After the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. the North Atlantic Treaty Organization activated its Article 5 mutual military assistance clause for the first time. That action led to the military bloc’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan as well as operations in and deployments to Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
At peak strength NATO had over 100,000 troops from more than fifty countries serving under it in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The Article 5 activation was also used to deploy naval vessels to the Red Sea and Arabian Sea and for the deployment of German AWACS aircraft to the U.S.
And it gave rise to NATO’s Operation Active Endeavor, in which the alliance conducted naval surveillance and interdiction operations throughout the Mediterranean Sea from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Suez Canal and the Dardanelles. The Mediterranean became a NATO sea, much as the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea have since. Of the 21 nations bordering the sea (microstate Monaco excepted) – Albania, Algeria, Bosnia, Britain (through Gibraltar), Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Montenegro, Morocco, Slovenia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey – only four are not NATO members or partners: Cyprus, Libya, Lebanon and Syria. Efforts have been made to recruit Cyprus and Libya into NATO partnership programs.
In 2016, when NATO couldn’t any longer even pretend to be fighting terrorism in the Mediterranean, Operation Active Endeavor was succeeded by Operation Sea Guardian under the command of NATO’s Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) in Northwood, Britain. Nations ranging from Israel to Ukraine has contributed vessels to the first mission.
In the 1990s, long after the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the alleged rationale for NATO’s existence, had dissolved themselves, the military bloc initiated two major partnership programs, the Partnership for Peace and the Mediterranean Dialogue. With later partnerships, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and Partners Across the Globe, NATO now has forty partners on five continents.
The members of the Mediterranean Dialogue are Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. The only North African country not to join was Libya which, although it periodically participated in NATO exercises in the Mediterranean, provided a case study in what happens to a nation that doesn’t fully cooperate with NATO. NATO Maritime Command reported recently that the Spanish Navy flagship, ESPS Tornado, led patrols in the Western Mediterranean as part of Operation Sea Guardian. Those patrols also included a Portuguese submarine and aircraft from Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey.
The Spanish ship paid a port visit to Algiers, and Tornado conducted a passing exercise with an Algerian Navy patrol boat, which “again helped NATO units and [the] Algerian Navy enhance interoperability.” The report also stated Standing NATO Maritime Groups visit Algiers frequently “to develop military dialogue.”
Fewer and fewer nations in the world remain outside NATO’s global orbit.