Military leaders from Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania recently
met in Washington to discuss the upcoming deployment of the South-Eastern
Europe Brigade (SEEBRIG). The brigade plans to send a “force
offer” to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by year’s
end, according to civilian and military officials.
SEEBRIG was established in 1998 by the South-Eastern Europe Defense
Ministerial (SEDM), an informal group of the area’s defense
ministers. SEDM includes defense officials from Albania, Bulgaria,
Croatia, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey and
the United States. The brigade represents seven of these nations,
all except the United States, Slovenia and Croatia, which serve
as observer nations.
The brigade’s stated goal is to contribute to stability and
security in a region known for conflict and tension, and to deploy
for missions in support of the United Nations, NATO or the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said officials. Though the
brigade is open to deploying for “coalition of the willing,”
peacekeeping or humanitarian-support operations, it will not participate
in “peace enforcement” operations, an official said.
“For the first actions, they want to maintain peace and help
nations conduct normal business,” rather than peace enforcement,
“which is war,” said Mircea Mocanu, Romania’s
assistant defense attaché to the United States.
The United States is anxious to see the brigade deployed to assist
in regional conflicts. “SEEBRIG is the flagship of the Southern
Europe military defense. It has truly been a political success,”
said Maria Copson-Niecko, a European policy staff member in the
office of the secretary of defense. “But without deployment,
something is missing,” she said.
A permanent staff headquarters for SEEBRIG, with rotating chairmen
and military commanders from each participating nation, was established
in 1999. It has 35 standing personnel, and can expand to approximately
150. The current headquarters are located in Plovdiv, Bulgaria,
and because of the brigade’s rotation regulations, will move
to Constanta, Romania in July of 2003.
The brigade adheres to NATO procedures and doctrine, said Turkish
Col. Ali Demiral, the brigade’s current commander. Demiral
reported that the brigade is building up to five battalion-sized
units, and once deployed, would provide a force of approximately
3,000 infantry soldiers.
According to planning documents, the structure consists of “four
mechanized infantry battalions and one framework mechanized infantry
regiment enforced with one infantry company and one mechanized company.”
A reconnaissance platoon and a reconnaissance company will also
be set up. The documents indicate that a self-propelled Howitzer
battery, one engineer platoon, and two tactical air control parties
form combat support units for the brigade.
Nations are responsible for the training of their own units, but
there have been joint exercises to test compatibility and cooperation.
The brigade recently completed two live exercises in Ukraine and
Turkey, and a simulation exercise in Greece, said Demiral. Mocanu
added that a headquarters exercise also recently was conducted in
The brigade works as a team with the individual countries contributing
logistics, materiel and support according to their abilities and
priorities. “Each country presents units it has selected,”
said Sorin Ducaru, Romania’s ambassador to the United States.
“It is an international and complex mechanism of political
balance and practical cooperation.”
“It could be used as a lesson to other regions known for
conflict, such as the Middle East, Afghanistan or Timor,”
“We are all presented with the image of the Balkans as the
powder keg of Europe,” said Ovidiu Dranga, the civilian chairman
of the SEDM coordinating committee. “The results of the South-East
Europe initiative is deep agreement that they [the member nations]
are not enemies to one another,” Dranga said.
He said that SEEBRIG seeks to combat the powder-keg image by deploying
its troops for practical, collaborative projects. SEEBRIG training
has in recent months focused on counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation
and border security, and could likely be deployed in the region
for such purposes, he said. Transport challenges will prevent the
brigade from immediately deploying outside the region, he said.
A side benefit of the brigade’s engagement in NATO-style
operations is an inducement for the countries to enhance interoperability,
even for the countries not yet ready to join NATO, Dranga said.
Greece, Turkey, Italy and the United States already are members
of NATO, and Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania are set to join in 2004.
For the countries that are not yet NATO members, the brigade could
serve as a “channeling instrument,” to bring the countries
up to speed on NATO operational policy, said Dranga.