Updated: January 2006 NATO Publications


The beginnings of NATO's military structure

4. The military commitee adapts its work

  1. Birth of the Alliance to the fall of the Berlin Wall
  2. The Issue of "Command"
 3. Building the military structure
 4. The military commitee adapts its work
 5. End of one era, transition to another
Editorial Note
  Important publisher and editorial information about this document
Other Formats
English PDF (~2040Kb)
Printable version with colour illustrations
Order a hardcopy
version using the online order form.
In the 1970s and particularly the 1980s, much of the Military Committee's work consisted of advice to political authorities on nuclear and conventional arms reductions. Thousands of nuclear warheads and major equipment pieces from both sides were removed from inventories and permanently disabled. Pictured here is the withdrawal of nuclear arms from Ukraine. (© ITAR-TASS)

As organisation and planning within the integrated military structure gained momentum in the late 1950s and 60s, the Military Committee faced another difficult task, that of refining and improving its own structure and work. During the 1950s, for instance, it was recognised that in an era of high-performance aircraft, the security of NATO's airspace could no longer depend on the sum of each member country's air defence efforts. In 1955, the Military Committee approved a concept for a coordinated system for air defence, and in 1957 agreed on a requirement for an early warning system.

They also supported the creation of special NATO forces whose multinational composition and capability for early deployment or activation would represent Alliance solidarity. The first of these forces, the Allied Command Europe Mobile Force Land was created in 1960, and was followed by the Standing Naval Force Atlantic in 1967.

The Military Committee was also dealing with the implications of the French announcement in March 1966 to withdraw from the integrated military command structure. This decision became a catalyst for NATO reform, informed by the Harmel Report, which shaped NATO's political strategy and its military structure for decades. The French decision also resulted in the move of SHAPE and NATO headquarters from France to Belgium in 1967. For almost 30 years thereafter, France's participation in the Military Committee was that of an observer, before it decided in December 1995 to resume its seat. As such, the French Representative to the Military Committee has the same status as other chiefs of defence and military representatives, with full voting rights and responsibilities on all topics except the defence planning process, the functioning of the integrated military structure, and nuclear issues.

In 1967, the Military Committee, with ministerial approval, adopted a new strategy of Flexible Response. This strategy called for a balance of both nuclear and conventional forces capable of deterring aggression, defending against attack, and if that was inadequate, permitting escalation under political control. During the late 1960s and 70s, the Military Committee also became increasingly involved in armaments standardisation, manpower requirements, infrastructure priorities, logistics and integrated communications systems in an overall effort to improve NATO military preparedness.

The organisational structure remained relatively static throughout the 1970s and 80s, with minor changes, normally additions, to headquarters and force structure, as NATO and Warsaw Pact armed forces continued to grow in quantity and quality. The main focus of the Military Committee continued to be geared toward the ways and means to deter the Soviet Union from aggression or coercion. With this objective in mind, NATO decided to reorganise its air forces in the mid-1970s, modernise its air defence system, and in 1978, create a NATO airborne early warning force.

The work of the Committee was also becoming increasingly more complex as defence planning processes were created during the 1970s to project military requirements further into the future. The May 1972 Soviet-American agreement to limit strategic weapons also signalled the beginning of an era dedicated to nuclear arms reductions. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s much energy was directed toward talks on conventional forces reduction and confidence-building measures to reduce the fear created by large standing armies in Europe. In this, the Military Committee played an important but largely behind-the-scenes role, advising ministers of the possible effects of negotiations on military aspects of Alliance security.

Home Next Previous Index

 © NATO - OTAN 2006 - NATO Public Diplomacy Division 1110 Brussels, Belgium, web site: www.nato.int
e-mail: natodoc@hq.nato. int