U.S. Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia
Unable to soldier on alone, at America's massive Naval Base in Norfolk,
Virginia, the U.S. military is preparing its partners in the Atlantic Alliance
for the battles to come in Washington's 'interminable war on terror.'
Norfolk, Virginia: At the world’s biggest military port in Virginia,
the objective of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] is to confront the
new dangers that threaten Washington and its allies. Amassed there is an impressive
war machine that combines very high technology and reinforces international
Far, very far, from the bloody attacks in London, the fatal ambushes in Baghdad
and the disappointments in Kabul, the gigantic American war machine hones its
weaponry for the battles to come in its interminable global war on terror (GWOT
in military jargon). But this activity, which takes place in the peaceful, touristy
state of Virginia, also involves Washington’s allies. The 25 countries
of the Atlantic alliance are working alongside the hyperpower on transforming
NATO, in order to adapt it to its new challenges.
U.S. Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia
SHADOWS OF D-DAY
These duel strategic objectives are being addresses at Norfolk – the
largest U.S. Naval base but also the largest military port in the world –
by making preparations, the extent of which calls to mind, 60-years-ago, D-Day!
Of course, this time the American armada is not on course for the Normandy coast.
In fact, it is the entire planet that the United States intends to watch closely
with its partners in the Alliance, to be ready for any new and unpleasant surprise
from all types of fanatics. The carnage perpetrated in the heart of the British
capital on the morning of July 7, very likely by Islamist terrorists, only confirms
the absolute necessity, notably for the West, to be on constant guard. Hence
the mobilization of 600 U.S. Naval vessels that, along with aircraft carriers,
allows “access anywhere in the world, but without leaving a trace …”
“It is up to God to judge Bin Laden, but it is up to us to arrange their
meeting,” a sign reminds Marines boarding the amphibious assault ship, the
USS Iwo Jima. The same motivating discourse of waging the GWOT is present in the
control tower that dominates the airstrip on the floating airport [the Iwo Jima].
Painted in large black letters is advice meant for the pilots and crews of planes
and helicopters: “Why we are here.” What are listed are the names
and dates of places of pain and anger for all Americans: October 23, 1983, Marine
headquarters in Beirut, 241 dead … December 21, 1988, Pan Am flight over
Lockerbie, 259 dead … October 12, 2000, Destroyer USS Cole in Aden, 17 dead
… September 11, 2001, World Trade Center, 2,752 dead … This litany
of attacks that have hit the United States over the last 20 years have the effect,
when necessary, of stirring up the war-like ardor of even the least bellicose
“Before, we knew only the threat of the great Soviet bear. Today, it
is a matter of exporting security very far from our borders and our bases. This
requires, from all NATO countries, greater flexibility but also perfect cooperation
and complementarity,” stressed Lieutenant-General Michel Maisonnueve.
With a crew cut, a little mustache and an athletic build, this Canadian officer
is the staff captain at the headquarters for the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation
established in Norfolk. The fact that this very high position is occupied by
a non-American is intended as an example of the necessity of “interoperability,”
as NATO workers call it. Similarly, a British citizen is the second in command
on the Iwo Jima aircraft carrier. There is also a French Lieutenant-Colonel
on this giant ship, originally trained as a Mirage pilot, and a German among
the top-ranking officers on board.
“The problems posed by security in the 21st century cannot be resolved
by one nation alone, no matter how powerful it may be,” said Jack Klevecz,
head of the International Programs Division at the headquarters, in Norfolk,
of the United States Joint Forces Command. This American civilian with a bald
head seems both in appearance and in his futuristic discourse, as if he just
stepped out of a James Bond movie. His job is to conceive of the most sophisticated
means of winning tomorrow’s wars. One of his gadgets would thrill any
teen fond of war games.
“We can virtually reproduce the exact battle conditions of an urban zone,
taking into account the environment, real-time climatic conditions, etc. Thus,
it can be a Baghdad neighborhood in three dimensions, with its specific buildings
and streets, its hospital and its school …” he said. Having just
returned from Iraq, Colonel Chris Conlin ensures that the software simulation
will train the Marines in the best way possible to face situations that “because
of a single terrorist, can suddenly become totally chaotic.”
On June 28, George W. Bush, with some humility, celebrated the first anniversary
of the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqi civilian authorities. As more than 1,700
American soldiers have died since the fall of Saddam Hussein, it would be wise
to reserve any quick assessment about the efficacy of these avant-garde technologies.
But it is hard not to be impressed when visiting the very restricted operations
rooms that hold some 150 computer screens for warfighting experiments, the immense
hangars obscured by blue light where, transformed by technology, a fleet of
phosphorescent models maneuver and simulators that cost tens of thousands of
dollars allow soldiers to learn to land on an aircraft carrier at sea.
Amphibious Assualt Ship USS Iwo Jima
Weakened by its Iraqi adventure and handicapped by recruiting difficulties,
the American military remains a colossus next to which no other member of the
Atlantic alliance can hope to compare. But given the planetary objectives of
the global war on terror – and since Article 5 of the Treaty of Washington
was invoked on September 12, 2001 stipulating that “an armed attack against
one or numerous members of NATO will be considered an attack against all”
– it remains imperative for the Alliance to quickly transform its intervention
capabilities, its chain of command and its materials.
“Our transformation policy is not something theoretical; it is the transformation
of anything that could lead to better security in the West tomorrow. And it
is urgent,” said Steven, a U.S. Naval officer sent to Norfolk a few days
ago to work with NATO. The tragedy in London on July 7, unfortunately, proves