NATO Heads of State and Government agreed to firm, country-specific targets and deadlines for improving existing and developing new capabilities in specific areas. The Alliance has put in place measures to track and monitor progress.
The aim is to ensure that NATO can fulfil its present and future operational commitments and fight new threats such as terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
This is particularly important as NATO takes on new missions in faraway areas such as Afghanistan. These missions require forces that can be quickly deployed to distant areas to perform a wide range of missions, and to remain in theatre for significant periods.
What does this mean in practice?
Under the Prague Capabilities Commitment, member countries agreed to improve capabilities in more than 400 specific areas, covering eight fields essential to today’s military operations:
- Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence;
- Intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition;
- Air-to-ground surveillance;
- Deployable and secure command, control and communications;
- Combat effectiveness, including precision-guided munitions and suppression of enemy air defences;
- Strategic air- and sealift;
- Air-to-air refuelling;
- Deployable combat support and combat service support units.
NATO members are improving their capabilities in these areas individually and collectively.
For example, in the areas of strategic lift and air-to-air refuelling multinational consortia have been formed to provide the Alliance with the required capabilities.
A similar approach has been taken to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence, with NATO member countries jointly creating a multinational battalion that will provide this capability. The purchase of a NATO air-to-ground surveillance system is also a multinational project, as is the creation of an F-16 aircraft expeditionary air wing.
In other areas, NATO member countries have agreed to improve their capabilities individually, by meeting country-specific targets for improving or developing new capabilities within agreed deadlines.
The PCC is being coordinated with European Union’s efforts to improve its capabilities. A NATO-EU Capability Group was set up for this purpose under the so-called “Berlin Plus” arrangements. One way of ensuring that the NATO and EU processes complement each other is by having the same countries take the lead on the same capabilities in both organisations. For example, Germany leads both the NATO consortium and the European Capability Action Programme project group on strategic airlift.
How did it evolve?
Efforts to improve the Alliance’s operational capabilities began at the April 1999 NATO Summit in Washington, D.C., where Allied leaders launched the Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI).
This initiative identified a number of areas where improvements in Alliance capabilities were required. These areas fell into five major categories:
- Deployability and mobility: getting forces to the crisis quickly;
- Effective engagement: improving forces’ cutting edge capacity;
- Consultation, command and control: giving forces maximum awareness and control;
- Survivability: protecting forces;
- Sustainability and logistics: supporting forces in the field.
The DCI contributed to improvements in Alliance capabilities in quite a number of important areas. However, countries were not required to report individually on progress achieved and therefore advancement under the DCI has been uneven.
From DCI to PCC
As a result, at meeting in Brussels in June 2002, NATO Defence Ministers agreed to refocus their efforts on four key areas, which are fundamentally important to the efficient conduct of all Alliance missions, including defence against terrorism:
- defending against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) attacks;
- ensuring command, communications and information superiority;
- improving interoperability of deployed forces and key aspects of combat effectiveness and
- ensuring rapid deployment and sustainability of combat forces.
They also decided that this new initiative should be based on firm nation-specific commitments undertaken on the basis of national decisions and incorporate target dates by when shortfalls should be corrected. Defence Ministers agreed to increase multinational cooperation in achieving the capability targets, ensure that they are realistic in economic terms, and co-ordinate with the European Union’s efforts to improve its capabilities.
At November 2002 NATO Summit in Prague, the new initiative was formally endorsed and launched at the highest political level, by NATO Heads of State and Government.
Progress in Istanbul
Two years later, at the Istanbul Summit, Heads of State and Government reiterated their support for the Prague Capabilities Commitment and agreed to give special emphasis to overcoming the remaining critical shortages.
At the same time, Defence Ministers agreed to usability goals for their ground forces of 40 per cent deployability and eight per cent sustainability. This means that member country armed forces will be restructured so that 40 per cent of their ground forces can be deployed and eight per cent can be supported in overseas missions at any one time. Members will work to meet these goals or could even surpass them. These targets were endorsed by Heads of State and Government.
Defence Ministers from a number of member countries also signed a memorandum of understanding on strategic airlift while additional countries signed letters of intent on strategic sealift and a memorandum of understanding on the creation of an F-16 expeditionary air wing.
Which NATO bodies have a central role?
The Executive Working Group, which is made up of defence counsellors from NATO delegations, oversees work on the PCC.