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North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Organisation du Traité de l'Atlantique Nord
NATO OTAN landscape logo.svg
Flag of NATO.svg
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (orthographic projection).svg
Member states of NATO
Abbreviation NATO, OTAN
Formation 4 April 1949; 69 years ago (1949-04-04)
Type Military alliance
Headquarters Brussels, Belgium
Official language
Jens Stoltenberg
Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach, Royal Air Force
General Curtis Scaparrotti, United States Army
Général Denis Mercier, French Air Force
Expenses (2017) US$946 billion[2]

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO ; French: Organisation du Traité de l'Atlantique Nord; OTAN), also called the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 29 North American and European countries. The alliance is based on the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949.[3][4] NATO constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its independent member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. NATO Headquarters are located in Haren, Brussels, Belgium, while the headquarters of Allied Command Operations is near Mons, Belgium.

NATO was little more than a political association until the Korean War galvanized the organization's member states, and an integrated military structure was built up under the direction of two US Supreme Commanders. The course of the Cold War led to a rivalry with nations of the Warsaw Pact which formed in 1955. Doubts over the strength of the relationship between the European states and the United States ebbed and flowed, along with doubts over the credibility of the NATO defense against a prospective Soviet invasion - doubts that led to the development of the independent French nuclear deterrent and the withdrawal of France from NATO's military structure in 1966 for 30 years. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany in 1989, the organization conducted its first military interventions in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995 and later Yugoslavia in 1999 during the breakup of Yugoslavia.[5] Politically, the organization sought better relations with former Warsaw Pact countries, several of which joined the alliance in 1999 and 2004.

Article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty, requiring member states to come to the aid of any member state subject to an armed attack, was invoked for the first and only time after the September 11 attacks,[6] after which troops were deployed to Afghanistan under the NATO-led ISAF. The organization has operated a range of additional roles since then, including sending trainers to Iraq, assisting in counter-piracy operations[7] and in 2011 enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The less potent Article 4, which merely invokes consultation among NATO members, has been invoked five times following incidents in the Iraq War, Syrian Civil War, and annexation of Crimea.

Since its founding, the admission of new member states has increased the alliance from the original 12 countries to 29. The most recent member state to be added to NATO is Montenegro on 5 June 2017. NATO currently recognizes Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Macedonia and Ukraine as aspiring members.[8] An additional 21 countries participate in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, with 15 other countries involved in institutionalized dialogue programs. The combined military spending of all NATO members constitutes over 70% of the global total.[9] Members have committed to reach or maintain defense spending of at least 2% of GDP by 2024.[10]


The structure of NATO evolved throughout the Cold War and its aftermath. An integrated military structure for NATO was first established in 1950 as it became clear that NATO would need to enhance its defences for the longer term against a potential Soviet attack. In April 1951, Allied Command Europe and its headquarters (SHAPE) were established; later, four subordinate headquarters were added in Northern and Central Europe, the Southern Region, and the Mediterranean.[11]

From the 1950s to 2003, the Strategic Commanders were the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT).

Military operations

Early operations

No military operations were conducted by NATO during the Cold War. Following the end of the Cold War, the first operations, Anchor Guard in 1990 and Ace Guard in 1991, were prompted by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Airborne early warning aircraft were sent to provide coverage of southeastern Turkey, and later a quick-reaction force was deployed to the area.[12]

Bosnia and Herzegovina intervention

A fighter jet with AV marked on its tail takes off from a mountain runway.
NATO planes engaged in aerial bombardments during Operation Deliberate Force after the Srebrenica massacre.

The Bosnian War began in 1992, as a result of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The deteriorating situation led to United Nations Security Council Resolution 816 on 9 October 1992, ordering a no-fly zone over central Bosnia and Herzegovina, which NATO began enforcing on 12 April 1993 with Operation Deny Flight. From June 1993 until October 1996, Operation Sharp Guard added maritime enforcement of the arms embargo and economic sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On 28 February 1994, NATO took its first wartime action by shooting down four Bosnian Serb aircraft violating the no-fly zone.[13]

On 10 and 11 April 1994, during the Bosnian War, the United Nations Protection Force called in air strikes to protect the Gora?de safe area, resulting in the bombing of a Bosnian Serb military command outpost near Gora?de by two US F-16 jets acting under NATO direction.[14] This resulted in the taking of 150 U.N. personnel hostage on 14 April.[15][16] On 16 April a British Sea Harrier was shot down over Gora?de by Serb forces.[17] A two-week NATO bombing campaign, Operation Deliberate Force, began in August 1995 against the Army of the Republika Srpska, after the Srebrenica massacre.[18]

NATO air strikes that year helped bring the Yugoslav wars to an end, resulting in the Dayton Agreement in November 1995.[18] As part of this agreement, NATO deployed a UN-mandated peacekeeping force, under Operation Joint Endeavor, named IFOR. Almost 60,000 NATO troops were joined by forces from non-NATO nations in this peacekeeping mission. This transitioned into the smaller SFOR, which started with 32,000 troops initially and ran from December 1996 until December 2004, when operations were then passed onto European Union Force Althea.[19] Following the lead of its member nations, NATO began to award a service medal, the NATO Medal, for these operations.[20]

Kosovo intervention

Three trucks of soldiers idle on a country road in front of trees and red roofed houses. The rear truck has KFOR painted on is back.
German KFOR soldiers patrol southern Kosovo in 1999.

In an effort to stop Slobodan Milo?evi?'s Serbian-led crackdown on KLA separatists and Albanian civilians in Kosovo, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1199 on 23 September 1998 to demand a ceasefire. Negotiations under US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke broke down on 23 March 1999, and he handed the matter to NATO,[21] which started a 78-day bombing campaign on 24 March 1999.[22] Operation Allied Force targeted the military capabilities of what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. During the crisis, NATO also deployed one of its international reaction forces, the ACE Mobile Force (Land), to Albania as the Albania Force (AFOR), to deliver humanitarian aid to refugees from Kosovo.[23]

Though the campaign was criticized for high civilian casualties, including bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Milo?evi? finally accepted the terms of an international peace plan on 3 June 1999, ending the Kosovo War. On 11 June, Milo?evi? further accepted UN resolution 1244, under the mandate of which NATO then helped establish the KFOR peacekeeping force. Nearly one million refugees had fled Kosovo, and part of KFOR's mandate was to protect the humanitarian missions, in addition to deterring violence.[23][24] In August-September 2001, the alliance also mounted Operation Essential Harvest, a mission disarming ethnic Albanian militias in the Republic of Macedonia.[25] As of 1 December 2013, 4,882 KFOR soldiers, representing 31 countries, continue to operate in the area.[26]

The US, the UK, and most other NATO countries opposed efforts to require the UN Security Council to approve NATO military strikes, such as the action against Serbia in 1999, while France and some others claimed that the alliance needed UN approval.[27] The US/UK side claimed that this would undermine the authority of the alliance, and they noted that Russia and China would have exercised their Security Council vetoes to block the strike on Yugoslavia, and could do the same in future conflicts where NATO intervention was required, thus nullifying the entire potency and purpose of the organization. Recognizing the post-Cold War military environment, NATO adopted the Alliance Strategic Concept during its Washington summit in April 1999 that emphasized conflict prevention and crisis management.[28]

War in Afghanistan

A monumental green copper statue of a woman with a torch stands on an island in front of a mainland where a massive plume of gray smoke billows amongst skyscrapers.
The September 11 attacks in the United States caused NATO to invoke its collective defence article for the first time.

The September 11 attacks in the United States caused NATO to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Charter for the first time in the organization's history. The Article says that an attack on any member shall be considered to be an attack on all. The invocation was confirmed on 4 October 2001 when NATO determined that the attacks were indeed eligible under the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty.[29] The eight official actions taken by NATO in response to the attacks included Operation Eagle Assist and Operation Active Endeavour, a naval operation in the Mediterranean Sea which is designed to prevent the movement of terrorists or weapons of mass destruction, as well as enhancing the security of shipping in general which began on 4 October 2001.[30]

The alliance showed unity: On 16 April 2003, NATO agreed to take command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which includes troops from 42 countries. The decision came at the request of Germany and the Netherlands, the two nations leading ISAF at the time of the agreement, and all nineteen NATO ambassadors approved it unanimously. The handover of control to NATO took place on 11 August, and marked the first time in NATO's history that it took charge of a mission outside the north Atlantic area.[31]

A general hands a NATO flag from a soldier on the left to one on the right.
ISAF General David M. Rodriguez at an Italian change of command in Herat

ISAF was initially charged with securing Kabul and surrounding areas from the Taliban, al Qaeda and factional warlords, so as to allow for the establishment of the Afghan Transitional Administration headed by Hamid Karzai. In October 2003, the UN Security Council authorized the expansion of the ISAF mission throughout Afghanistan,[32] and ISAF subsequently expanded the mission in four main stages over the whole of the country.[33]

On 31 July 2006, the ISAF additionally took over military operations in the south of Afghanistan from a US-led anti-terrorism coalition.[34] Due to the intensity of the fighting in the south, in 2011 France allowed a squadron of Mirage 2000 fighter/attack aircraft to be moved into the area, to Kandahar, in order to reinforce the alliance's efforts.[35] During its 2012 Chicago Summit, NATO endorsed a plan to end the Afghanistan war and to remove the NATO-led ISAF Forces by the end of December 2014.[36] ISAF was disestablished in December 2014 and replaced by the follow-on training Resolute Support Mission

Iraq training mission

In August 2004, during the Iraq War, NATO formed the NATO Training Mission - Iraq, a training mission to assist the Iraqi security forces in conjunction with the US led MNF-I.[37] The NATO Training Mission-Iraq (NTM-I) was established at the request of the Iraqi Interim Government under the provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546. The aim of NTM-I was to assist in the development of Iraqi security forces training structures and institutions so that Iraq can build an effective and sustainable capability that addresses the needs of the nation. NTM-I was not a combat mission but is a distinct mission, under the political control of NATO's North Atlantic Council. Its operational emphasis was on training and mentoring. The activities of the mission were coordinated with Iraqi authorities and the US-led Deputy Commanding General Advising and Training, who was also dual-hatted as the Commander of NTM-I. The mission officially concluded on 17 December 2011.[38]

Turkey invoked the first Article 4 meetings in 2003 at the start of the Iraq War. Turkey also invoked this article twice in 2012 during the Syrian Civil War, after the downing of an unarmed Turkish F-4 reconnaissance jet, and after a mortar was fired at Turkey from Syria,[39] and again in 2015 after threats by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to its territorial integrity.[40]

Gulf of Aden anti-piracy

A tall plume of black smoke rises from the blue ocean waters next to a large gray battleship and a small black inflatable boat.
USS Farragut destroying a Somali pirate skiff in March 2010

Beginning on 17 August 2009, NATO deployed warships in an operation to protect maritime traffic in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean from Somali pirates, and help strengthen the navies and coast guards of regional states. The operation was approved by the North Atlantic Council and involves warships primarily from the United States though vessels from many other nations are also included. Operation Ocean Shield focuses on protecting the ships of Operation Allied Provider which are distributing aid as part of the World Food Programme mission in Somalia. Russia, China and South Korea have sent warships to participate in the activities as well.[41][42] The operation seeks to dissuade and interrupt pirate attacks, protect vessels, and abetting to increase the general level of security in the region.[43]

Libya intervention

During the Libyan Civil War, violence between protestors and the Libyan government under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi escalated, and on 17 March 2011 led to the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which called for a ceasefire, and authorized military action to protect civilians. A coalition that included several NATO members began enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya shortly afterwards, beginning with Opération Harmattan by the French Air Force on March 19.

On 20 March 2011, NATO states agreed on enforcing an arms embargo against Libya with Operation Unified Protector using ships from NATO Standing Maritime Group 1 and Standing Mine Countermeasures Group 1,[44] and additional ships and submarines from NATO members.[45] They would "monitor, report and, if needed, interdict vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries".[44]

Pieces of a destroyed tank, notably the gun turret, lie on a sandy landscape.
Libyan Army Palmaria howitzers destroyed by the French Air Force near Benghazi in March 2011

On 24 March, NATO agreed to take control of the no-fly zone from the initial coalition, while command of targeting ground units remained with the coalition's forces.[46][47] NATO began officially enforcing the UN resolution on 27 March 2011 with assistance from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.[48] By June, reports of divisions within the alliance surfaced as only eight of the 28 member nations were participating in combat operations,[49] resulting in a confrontation between US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and countries such as Poland, Spain, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Germany to contribute more, the latter believing the organization has overstepped its mandate in the conflict.[50][51][52] In his final policy speech in Brussels on 10 June, Gates further criticized allied countries in suggesting their actions could cause the demise of NATO.[53] The German foreign ministry pointed to "a considerable [German] contribution to NATO and NATO-led operations" and to the fact that this engagement was highly valued by President Obama.[54]

While the mission was extended into September, Norway that day announced it would begin scaling down contributions and complete withdrawal by 1 August.[55] Earlier that week it was reported Danish air fighters were running out of bombs.[56][57] The following week, the head of the Royal Navy said the country's operations in the conflict were not sustainable.[58] By the end of the mission in October 2011, after the death of Colonel Gaddafi, NATO planes had flown about 9,500 strike sorties against pro-Gaddafi targets.[59][60] A report from the organization Human Rights Watch in May 2012 identified at least 72 civilians killed in the campaign.[61] Following a coup d'état attempt in October 2013, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan requested technical advice and trainers from NATO to assist with ongoing security issues.[62]

Participating countries


Twelve men in black suits stand talking in small groups under a backdrop with the words Lisbonne and Lisboa.
NATO organizes regular summits for leaders of their members states and partnerships.

NATO has twenty-nine members, mainly in Europe and North America. Some of these countries also have territory on multiple continents, which can be covered only as far south as the Tropic of Cancer in the Atlantic Ocean, which defines NATO's "area of responsibility" under Article 6 of the North Atlantic Treaty. During the original treaty negotiations, the United States insisted that colonies such as the Belgian Congo be excluded from the treaty.[63][64]French Algeria was however covered until their independence on 3 July 1962.[65] Twelve of these twenty-nine are original members who joined in 1949, while the other seventeen joined in one of seven enlargement rounds.

From the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, France pursued a military strategy of independence from NATO under a policy dubbed "Gaullo-Mitterrandism".[]Nicolas Sarkozy negotiated the return of France to the integrated military command and the Defence Planning Committee in 2009, the latter being disbanded the following year. France remains the only NATO member outside the Nuclear Planning Group and unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, will not commit its nuclear-armed submarines to the alliance.[66][67] Few members spend more than two percent of their gross domestic product on defence,[68] with the United States accounting for three quarters of NATO defense spending.[69]


A map of Europe with countries labeled in shades of blue, green, and yellow based on when they joined NATO.
NATO has added 13 new members since the German reunification and the end of the Cold War.

New membership in the alliance has been largely from Central and Eastern Europe, including former members of the Warsaw Pact. Accession to the alliance is governed with individual Membership Action Plans, and requires approval by each current member. NATO currently has two candidate countries that are in the process of joining the alliance: Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Macedonia. In NATO official statements, the Republic of Macedonia is always referred to as the "former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", with a footnote stating that "Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name". Though Macedonia completed its requirements for membership at the same time as Croatia and Albania, who joined NATO in 2009, its accession was blocked by Greece pending a resolution of the Macedonia naming dispute.[70] In order to support each other in the process, new and potential members in the region formed the Adriatic Charter in 2003.[71]Georgia was also named as an aspiring member, and was promised "future membership" during the 2008 summit in Bucharest,[72] though in 2014, US President Barack Obama said the country was not "currently on a path" to membership.[73]

Russia continues to oppose further expansion, seeing it as inconsistent with understandings between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and European and American negotiators that allowed for a peaceful German reunification.[74] NATO's expansion efforts are often seen by Moscow leaders as a continuation of a Cold War attempt to surround and isolate Russia,[75] though they have also been criticised in the West.[76] A June 2016 Levada poll found that 68% of Russians think that deploying NATO troops in the Baltic states and Poland - former Eastern bloc countries bordering Russia - is a threat to Russia.[77]Ukraine's relationship with NATO and Europe has been politically divisive, and contributed to "Euromaidan" protests that saw the ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. In March 2014, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk reiterated the government's stance that Ukraine is not seeking NATO membership.[78] Ukraine's president subsequently signed a bill dropping his nation's nonaligned status in order to pursue NATO membership, but signaled that it would hold a referendum before seeking to join.[79] Ukraine is one of eight countries in Eastern Europe with an Individual Partnership Action Plan. IPAPs began in 2002, and are open to countries that have the political will and ability to deepen their relationship with NATO.[80]

A 2006 study in the journal Security Studies argued that NATO enlargement contributed to democratic consolidation in Central and Eastern Europe.[81]


Hundreds of soldiers in military uniforms stand behind a line on a tarmac with 14 flags held by individuals at the front.
Partnership for Peace conducts multinational military exercises like Cooperative Archer, which took place in Tblisi in July 2007 with 500 servicemen from four NATO members, eight PfP members, and Jordan, a Mediterranean Dialogue participant.[82]

The Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme was established in 1994 and is based on individual bilateral relations between each partner country and NATO: each country may choose the extent of its participation.[83] Members include all current and former members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.[84] The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) was first established on 29 May 1997, and is a forum for regular coordination, consultation and dialogue between all fifty participants.[85] The PfP programme is considered the operational wing of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership.[83] Other third countries also have been contacted for participation in some activities of the PfP framework such as Afghanistan.[86]

The European Union (EU) signed a comprehensive package of arrangements with NATO under the Berlin Plus agreement on 16 December 2002. With this agreement, the EU was given the possibility to use NATO assets in case it wanted to act independently in an international crisis, on the condition that NATO itself did not want to act - the so-called "right of first refusal".[87] For example, Article 42(7) of the 1982 Treaty of Lisbon specifies that "If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power". The treaty applies globally to specified territories whereas NATO is restricted under its Article 6 to operations north of the Tropic of Cancer. It provides a "double framework" for the EU countries that are also linked with the PfP programme.

Additionally, NATO cooperates and discusses its activities with numerous other non-NATO members. The Mediterranean Dialogue was established in 1994 to coordinate in a similar way with Israel and countries in North Africa. The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative was announced in 2004 as a dialog forum for the Middle East along the same lines as the Mediterranean Dialogue. The four participants are also linked through the Gulf Cooperation Council.[88]

Political dialogue with Japan began in 1990, and since then, the Alliance has gradually increased its contact with countries that do not form part of any of these cooperation initiatives.[89] In 1998, NATO established a set of general guidelines that do not allow for a formal institutionalisation of relations, but reflect the Allies' desire to increase cooperation. Following extensive debate, the term "Contact Countries" was agreed by the Allies in 2000. By 2012, the Alliance had broadened this group, which meets to discuss issues such as counter-piracy and technology exchange, under the names "partners across the globe" or "global partners".[90][91]Australia and New Zealand, both contact countries, are also members of the AUSCANNZUKUS strategic alliance, and similar regional or bilateral agreements between contact countries and NATO members also aid cooperation. Colombia is the NATO's latest partner and Colombia has access to the full range of cooperative activities NATO offers to partners; Colombia became the first and only Latin American country to cooperate with NATO.[92]


The structure of NATO is complex and multi-faceted.[93]

The decision-making body is the North Atlantic Council (NAC), and the member state representatives also sit on the Defence Planning Committee (DPC) and the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG).[94] Below that the Secretary General of NATO directs the civilian International Staff, that is divided into administrative divisions, offices and other organizations. Also responsible to the NAC, DPC, and NPG are a host of committees that supervise the various NATO logistics and standardisation agencies.

The NATO Military Committee advises and assists the NAC on military matters. The Defence Planning Committee which directs its output to the Division of Defence Policy and Planning, a nominally civilian department that works closely with the Military Committee's International Military Staff.[95]

All agencies and organizations integrated into either the civilian administrative or military executive roles. For the most part they perform roles and functions that directly or indirectly support the security role of the alliance as a whole.

Civilian structure

In the twenty-first century NATO has an extensive civilian structure, including:

  • Public Diplomacy Division
  • NATO Office of Security (NOS)
  • Executive Management
  • Division of Political Affairs and Security Policy
  • Division of Operations
  • Division of Defence Policy and Planning
  • Division of Defence Investment
  • NATO Office of Resources (NOR)
  • NATO Headquarters Consultation, Command and Control Staff (NHQC3S)
  • Office of the Financial Controller (FinCon)
  • Office of the Chairman of the Senior Resource Board (SRB)
  • Office of the Chairman of the Civil and Military Budget Committees (CBC/MBC))
  • International Board of Auditors for NATO (IBAN)
  • NATO Production and Logistics Organizations (NPLO)

The Defence Planning Committee (DPC) is normally composed of Permanent Representatives, but meets at the level of Defence Ministers at least twice a year. It deals with most defence matters and subjects related to collective defence planning. In this it serves as a coordinating body between the Civilian and Military organizational bureaucracies of NATO.

The Defence Planning Committee was a former senior decision-making body on matters relating to the integrated military structure of the Alliance. It was dissolved following a major committee review in June 2010 and its responsibilities absorbed by the North Atlantic Council. [3]


Two gray haired older men talk with a soldier wearing camouflage and a green beret who is facing away.
Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg (right) and his predecessor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (left), talk with members of the Norwegian army's Telemark Battalion in Oslo.
NATO foreign ministers and Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo ?ukanovi? signed a protocol at the NATO Council in 2016.

Like any alliance, NATO is ultimately governed by its 29 member states. However, the North Atlantic Treaty and other agreements outline how decisions are to be made within NATO. Each of the 29 members sends a delegation or mission to NATO's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.[96] The senior permanent member of each delegation is known as the Permanent Representative and is generally a senior civil servant or an experienced ambassador (and holding that diplomatic rank). Several countries have diplomatic missions to NATO through embassies in Belgium.

Together, the Permanent Members form the North Atlantic Council (NAC), a body which meets together at least once a week and has effective governance authority and powers of decision in NATO. From time to time the Council also meets at higher level meetings involving foreign ministers, defence ministers or heads of state or government (HOSG) and it is at these meetings that major decisions regarding NATO's policies are generally taken. However, it is worth noting that the Council has the same authority and powers of decision-making, and its decisions have the same status and validity, at whatever level it meets. France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States are together referred to as the Quint, which is an informal discussion group within NATO. NATO summits also form a further venue for decisions on complex issues, such as enlargement.[97]

The meetings of the North Atlantic Council are chaired by the Secretary General and, when decisions have to be made, action is agreed upon on the basis of unanimity and common accord. There is no voting or decision by majority. Each nation represented at the Council table or on any of its subordinate committees retains complete sovereignty and responsibility for its own decisions.


The main headquarters of NATO is located on Boulevard Léopold III/Leopold III-laan, B-1110 Brussels, which is in Haren, part of the City of Brussels municipality.[98] A new EUR750 million headquarters building began construction in 2010, was completed in summer 2016,[99] and was dedicated on 25 May 2017. The 250,000 square metres (2,700,000 sq ft) complex was designed by Jo Palma and home to a staff of 3800.[100] Problems in the original building stemmed from its hurried construction in 1967, when NATO was forced to move its headquarters from Porte Dauphine in Paris, France following the French withdrawal.[101][102] The cost of the new headquarters building escalated to about EUR1.1 billion[103] or $1.23 billion.[104]

The staff at the Headquarters is composed of national delegations of member countries and includes civilian and military liaison offices and officers or diplomatic missions and diplomats of partner countries, as well as the International Staff and International Military Staff filled from serving members of the armed forces of member states.[105] Non-governmental citizens' groups have also grown up in support of NATO, broadly under the banner of the Atlantic Council/Atlantic Treaty Association movement.

Military structures

In 2012-2013, the Military Command Structure was reorganised. Allied Force Command Madrid was disestablished on 1 July 2013, the Heidelberg force command also deactivated,[106] the maritime component command at Naples was closed[107] and the air component command at Izmir also shut down.[108] Allied Air Command Izmir was reorganised as Allied Land Command.

A number of NATO Force Structure formations, such as the NATO Rapid Deployable Corps, are answerable ultimately to SACEUR either directly or through the component commands. Directly responsible to SACEUR is the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen in Germany where a jointly funded fleet of E-3 Sentry AWACS airborne radar aircraft is located. The Boeing C-17 Globemaster IIIs of the Strategic Airlift Capability, which became fully operational in July 2009, are based at Pápa airfield in Hungary.

In early 2015, in the wake of the War in Donbass, meetings of NATO ministers decided that Multinational Corps Northeast would be augmented so as to develop greater capabilities, to, if thought necessary, prepare to defend the Baltic States, and that a new Multinational Division Southeast would be established in Romania. Six NATO Force Integration Units would also be established to coordinate preparations for defence of new Eastern members of NATO.[109]

Multinational Division Southeast was activated on 1 December 2015.[110] Headquarters Multinational Division South - East (HQ MND-SE) is a North Atlantic Council (NAC) activated NATO military body under operational command (OPCOM) of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) which may be employed and deployed in peacetime, crisis and operations.

On 25 April 2017, the commander-designate of the new Multinational Division Northeast arrived at the headquarters location at Elblag, Poland. On 3 July 2017, the new division reached initial operational capability (IOC).[111] The division is tasked to coordinate the four NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroups and to carry out Article 5 collective defence activities.[112]

In late 2017-early 2018, two new commands were approved, a rear area transit command which was finally announced as the Joint Support and Enabling Command, to be located at Ulm, Germany, and a new command for the Atlantic.[113] In March 2018 Chair of the Military Committee General Petr Pavel announced that the new Atlantic command would become part of the NATO Force Structure at the level of a Joint Force Command, similar to the two that exist at Brunssum and Naples. On 7 June 2018 the Secretary-General said a new JFC will have its headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, in the United States.[114] The name was confirmed as Joint Force Command Norfolk at the NATO Summit in July.

Military Committee

An older man with a gray beard, red beret, and olive green military suit.
Petr Pavel (right), of the Czech Republic, was Chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 2015 to 2018.

NATO's military operations are directed by the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, and split into two Strategic Commands long both commanded by U.S. officers, assisted by a staff drawn from across NATO. The Strategic Commanders are responsible to the NATO Military Committee for the overall direction and conduct of all Alliance military matters within their areas of command.

NATO's military operations are directed by the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee with the Deputy Chairman, and split into two Strategic Commands commanded by a senior US officer and (currently) a senior French officer[115] assisted by a staff drawn from across NATO. The Strategic Commanders are responsible to the Military Committee for the overall direction and conduct of all Alliance military matters within their areas of command.[116]

Each country's delegation includes a Military Representative, a senior officer from each country's armed forces, supported by the International Military Staff. Together the Military Representatives form the Military Committee, a body responsible for recommending to NATO's political authorities those measures considered necessary for the common defence of the NATO area. Its principal role is to provide direction and advice on military policy and strategy. It provides guidance on military matters to the NATO Strategic Commanders, whose representatives attend its meetings, and is responsible for the overall conduct of the military affairs of the Alliance under the authority of the Council.[117] The Chairman of the NATO Military Committee is Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach of the United States, since 2018, and the Deputy Chairman is Steven Shepro of the United States, since 2016.[118]

Like the Council, from time to time the Military Committee also meets at a higher level, namely at the level of Chiefs of Defence, the most senior military officer in each nation's armed forces. Until 2008 the Military Committee excluded France, due to that country's 1966 decision to remove itself from the NATO Military Command Structure, which it rejoined in 1995. Until France rejoined NATO, it was not represented on the Defence Planning Committee, and this led to conflicts between it and NATO members.[119] Such was the case in the lead up to Operation Iraqi Freedom.[120] The operational work of the Committee is supported by the International Military Staff

Allied Command Operations

Location of the commands attatched to NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), also referred to as Allied Command Operations (ACO)

NATO's commands are Allied Command Transformation (ACT), responsible for transformation and training of NATO forces, and Allied Command Operations (ACO), responsible for NATO operations worldwide.[121]

On 12 June 2003 NATO ministers announced an end to the decades-old structure of a command each for the Atlantic and Europe. Allied Command Operations (ACO) was to be responsible for the strategic, operational and tactical management of combat and combat support forces of the NATO members, and Allied Command Transformation (ACT) responsible for the induction of the new member states' forces into NATO, and NATO forces' research and training capability.[122] The European allies had become concerned about the possibility of a loosening of U.S. ties to NATO if there were no longer any U.S.-led NATO HQ in the United States, and the refocusing of the Atlantic command into a transformation command was the result.[123] The alliance created several NATO Rapid Deployable Corps and naval High Readiness Forces (HRFs), which all report to Allied Command Operations. In Europe the Regional Commands were replaced by JFC Brunssum and JFC Naples, and the JSRCs disappeared (though the Madrid JSRC became a land command for JFC Naples).

The commander of Allied Command Operations retained the title "Supreme Allied Commander Europe", and remains based at SHAPE at Casteau. He is a U.S. four-star general or admiral with the dual-hatted role of heading United States European Command, which is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. ACO includes Joint Force Command Brunssum in the Netherlands, Joint Force Command Naples in Italy, and Joint Command Lisbon in Portugal, all multi-national headquarters with many nations represented.[124] From 2003, JFC Brunssum had its land component, Allied Land Component Command Headquarters Heidelberg at Heidelberg, Germany, its air component, Allied Air Command Ramstein, at Ramstein in Germany, and its naval component at the Northwood Headquarters in the northwest suburbs of London. JFC Naples has its land component in Madrid, air component at ?zmir, Turkey, and its naval component, Allied Maritime Command Naples, in Naples, Italy. It also directed KFOR in Kosovo. Joint Command Lisbon was a smaller HQ with no subordinate commands.

Allied Command Transformation

Allied Command Transformation (ACT) is based in the former Allied Command Atlantic headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, United States. It is headed by the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT), a French officer. There is also an ACT command element located at SHAPE in Mons, Belgium. In June 2009 Le Figaro named the French officer who was to take command of ACT following France's return to the NATO Military Command Structure.[125] Subordinate ACT organizations include the Joint Warfare Centre (JWC) located in Stavanger, Norway (in the same site as the former Norwegian Armed Forces National Joint HQ); the Joint Force Training Centre (JFTC) in Bydgoszcz, Poland; and the Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre (JALLC) in Monsanto, Portugal. The NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC) at La Spezia, Italy, was also part of ACT until it was shifted under the auspices of the NATO Science & Technology Organization.

Rapid Deployable Corps

NATO has several NATO Rapid Deployable Corps, including Eurocorps, I. German/Dutch Corps, Multinational Corps Northeast, and NATO Rapid Deployable Italian Corps among others, as well as naval High Readiness Forces (HRFs), which all report to Allied Command Operations.[126]

Three soldiers in camouflage stand in salute while a fourth raises a blue and white flag on a red and white striped flagpole.
NATO flag raising at opening of Exercise Steadfast Jazz at Drawsko Pomorskie in Poland in November 2013

In early 2015, in the wake of the War in Donbass, meetings of NATO ministers decided that Multinational Corps Northeast would be augmented so as to develop greater capabilities, to, if thought necessary, prepare to defend the Baltic States, and that a new Multinational Division Southeast would be established in Romania. Six NATO Force Integration Units would also be established to coordinate preparations for defence of new Eastern members of NATO.[127]

Multinational Division Southeast was activated on 1 December 2015.[128] Headquarters Multinational Division South - East (HQ MND-SE) is a North Atlantic Council (NAC) activated NATO military body under operational command (OPCOM) of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) which may be employed and deployed in peacetime, crisis and operations by NATO on the authority of the appropriate NATO Military Authorities by means of an exercise or operational tasking issued in accordance with the Command and Control Technical Arrangement (C2 TA) and standard NATO procedures.

During August 2016, it was announced that 650 soldiers of the British Army would be deployed on an enduring basis in Eastern Europe, mainly in Estonia with some also being deployed to Poland. This British deployment forms part of a four-battle group (four-battalion) deployment by various allies, NATO Enhanced Forward Presence, one each spread from Poland (the Poland-deployed battle group mostly led by the US) to Estonia.

Canada-US Regional Planning Group

The Canada-US Regional Planning Group (CUSRPG) is the only survivor of the originally five regional planning groups of the late 1940s and early 1950s.[129] All the others were subsumed into Allied Command Europe and Allied Command Atlantic.[130] In August 1953 it was tasked to '..(a) Prepare, approve and forward to the Military Committee, through the Standing Group, plans for and other material pertaining to, the defense of the Canada-U.S. Region. (b) Coordinate plans with SACLANT and other NATO Commands.[131] The NATO Handbook stated in 1990s editions that it was responsible for the defence of the US-Canada area and meets alternatively in Washington, D.C. and Ottawa. As such it appears to duplicate, in part, the work of the Permanent Joint Board on Defence.

NATO Networks

There are several communications networks used by NATO to support its exercises and operations:

Organizations and agencies

A major reorganization of the NATO Agencies was agreed at a meeting of the defence ministers from NATO's 28 member states on 8 June 2011. The new Agencies' structure will build upon the existing one:[132]

  • Headquarters for the NATO Support Agency will be in Capellen Luxembourg (site of the current NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency - NAMSA).
  • The NATO Communications and Information Agency Headquarters will be in Brussels, as will the very small staff which will design the new NATO Procurement Agency.
  • A new NATO Science and Technology (S&T) Organization will be created before July 2012, consisting of Chief Scientist, a Programme Office for Collaborative S&T, and the NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC).
  • The current NATO Standardization Agency will continue and be subject to review by Spring 2014.

Parliamentary Assembly

A large baroque yellow and gold room with a stage on the left and long tables filled with men and women in suits on the right.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly, an intergovernmental organization of NATO and associate countries' elected representatives, meets in London prior to the start of the 2014 Newport summit.

The body that sets broad strategic goals for NATO is the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO-PA) which meets at the Annual Session, and one other time during the year, and is the organ that directly interacts with the parliamentary structures of the national governments of the member states which appoint Permanent Members, or ambassadors to NATO. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is made up of legislators from the member countries of the North Atlantic Alliance as well as thirteen associate members. Karl A. Lamers, German Deputy Chairman of the Defence Committee of the Bundestag and a member of the Christian Democratic Union, became president of the assembly in 2010.[133] It is however officially a different structure from NATO, and has as aim to join together deputies of NATO countries in order to discuss security policies on the NATO Council.

The Assembly is the political integration body of NATO that generates political policy agenda setting for the NATO Council via reports of its five committees:

  • Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security
  • Defence and Security Committee
  • Economics and Security Committee
  • Political Committee
  • Science and Technology Committee

These reports provide impetus and direction as agreed upon by the national governments of the member states through their own national political processes and influencers to the NATO administrative and executive organizational entities.

See also

Similar organizations:


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Further reading

  • John Borawski, Thomas-Durell Young, NATO After 2000: The Future of the Euro-Atlantic Alliance
  • Dr. Thomas-Durell Young, Reforming NATO's Military Structures: The Long-Term Study and Its Implications for Land Forces, Strategic Studies Institute, May 1, 1998. Often taken for granted, the Alliance's integrated command structure provides the basis for NATO's collective defense, and increasingly, as seen in Bosnia, its ability to undertake peace support operations. However, the very value by which nations hold the structure has resulted in a difficult and time-consuming reorganization process, which has produced only limited reforms.
  • Dr. Thomas-Durell Young, Multinational Land Formations and NATO: Reforming Practices and Structures, Strategic Studies Institute, December 1, 1997. Reduced national force structures, new NATO roles and missions emanating from the military implementation of Alliance Strategy and the rapid reaction requirements associated with the embryonic Combined Joint Task Forces (CJTF) concept are but three of a multitude of inter-related issues.
  • The current official reference for the NATO Military Command Structure appears to be MC 324/1 (The NATO Military Command Structure, May 2004) and a successor MC 324/2. The previous issue was MC 324, issued on 6 January 1999.
  • NATO Office of Information and Press, NATO Handbook : Fiftieth Anniversary Edition, NATO, Brussels, 1998-99, Second Reprint, ISBN 92-845-0134-2

External links

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