The current NATO command structure is insufficient to manage the individually formidable tasks of changing doctrine; out of area operations; emerging and unpredictable threats and asymmetric strategies; cleaner “supported-supporting” command relationships; integration of joint forces; and making the transition from threat-based to capabilities-based force development simultaneously.

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Executive Summary

A New Future
NATO must transform its military command structure in order to:

  • Adapt to the changing nature of strategic requirements and threats
  • Gain greatest advantage from information technology growth
  • Increase its effectiveness and efficiency in managing the deployment and sustainment of its forces across the spectrum of conflict.

Post-Cold War Evolution
The resultant change in NATO’s strategic concept, from one emphasizing collective defense to one more directed toward crisis response, has found NATO deeply engaged in managing its assets in new roles. In December 1997, the Military Committee of NATO proposed a new military command structure that reduced the number of headquarters from 65 to 20. The resulting structure has a strategic, regional, and sub-regional scope primarily intended to provide command and control for the Alliance’s joint operations. In concert with a changing command structure, NATO authorities unveiled a new NATO Force Structure (NFS) at the 1999 Washington Summit and agreed upon the principles and parameters of the NFS in July 2001.

Political/Military Considerations
One cannot discuss NATO these days or analyze any aspect of the future of the Alliance without ending up asking: why NATO, what NATO, and what is the real meaning of “transformation?” NATO remains relevant and is in a position to increase its strategic importance. It is clearly important to the current U.S. administration, which has been vocally supportive of NATO.

The conceptual acceptance in September 2002 of a NATO Response Force (NRF) built around rotational multinational formations has displayed the Alliance’s flexibility and understanding of the changing requirements.

The Alliance allows nations to make lower individual contributions to defense while benefiting from a higher level of collective operational capability.

NATO must remain a military alliance focused on meeting the security commitments outlined in its founding document, the Washington Treaty.

New Framework Proposals
During the Prague Summit in November 2002, the NATO leaders agreed that the Alliance would require a new command structure to meet the full range of new Alliance missions.

By assigning missions that specifically delineate unique command responsibilities at the outset, NATO can prevent many problems from occurring and ensure the highest levels of operational capability for the units of the NFS. The following structural changes are proposed:

  • Including troops, training, and doctrine (Allied Command Transformation, Troops, Training, and Doctrine or ACT3D) would more effectively meet the Alliance’s needs and accurately state its foci.
  • Allied Command Operations should have three subordinate Level Two headquarters. A new command, Allied Forces West (AFWEST), should join AFNORTH and AFSOUTH.
  • There should be nine Level Three component commands with assigned DCAOCs.
  • Each of the three regional commands would have an air, ground, and maritime component command. In addition, the DCAOCs should be permanently assigned to each of the three air component commands.
  • All of the NFS land forces should be assigned by region to the appropriate component command. The six HRF (L) and two FLR units would be equally split between the two land-based Level Two commands, AFNORTH and AFSOUTH. The three HRF (M) would be assigned to AFWEST and form the basis of the maritime CJTF.

Additional Recommendations
The NRF is the bridge to the future, one that can span the transatlantic capabilities gap and the often-contentious political gaps by cementing trust in word and deed.

The decision to transform the military command structure and increase efficiency and effectiveness must not be held hostage by political differences. Innovative and imaginative solutions to these problems are possible while maintaining mission focus.

NATO is in an advantageous and timely position for reform. What began at the Prague Summit in November 2002 must be refined and developed. NATO must take measures to transform its military command structure.


NATO is in an advantageous and timely position for reform. What began at the Prague Summit in November 2002 must be refined and developed. NATO must take measures to transform its military command structure. It must accomplish this in order to:

  • Manage Alliance resources effectively and efficiently
  • Remain a relevant force for peace and stability
  • Maintain its position as the world’s premier military alliance
  • Close the capability gap that has developed among its members.

It must be capable of growth and flexibility and be prepared for New Capabilities, New Members, and New Relationships. This command structure must manage and integrate transformation activities while planning for and executing operations across the full spectrum of missions. It must utilize asymmetric strategies to defend against emerging and unpredictable threats while transitioning from threat-based to capabilities-based force development. In addition, although limited by the differences inherent between national and multinational entities, the ongoing U.S. military transformation offers many valuable lessons learned in structural and management architecture. These are lessons that the Alliance can ill afford to ignore.