The Military Committee

  • Last updated: 05 Mar. 2012 13:54

The Military Committee (MC) is the senior military authority in NATO and the oldest permanent body in NATO after the North Atlantic Council, both having been formed months after the Alliance came into being. It is the primary source of military advice to NATO’s civilian decision-making bodies – the North Atlantic Council and the Nuclear Planning Group.

Its advice is sought prior to any authorization for military action and, consequently represents an essential link between the political decision-making process and the military structure of NATO.

It also provides military guidance to the Alliance’s two Strategic Commanders and assists in developing overall strategic policy and concepts for the Alliance. In this context, it prepares an annual long-term assessment of the strength and capabilities of countries and areas posing a risk to NATO's interests.

It meets frequently at the level of Military Representatives (MILREPs) and three times a year at the level of Chiefs of Defence (CHODs). It is chaired by the Chairman of the Military Committee, who is nominated for a three-year term.

  • Roles and responsibilities

    Consensus advice on military matters

    The Committee’s principal role is to provide consensus-based advice on military policy and strategy to the North Atlantic Council and direction to NATO’s Strategic Commanders. It is responsible for recommending to NATO's political authorities those measures considered necessary for the common defence of the NATO area and for the implementation of decisions regarding NATO’s operations and missions.

    The Military Committee’s advice is sought as a matter of course prior to authorization by the North Atlantic Council of NATO military activities or operations.
    It therefore represents an essential link between the political decision-making process and the military command structure of NATO and is an integral part of the decision-making process of the Alliance.

    Strategic direction

    The Military Committee also plays a key role in the development of NATO’s military policy and doctrine within the framework of discussions in the Council, the Nuclear Planning Group and other senior bodies. It is responsible for translating political decision and guidance into military direction to NATO’s two Strategic Commanders – Supreme Allied Commander Operations and Supreme Allied Commander Transformation.

    In this context, the Committee assists in developing overall strategic concepts for the Alliance and prepares an annual long-term assessment of the strength and capabilities of countries and areas posing a risk to NATO's interests.

    In times of crises, tension or war, and in relation to military operations undertaken by the Alliance such as its role in Afghanistan and Kosovo, its advises the Council of the military situation and its implications, and makes recommendations on the use of military force, the implementation of contingency plans and the development of appropriate rules of engagement.

    It is also responsible for the efficient operation of agencies subordinate to the Military Committee.

  • Committee representatives

    The Military Committee is made up of senior military officers (usually three-star) from NATO member countries who serve as their country’s Military Representatives (MILREPs) to NATO, representing their Chief of Defence. It represents a tremendous amount of specialised knowledge and experience that helps shape Alliance-wide military policies, strategies and plans.

    The MILREPs work in a national capacity, representing the interests of their countries while remaining open to negotiation and discussion so that a NATO consensus can be reached.

    A civilian official represents Iceland, which has no military forces.

    The Committee is chaired by the Chairman of the Military Committee, who is NATO’s senior military official. He directs the day-to-day business of the Military Committee and acts on its behalf. He is also the Committee’s spokesman and representative, making him the senior military spokesman for the Alliance on all military matters.

  • Working mechanisms of the Committee

    The Committee meets at least once a week in formal or informal sessions to discuss, deliberate and act on matters of military importance. These meetings follow closely those of the North Atlantic Council, so that the Committee may follow up promptly on Council decisions.

    In practice, meetings are convened whenever necessary and both the Council and the Military Committee normally meet much more frequently than once a week. As a result of the Alliance's role for instance in Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Mediterranean and off the Horn of Africa, the need for the Council and Military Committee to meet more frequently to discuss operational matters has greatly increased.

    The work of the Military Committee is supported by the International Military Staff (IMS), which effectively acts as its executive body. The IMS is responsible for preparing assessments, studies and other papers on NATO military matters and ensures that decisions and policies on military matters are implemented by the appropriate NATO military bodies.

    High-level meetings

    Like the political decision-making bodies, it also meets regularly at its highest level, namely at the level of Chiefs of Defence (CHODs).
    Meetings at this level are normally held three times a year. Two of these meetings occur in Brussels and one in the form of an informal Military Committee Conference is hosted by a NATO member country, on a rotational basis.

    Cooperation with partners

    In the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Partnership for Peace programme, the Military Committee meets regularly with partner countries at the level of national Military Representatives (once a month) and at the level of Chiefs of Defence (twice a year) to deal with military cooperation issues. The Military Committee also meets in different formats in the framework of the NATO- Russia Council, the NATO-Ukraine Commission, the NATO-Georgia Commission, and with the CHODs of the seven Mediterranean Dialogue countries.