Updated: 25-Apr-2002 NATO Review

Web edition
Vol. 41 - No. 4
Aug. 1993
p. 23-25


Herpert Van Foreest
NATO Assistant Secretary General for Infrastructure,
Logistics and Civil Emergency Planning

NATO's new strategy for the post-Cold War era has enabled the overall size of the Allies' forces, and in many cases their readiness, to be significantly reduced. It has also enabled a major reduction in forces stationed overseas, especially in Germany. As a result, the Alliance now has a smaller and rather different requirement for military infrastructure in Allied Command Europe (ACE), and host nations are facing problems arising from reduced employment, interim maintenance responsibility for empty facilities and local pockets of reduced economic activity.

During the Cold War, a large proportion of NATO's infrastructure requirements was developed on a commonly-funded basis for collective defence. Much of this infrastructure remains essential for collective defence and crisis management, including the reinforcement of ACE in the event of the re-emergence of a large-scale military threat to the Alliance. It also has the potential to support NATO involvement in peacekeeping activities under UN and CSCE mandates. We therefore need to think very carefully about current and possible future needs before discarding facilities that would be expensive and difficult to recreate in a crisis.

However, pressure to reduce defence budgets and the costs involved in moving to the Alliance's new, smaller but more flexible force structure has limited the funds available for infrastructure. To ensure that NATO retains essential infrastructure capabilities, we have had to look at alternative means of funding. In particular, it has become clear that in the future it will not always be possible to satisfy NATO Commanders' military requirements by dedicated, NATO funded, stand-alone military infrastructure. Reduced resources will demand greater exploration of opportunities for shared civil/military use. This concept is referred to as SUNI - Shared Usage of NATO Infrastructure.

This article looks at the challenges such joint use presents and considers options for retaining sufficient infrastructure for emergency or crisis-management use. It also considers the form and opportunities that new joint ventures in infrastructure investments might take.

Common funding

Investment by member nations in NATO infrastructure has been ongoing for some 43 years (1), resulting in a vast array of facilities and equipment sited on land made available by 16 host nations (2). NATO infrastructure has traditionally included facilities required for use in war, such as: war headquarters, air defence and warning installations, automatic data processing facilities, missile sites, communication networks of various types, military airfields, naval bases, ammunition storage, fuel storage and pipeline systems and pre-positioned equipment storage. Limited investment in training facilities was also made.

This NATO capability was directed towards the specific defence of Alliance territory under traditional NATO strategy. Although some elements of existing infrastructure may no longer be relevant under the new NATO strategy, a large part of the inventory would play a vital role in any future defence of NATO territory, in crisis management operations or in support of peacekeeping.

Common funding under the NATO Infrastructure Programme allows the Major NATO Commanders (MNCs) to determine Alliance priorities and to balance regional needs, irrespective of host nation economic constraints. Such infrastructure is ideally suited to multinational use and accomodates in the most economic way essential aspects such as the interoperability of tactical aircraft, exchange of intelligence and surveillance data, supply of Petrol, Oil and Lubricants (POL), sustainment of ships, and provision of fast, reliable and secure communications. NATO commonly funded infrastructure is essentially a force-multiplier that in many cases can achieve significantly more than funds spent directly through national construction agencies.

With the end of the Cold War, NATO common funding has been considerably reduced and the infrastructure budget is hard put to support the infrastructure needed to sustain the Alliance's new strategy. In particular, there is little money available to meet the cost of maintaining vacated facilities in reserve status. New ways of retaining or providing the necessary military capabilities have therefore been considered.

The decision to reduce force levels and to withdraw forward-based forces from many areas of ACE has had important consequences for local economies. In many cases, the local population has come to rely on the spending capacity of stationed forces and their families, as well as the direct and indirect local employment that such military units sustain. Thus, the effect of vacating NATO installations, many of which are located away from urban centres of population, is leading to the creation of pockets of hardship. Faced with a sudden withdrawal of military expenditure and employment, many such localities are looking for commercial activities to fill the vacuum. Where this coincides with a NATO requirement to keep a vacated site or facility in reserve in usable condition, shared civil/military usage is the answer.

The SUNI concept

Shared civil/military usage of infrastructure covers a wide spectrum of possibilities. On the one hand, it could be a military establishment containing a surplus facility leased for commercial use to the private sector. On the other hand, it could be an entire site taken over by the private sector, with future NATO use limited to access in times of crisis or war.

In between is a whole range of options with one common denominator: that from the financial point of view it suits both NATO and the civil user to share the use of existing NATO infrastructure. The SUNI concept is not limited to vacated NATO military infrastructure. It also includes shared use by NATO of non-military installations when this offers a more cost-effective solution for providing a military capability.

This approach is not new. Shared usage of NATO military infrastructure has long been practised, mainly with respect to airfields and fuel pipelines. A recent example is Karup airfield in Denmark, where a consortium of Danish and international companies have leased NATO infrastructure which is surplus to the immediate requirements of the Royal Danish Air Force. The Air Force is still the designated NATO user of the site, but a part of the airfield will be shared in peacetime with a Danish commercial firm, while arrangements for resumption of NATO use in crises have been agreed. From this and other existing cases, lessons are being learnt that point the way forward for future SUNI opportunities.

The SUNI concept is not always immediately attractive to military commanders. Until now, NATO military requirements have primarily been met by constructing specially designed facilities to meet specific military functions. In many cases, the specifications have been to high operational standards, largely unconstrained by many of the considerations which have to be taken into account in the civil marketplace. Moreover, the military are accustomed to exclusive use of their infrastructure.

Shared usage therefore poses some new problems. In the case of NATO airfields, shared usage has traditionally been accomplished by allocating a part of the site to a civil operator and any sharing problems have been limited to joint use of the runway, aircraft pavement and air traffic control. Future options for shared usage will, almost certainly, require co-users to reconcile their differing requirements, the priority possibly being determined to some extent by the investment each is prepared to make. Special arrangements may also be required for the use of airfields and other sites for exercise purposes, recognising that such use could have significant financial implications for the civil users.

If SUNI is to become one of the main methods of funding for the retention and provision of military capabilities, compromises will have to be struck on a case-by-case basis. Indeed, one necessary precondition for shared usage would be that key military conditions be precisely stated, such as:

  • the terms and conditions under which partial or total access for military usage could be exercised;

  • the advance warning time for private/commercial operators to vacate a site or facility;

  • security arrangements where a site is jointly used in peacetime.

However, the Alliance comprises 16 nations whose legal, cultural and commercial traditions, politico-military relationships, and levels of industrial activity vary widely. Having conferred with many national authorities about the concept of shared usage, it is clear that there can be no generalization with regard to national concerns or conditions of use. There are therefore no agreed standard NATO procedures for shared usage.

Where existing facilities, which could be needed for NATO use in emergencies, are vacated without provision for immediate follow-on military use, some arrangement should be made to retain a contingent right of usage by NATO. The SUNI option requires that the host nation concur in the use of its land, and the common-funded property located on that land, for non-military purposes. The host nation must promote commercial exploitation and maintain access to sites. It must facilitate appropriate arrangements for local utilities (water supply, sewerage, electrical power, communications) and security. The host nation must also approve the arrangements under which the current use will, after due warning, cease. The reoccupation of facilities by NATO in the unlikely event of general war should not create a major problem for host nations in this regard, but under the new NATO strategy, crisis management (including support for peacekeeping) could involve NATO forces in deployments for which access to some SUNI capability could be required by a NATO commander. In such cases, the requirement to reactivate SUNI sites for military purposes might involve politically difficult decisions.

Commercial considerations

NATO held a colloquium in November 1992 to which representatives of government, regional authorities and industry of the 16 member nations were invited, together with the NATO Military Authorities and members of the International Staff. In the event, few participants from industry took part, probably reflecting insufficient linkage between industrial users and the authorities responsible for governmental construction. Outside the field of electronics (communications, radar, sensor systems, automatic data processing) there has been little reason for national defence construction agencies to be in close contact with private sector construction and non-governmental industrial users. This is a gap that must be bridged if the shared usage concept is to flourish.

During the colloquium, representatives of industry made several important points. Firstly, they noted that the decision-making process in industry can work a great deal faster than the official decision-making machinery of national governments and of NATO. Secondly, while the private sector is accustomed to accepting commercial risks, the prospect of NATO having to repossess a site, totally or partially, at short notice, could cause concern. Furthermore, interruption of commercial activities for the purpose of military exercises could only be accommodated by adequate pre-planning, for example, by exercising during holiday periods.

Not every NATO facility lends itself to private sector use, since some have design characteristics that preclude commercial exploitation. Many other facilities, however, such as protective aircraft shelters, hangars and warehouses are capable of inexpensive modification to improve their commercial attractiveness.

Although the availability of existing surplus sites has given rise to the SUNI concept, there will be future opportunities for shared civil/military funding of new infrastructure projects to provide NATO with military capabilities required in the new strategic environment.

Technical compromises will of course be required to take advantage of these potential savings. A balance will therefore have to be struck, bearing in mind the harsh reality that there are insufficient defence funds available to meet all military needs, and that the shared usage option will frequently represent the only way of achieving the desired capabilities.

With the end of the Cold War, the Alliance is facing a new and more complex set of challenges. To meet them within the constraints imposed by smaller defence budgets requires imagination and innovation. Against this background the shared use of NATO infrastructure offers an attractive and cost effective option for reconciling the conflicting demands faced by NATO Allies.


(1) The cost of the infrastructure funded in common by NATO members over this period exceeds US$ 20 billion

(2) Transportable equipment, when military preferable to fixed facilities, falls within the generic definition of commonly funded infrastructure.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1993.