Europe Gathers Forces for the Future

September 2000
By Lt. Gen. C. Norman Wood, USAF (Ret.)

AFCEA long has been an international organization moreso than by the mailing addresses of some of its members. Just as successive U.S. administrations recognized the inexorable strategic link between North American democracies and their counterparts across the Atlantic Ocean, so too did AFCEA’s leadership. The establishment of the AFCEA Europe office in Brussels, Belgium, in 1980, site of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters, emphasized this importance. During the Cold War, the trans-Atlantic AFCEA link helped provide a valuable two-way dialog for command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) experts tasked with deterring aggression and maintaining the peace of nearly a half-century.

Now, the Atlantic alliance faces a different set of security challenges as it restructures for a new Europe. The collapse of the iron curtain has brought many former Warsaw Pact members into the NATO orbit. These newly emerged free-market democracies recognize that their future lies with Western Europe and its Atlantic allies. Simultaneously, NATO is evolving into a continentwide security organization geared toward ensuring harmonious relations among neighbors and, when necessary, responding to developing crises.

Many of Europe’s new democracies, already active in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, are devoting considerable effort toward developing a civilian-led military worthy of NATO membership. This is no small task given their struggling economies and the broad-based obsolescence of much of their military equipment, especially in the C3I arena. Yet, these nations are committed to becoming useful members of the NATO security infrastructure. I have visited the Bucuresti and Sofia chapters in Romania and Bulgaria, and they are hotbeds of C3I interest. And, AFCEA International is poised to render vital assistance in this effort through its European presence.

This is not to say that AFCEA Europe’s work with longtime NATO members has lessened in importance. The need for trans-Atlantic cooperation among the more powerful NATO members is greater than ever, especially with the alliance’s transition to a regional security organization. Where armor and airpower were the keys to Cold War security, the linchpin for this new capability is information technology.

With coalition operations being the likely modus operandi for future NATO actions, interoperability assumes paramount importance. The recent Kosovo conflict illustrated both the tremendous advantages inherent in advanced information technologies and the drawbacks when C3I systems do not interoperate well. NATO’s members must be able to interoperate seamlessly to be a credible force for security, and helping to facilitate this information technology interoperability is one of AFCEA International’s bailiwicks.

Faced with dynamic challenges and opportunities, AFCEA’s European chapters have established their own European Advisory Council, or EAC. This group supports the overall goals and objectives of the association above the European chapter level. The EAC is designed to offer advice, recommendations and proposals to the AFCEA Europe hierarchy, including the general manager of AFCEA Europe, the European regional vice presidents and AFCEA International and its governing bodies.

Comprising the European members of the AFCEA Executive Committee, the European regional vice presidents, and the European class and associate directors of AFCEA, the EAC is chaired by its permanent member, the general manager of AFCEA Europe. All European chapter presidents are invited to participate in its leadership meetings.

Its mission is twofold: discuss AFCEA issues involving its members; and work on maintaining an expanding and flourishing AFCEA presence in Europe. Association topics can include European views on policy and relevant issues for discussion at leading AFCEA committees, nominations for European members of the Executive Committee and for class and associate directors, European positions concerning the Young AFCEAN Advisory Council and the AFCEA Educational Foundation, and AFCEA awards.

The EAC also will focus on TechNet Europe symposium and exposition policy. And, as befitting the rapidly changing face of European security, the EAC will be in the midst of working a long-range plan for AFCEA Europe growth.

The AFCEA Europe leadership established the EAC less than one year ago in London. Its next site meeting will be prior to next month’s TechNet Europe conference in Prague, Czech Republic. That event, running from October 18 to 20, will mark a change in leadership of AFCEA Europe. Rear Adm. Dr. Sigurd Hess, GE N (Ret.), general manager of AFCEA Europe, is handing over the reins to Cdre. Robert Howell, RN (Ret.), effective November 1. Adm. Hess’ term as general manager has been characterized by growth and expansion into Central and Eastern Europe as well as renewed activity among longtime chapters and their members.

In his three years at the helm of AFCEA Europe, Adm. Hess took a good organization and made it better. His efforts increased member participation, grew chapters and recruited corporate sponsors from new areas. And, his accomplishments, earmarked by AFCEA’s vibrant European presence, were achieved during a time of declining resources.

Cdre. Howell takes over during an exciting time for AFCEA International. Free World security never looked stronger, and information systems are playing a vital role in maintaining that security. The link between North America and the growing European family is both stronger and more important than ever.