded to provide escorts through the Straits of Gibraltar to non-military ships from Alliance member states requesting them. This extension of the mission was designed to help prevent terrorist attacks such as those off Yemen on the USS Cole in October 2000 and on the French oil tanker Limburg two years later. The area was considered particularly vulnerable because the Straits are extremely narrow and some 3,000 commercial shipments pass through daily. In total, 488 ships took advantage of NATO escorts until Task Force STROG (Straits of Gibraltar) was suspended in May 2004. Forces remain ready to move at 30-days notice.
Covering the entire Mediterranean
One year later, in March 2004, as a result of the success of Active Endeavour in the Eastern Mediterranean, NATO extended its remit to the whole of the Mediterranean.
At the June 2004 Istanbul Summit, Allied leaders decided to enhance Operation Active Endeavour (OAE). They also welcomed offers by Russia and Ukraine to support the operation.
An evolving operation
In the revised Concept of Operations approved by the North Atlantic Council on 23 April 2009, the Military Committee highlighted two considerations: the need to further enhance information-sharing between NATO and other actors in the region; the fact that in some cases, the operation is hampered by the lack of consent to conduct compliant boarding of suspect vessels.
In addition, the Operational Plan approved in January 2010, is shifting Operation Active Endeavour from a platform-based to a network-based operation, using a combination of on-call units and surge operations instead of deployed forces; it is also seeking to enhance cooperation with non-NATO countries and international organisations in order to improve Maritime Situational Awareness. All options for future changes in the Operation’s mandate are considered on the basis of the Alliance Maritime Strategy, adopted in January 2011. Operation Active Endeavour is fulfilling the four roles outlined in this strategy: deterrence and collective defence; crisis management; cooperative security; and maritime security.
In February 2013, as a result of the reform of the military command structure initiated in 2011, the operation changed command. Initially, OAE was under the overall command of Joint Forces Command (JFC), Naples, and was conducted from the Allied Maritime Component Command Naples, Italy (CC-Mar Naples). From 22 February 2013, it came under the command of, and is conducted by, Maritime Command Headquarters, Northwood (United Kingdom).