Politico-military decision-making process

International Military Staff

  • Last updated: 04 Jan. 2011 11:30

How does the International Military Staff fit into the politico-military decision-making process? To demonstrate this process, we will use the example of a recent NATO operation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia : Operation Essential Harvest. This operation took place in direct response to a request from Mr. Trajkovski, President of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, for NATO to assist his government in the collection of weapons from the National Liberation Army (NLA).

The process implicates three main players:

  • The North Atlantic Council as NATO's highest decision-making body

  • The Military Committee as the Council's highest military advisory body

  • The Strategic Commanders as the highest military executing authorities.

The timelines from start to finish of the whole decision procedure are outlined below:

14th June The Council decided to seek military advice on the military implications of plan of the government of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia¹ to defuse their crisis.
15th June 24 hours later NATO's Military Authorities (in this case, the Military Committee and SACEUR) provided an initial assessment of the plan and it's military implications to the Council. On the same day, the Macedonian government's specific request for NATO assistance in defusing their crisis was circulated to nations and, in parallel, the Council tasked the Military Authorities to provide a skeleton project of a possible NATO military assistance to support the Macedonian plan. This project was passed on to NATO's Supreme European Commander, SACEUR, who was requested to provide the draft concept. Over the weekend, SHAPE rapidly put together the essential elements of such a concept, and forwarded it to the Military Committee for further comment and approval.
18th June By Monday all nations had made up their minds and a day later,
19th June The Military Committee forwarded the draft Concept of Operations to the Council.
20th June A week after the start of the whole process, the Council approved the Concept of Operations. This resulted in an immediate tasking by the Military Committee to SACEUR to provide a more detailed operational plan as soon as possible.
22nd June Two days later, this detailed operational plan was circulated to the Military Representatives for their comments.
23rd June To speed up actions the nations' Military Representatives met on Saturday morning, and provided their detailed comments and corrections. This resulted in tasking SACEUR's staff to amend the operational plan accordingly.
24th June Early on Sunday, a revised operational plan for Essential Harvest was sent to nations for approval.
25th June just ten days after the first Council request, the Military Committee submitted the endorsed Plan of Operations for Essential Harvest to the Secretary General.
29th June The final approval from nations for the operational plan and to go ahead with further planning steps was given on Friday,

This interchange between the Council, the Military Committee and the Strategic Commanders demonstrates the following:

First, it shows us the Council's overruling and final authority over all NATO military operational planning. This is the case in all areas of NATO military planning and operations.

Secondly, to integrate the sometimes differing views of 19 independent nations with all their specific political and military sensitivities and constraints into a fast moving crisis management environment needs high flexibility, a thorough procedural and administrative structure, as well as a complete awareness by all players concerned of the more complicated aspects. In this respect the International Military Staff plays a vital role in facilitating the decision-making process, both in charting the course and navigating safely through to the agreed destination.

Thirdly, the decision-making process provides a constant exchange of political and military views on a very broad scale and tries to harmonise political and military requirements. Decisions and recommendations are based on consensus of the member nations. It is for this reason that the whole process takes time. But it truly reflects the nature of the Alliance.

  1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.


This text is not a formally agreed NATO document and, therefore, does not necessarily represent the official views of individual member governments on all policy issues discussed.