Select Committee on Defence Seventh Report




142. The North Atlantic Council (NAC) is NATO's key decision-making body. It consists of Permanent Representatives to NATO, with ambassadorial rank, who meet at least once a week. The NAC also meets at foreign minister, defence minister and head of state and government level, depending on the nature of the business to be discussed. Its authority and powers have the same status at whatever level it meets. All member countries of NATO have an equal right to express their views at the NAC. Decisions are 'the expression of the collective will of member governments arrived at by common consent'. Action is agreed 'on the basis of unanimity and common accord'; there is no voting, and no system of decision by majority.[158]

143. The Secretary of State believed that—

... it will remain essential that the most important decisions that NATO has to take—those obviously that concern the deployment of armed forces—will have to be taken by consensus. We could not contemplate a situation in which Britain's armed forces were put at risk without Britain's ministers agreeing to that. I cannot contemplate circumstances in which any country would be prepared to allow majority voting to determine the deployment of its armed forces. That would be quite wrong.[159]

Our academic witnesses agreed that majority voting of any kind was 'impossible' for NATO when it was dealing with matters of sovereignty.[160]

144. The view put to us at NATO headquarters was that there were many virtues to operating by consensus—despite the fact that the process was often cumbersome and painful—and that decision-making with, say, 25 members was not intrinsically more difficult than with 16 or 19. The process of achieving consensus within NATO relies on the members' determination to make the Alliance work and an acceptance that individual countries might not get exactly what they want on every occasion. The fact that Greece had disapproved of, but not opposed, the Kosovo campaign was regarded as showing the strength of the consensus system. If a voting system had been in place, Greece would almost certainly have voted against the campaign, but consensus provides an opportunity for a member to explain its reservations or voice concern about a proposal, without blocking it. Moreover, the leading Allies would not wish to risk being outvoted. Some believed consensus gave members an incentive to remain interested and involved, and provided an assurance that no decision would be taken without each country having an opportunity to express a view. Working on ways of building consensus within NATO was regarded as more important than finding an alternative system.


145. However, whatever the positive aspects of consensus in making big decisions, such as committing to operations, NATO needs to find other ways to make decisions on administrative, budgetary and management issues if it is to be an effective and vital organisation, rather than one which risks being ham-strung by bureaucracy and procrastination. Delegating authority for such decisions to the Secretary General was seen as a key way forward, and some steps have already been taken. The Secretary of State told us—

The suspicion is that ... too many decisions are currently taken by consensus and too many minor decisions are taken by consensus, whereas we need a more streamlined and efficient organisation taking some of these essentially administrative decisions in a more efficient and effective way.[161]

One of the key things the Secretary General is looking at is reducing the number of NATO committees, of which there are over 400 at present.[162] The expectation is that agreement can be reached on reducing this number by around 35 per cent.

146. The MoD view is that, as part of the streamlining process, NATO administrative structures need to be reformed. It says that 'the development of modern personnel, management, and budgetary systems should be a priority given the shortcomings of NATO's existing HQ systems' and supports the Secretary General's reform efforts.[163] When we questioned the Secretary of State about this in oral evidence, he disputed the use of the word 'shortcomings', saying that—

... I would not actually put it in quite that way in the sense that I think it is unfair to go from a statement which says we need to make changes in NATO to suggesting that there are existing shortcomings.[164]

We found this surprising, given that we were directly quoting from the MoD's own memorandum to us. While we accept the Secretary of State's reluctance to be publicly critical of NATO, it seems to us to be a fundamental prerequisite of change that national governments accept that NATO has weaknesses if there is to be any real prospect of reforming the Alliance at Prague. The UK has frequently been at the forefront in pushing for reform in NATO. We expect the Government to continue to use all the persuasion and leverage at its disposal before and at the Prague Summit to secure the necessary reforms in NATO structures.

147. On the substance of administrative reform, the Secretary of State referred to a set of proposals which the Secretary General of NATO had put forward in the spring on streamlining the internal mechanisms of the Alliance and said that 'we strongly support that initiative'.[165] Proposals for budgetary reform and in particular to link resources more closely to outputs are being developed in advance of the Prague Summit.[166] At the moment the 'bottom up' process for formulating the budget, based on proposals from individual committees, lacks the proper strategic overview, either by NATO's senior officials or, ultimately, by the NAC. This has clearly led to inefficiencies and ineffectiveness in allocating the Alliance's resources.

148. There are basic and practical administrative changes which will be necessary as a result of a substantial enlargement. Simply accommodating 26 rather than 19 members in existing meeting rooms, when each delegation consists of several people, would present a challenge, and NATO headquarters in Brussels would have to find room for the delegations from the new member countries. Managing meetings in order to ensure business is expedited would also be more challenging if membership increases. We heard of an initiative by the Secretary General to encourage members to circulate the text of speeches in advance, with delegates delivering only an abbreviated version orally at the

table. When this was tried out, it was considered to have worked well and to have resulted in real exchanges on the issues.

149. NATO needs to be innovative and open-minded in its approach to its working practices. Only by taking decisive and clearly thought-through steps to secure administrative reform will it ensure that it remains an effective organisation which is uniquely capable of taking military action, and avoid unnecessarily bureaucratic procedures which might hamper its ability to act.

Military structures

150. NATO's military structures fall under two strategic commands: Allied Command Europe (ACE) and Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT). The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) is the senior military commander for ACE and is always a US General. He conducts military planning, including the identification of and request for forces necessary for the range of Alliance missions. He makes recommendations to NATO's political and military authorities in relation to any matter which affects his ability to fulfil his responsibilities, to defend or preserve the security or restore the territorial integrity, of his area of responsibility. SACEUR has direct access to national Chiefs of Staff and may communicate directly with national authorities. SACEUR's deputy, DSACEUR, is always a European and by agreement the post currently alternates between the UK and Germany.

151. There are two regional commands within ACE: Allied Forces North Europe (AFNORTH) with its HQ in Brunnsum in the Netherlands; and Allied Forces South Europe (AFSOUTH), based at Naples. There is a parallel structure for ACLANT. The AFNORTH area includes Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom. The Commander is a German or UK four-star officer. Its subordinate commands are two Component Commands:

Allied Air Forces North in Ramstein, Germany

Allied Naval Forces North in Northwood, United Kingdom;

and three Joint Sub-Regional Commands:

Joint Command Centre in Heidelberg, Germany

Joint Command Northeast in Karup, Denmark

Joint Command North in Stavanger, Norway.

152. The AFSOUTH area includes Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Turkey. It also includes the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, and the whole of the Mediterranean. The Commander of AFSOUTH is a United States four-star officer. The subordinate commands are two Component Commands:

Allied Air Forces South in Naples, Italy

Allied Naval Forces South in Naples, Italy

and four Joint Sub-Regional Commands:

Joint Command South in Verona, Italy;

Joint Command Southcentre in Larissa, Greece

Joint Command Southeast in Izmir, Turkey

Joint Command Southwest in Madrid, Spain.

153. NATO defence ministers meeting at the beginning of June declared that—

NATO must be able to field forces for its missions that can move quickly to wherever they are needed, sustain operations over distance and time, and achieve their objectives.[167]

We have discussed above how capabilities need to be improved in pursuit of these aims. NATO defence ministers also reiterated the need for command and military structures to be reformed. A comprehensive review of NATO command and force structures is already under way and will report at the meeting of defence ministers in Warsaw in September. Political guidance will then be given to enable recommendations to be prepared for approval at Prague, with a view to decisions being taken by the summer of 2003.[168]

154. The MoD believes that any new command structure should be 'based on functionality and deployability, not merely a re-roling of existing headquarters, many of which are based on Cold War and static concepts' and that there is scope for removing duplication and reducing costs.[169] The view of the Secretary of State was that, despite there having been a review of command structures ten years ago, which reduced the number of headquarters from 90 to around 20—

... the world has moved on so significantly and substantially that it is time to look again at some of those structures ... some of them have too many Cold War characteristics and are not sufficiently flexible and deployable for the modern reality.

He argued that there was a resources issue: if NATO wished to build new capabilities and new ways of deploying forces it was not viable to maintain headquarters whose purpose is no longer valid. He was unwilling to provide more details of the sort of changes which he would like to see, in advance of discussions with Allies, but the implication was that there should be fewer and more deployable headquarters, and that moving the emphasis from AFNORTH to AFSOUTH is one of the factors which NATO would be considering.[170] Those we spoke to in NATO agreed on the need to refocus resources on AFSOUTH, given that the Balkans were likely to be an area of NATO operations for the foreseeable future, and that the source of new challenges and uncertainties arising from international terrorism were likely to come from the area south of NATO's European boundaries.

155. Brian Hawtin, expanded on some of the other command structure issues—

... there are too many headquarters. They still have too much of a static role; they consume a large number of resources—not just financial resources but the scarce manpower resources ... The second and other side of that equation is how we can build up NATO's deployable capability ... not just for out-of-area operations, but also to discharge the Article 5 collective security guarantee.[171]

NATO is looking at developing 'about six' high readiness force headquarters which can be deployed rapidly overseas. The UK-led Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) is the only such headquarters which NATO currently has which has passed the standards of full operational capability.[172]

156. Charles Grant made the point that NATO's ability to reform in this area might be limited by the fact that 'every country wants fixed headquarters on its land'.[173] We raised this topic in our informal discussions at NATO HQ and it is clearly a sensitive matter. As Professor Heuser said, there is an element of 'national flag waving' associated with countries wishing to host a NATO command and the present arrangements are undoubtedly the result of long and careful negotiations to try to accommodate these demands.[174] It was stressed to us by national representatives to NATO that it is important to have a NATO presence in member states, so that the population have some idea of what NATO is about, see some value from membership, and the defence spending argument is therefore more likely to be won. Efficiency was a very strong argument in decisions on locations of HQs but it was not the only one.

157. However, about 25 per cent of staff posts at HQs are currently not filled because nations are either unwilling or unable to send their personnel to fill them, and this is neither healthy nor productive. There are other ways to have a NATO presence in a member state without it having to be a static command headquarters: there are a number of training establishments and exercises which could be shared out in a different way. Enlargement will only add to the problem of sharing out NATO assets: there might be no military need to change the NATO 'footprint' after enlargement, but it might be politically unacceptable to new members for there to be no adjustment which takes account of their accession.

158. We strongly support the view that any new command structure should be based on tasks and capabilities, not on geography. We accept that most Allies are anxious to have a NATO asset on their soil but we believe that this should not determine the command structure. The UK is in a position to take the lead in driving change in this area as it has no particular vested interest to protect and we expect the Government to be pressing for meaningful reform in this area at Prague.


159. Faced with criticism that NATO's forces were too static and still structured for Cold-War scenarios, NATO planners came up with the Combined Joint Task Force concept (CJTF). The idea was that NATO forces would be available not for fixed defence missions but for what had previously been termed out-of-area operations. Discussions began in 1993 on a 'deployable multinational, multi-service formation generated and tailored for specific contingency operations'[175] and agreement was reached at the 1994 Berlin Summit. The concept allows for forces and staff from within the NATO military structure to be brought together for deployments, including humanitarian relief, peacekeeping and peace enforcement, as well as collective defence. The forces required would vary according to the circumstances and would need to be generated rapidly and at short notice. The CJTF concept was also NATO's solution to how the United States could support the European members of the organisation in undertaking operations using NATO assets for European-led missions in which the United States, for whatever reason, chose not to participate.

160. At the core of the concept is a CJTF headquarters to be formed around core elements (the 'nuclei') from selected 'parent' headquarters of the command structure. This is to be augmented from other NATO headquarters and by nations and contributing Partner countries as necessary, using a modular approach, in order to meet the requirements of the specific mission. NATO agreed to establish the nuclei of CJTF headquarters on a permanent basis within existing headquarters of the alliance, which would be staffed by 'dual hatted' NATO staff officers. The idea was for NATO to have at least three CJTFs (two for SACEUR and one for SACLANT) at corps level, although current planning seems to be focussing on one or two CJTFs at most. These might be augmented with a number of smaller CJTFs at brigade level for smaller scale operations. One of the main constraints has been that each CJTF potentially requires hundreds of multilingual staff officers who will have to be rotated during what could turn out to be a long operation.

161. IFOR and SFOR were taken by many observers as prototypical CJTFs, in terms of the command elements which came together for those missions, although NATO officials stated that they were not. A number of trials to validate the evolving CJTF headquarters concept have since been completed. Based on these trials and other relevant staff analyses, the Alliance began the full implementation of the CJTF concept in 1999. As the purpose of the concept is essentially to make NATO's forces more deployable, flexible and usable, it therefore remains at the heart of NATO planning for future operational deployments, and for EU-led missions which will make use of NATO assets. Implementation, which includes the acquisition of necessary headquarters support and command, control and communications equipment, is scheduled for completion in late 2004.

158   NATO Handbook, Chapter 7 Back

159   Q 177 Back

160   Q 87 Back

161   Q 178 Back

162   Q 177 Back

163   Ev 37, paragraphs 45-46 Back

164   Q 169 Back

165   Q 176; Ev 37, paragraph 46 Back

166   Ev 37, paragraph 46 Back

167   Statement on Capabilities, 6 June 2002, op cit Back

168   ibid Back

169   Ev 34, paragraph 19 Back

170   QQ 185, 187, 193-194 Back

171   Q 187 Back

172   Q 187 Back

173   Q 105 Back

174   QQ 103-104 Back

175   NATO Review No. 4, 1996 Back

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