July 16 (UPI) -- Inaugurating full operational capability of NATO's Joint Force Command in Norfolk, Va., this week was marked by a ceremony highlighting the strength of the military bloc.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of the Joint Force Command, led the proceedings Thursday aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge at Naval Station Norfolk.
The new command joins NATO commands in Brunssum, Netherlands, and Naples, Italy, and will provide a U.S.-led, joint multi-national operational command, supported by component, allied and partner commands responsible for the North Atlantic region and the Arctic region known as the High North.
Establishing a third command in North America "creates a link between North America and Europe and helps to further develop the desired 360-degree approach for our collective defense and security," said Lewis, who will head Norfolk installation.
Joint Force Command Norfolk and the U.S. Second Fleet are responses to increased Russian submarine activity in recent years, as well as increased commercial and military traffic in the Arctic region and other events prompting reconsideration of the security of traffic lanes between Europe and North America.
Milley spoke of protecting NATO's lines of communication and the military reinforcement of Europe.
"It's the mission of this command to fight the Battle of the Atlantic in the event of armed conflict. ... The survival of NATO and the success or failure in combat in a future war in Europe will largely depend on the success or failure of this command," he said.
"In my view, the world is entering a period of potential instability, as some nations, not all, but some, and clearly terrorist groups and perhaps some rogue actors are seeking to undermine and challenge the existing international order, and they seek to weaken the system of cooperation and collective security that has been in existence for some time," he added in a reference to NATO's mutual protection pact established in 1947.
A 20-nation NATO exercise off the Portuguese coast in May, Steadfast Defender 2021, was the first test of Joint Force Command Norfolk.
The nine-day exercise, involving over 9,000 personnel and 18 ships, tested "NATO's readiness and military mobility, with forces deploying across land and sea, all the way from North America to the Black Sea region and off the coast of Portugal," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the time.