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Old NATO headquarters turns 50 near inauguration date for the new

March 31, 2017 - BELGIUM

NATO opened its present headquarters 50 years ago. The anniversary offers a symbolic target for inaugurating the Alliance's vast new palace of steel and glass in Brussels, but it plans instead to hold off the ribbon-cutting until NATO leaders are on hand for their summit in May.

The architects who won the design contract, SOM+ASSAR, describe the shape of the new building as evoking fingers interlaced in a symbolic clasp of unity. Set on a 41-hectare campus, the building includes a highly secure data centre and 245,000 square metres of office, conference and recreational space. It provides each member nation with embassy-level security and privacy while also offering communal spaces where delegates can convene.

NATO leaders decided to replace NATO headquarters with the new purpose-built building at the Washington summit in 1999. By 2003 it was clear that estimates were inadequate to accommodate the facility's ambitious scale, unique winged design and extreme cybersecurity requirements.

Whenever it happens, the inauguration will be overdue. Massive cost overruns and the financial difficulties of the construction consortium, the BAM Alliance, have caused many delays to the completion of the building.

Der Spiegel reported in Jan 2014 that the construction consortium was in financial difficulties and the project was at risk of being halted. The setback was an embarrassment for outgoing NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, according to the report. BAM Alliance was seeking an additional €245 million to complete the project, with a delay of at least nine months.

Spiegel notes that it quickly became clear at a meeting of representatives of all 28 NATO states on Dec 19, 2013, that there was no question of the project being halted. Many delegates, including the Germans, said they favoured providing additional funds. "We pointed to the disastrous effect on the image of the alliance if construction were to stop and if NATO appeared to be incapable of punctually completing a construction," the German ambassador, Martin Erdmann, told Berlin in a confidential cable reported by Spiegel. Erdmann warned of the risk of a further cost increase, adding that the additional costs were the lesser evil.

New NATO Headquarters (NATO Dec 2015)

Risk for Rasmussen: New NATO Headquarters in Financial Trouble (Spiegel 20 Jan 2014)

NATO headquarters (SOM web)

NATO Fast Facts (CNN 22 Jun 2015)

NATO summit with Trump on May 25, Belgium says (Reuters 9 Feb 2017)

Date written/update: 2017-02-13