No. 4 - July 1996
Vol. 44 - pp. 17-20

From cooperation to interoperability

General Klaus Naumann
Chairman of the North Atlantic Military Committee

Member states of the North Atlantic Alliance have long understood that the ability of armed forces to operate together effectively as part of multinational formations requires them to have common doctrine and procedures, as well as a minimum level of equipment standardization. To achieve this interoperability, NATO has, over the years, devoted a great deal of effort to the production and implementation of Allied Publications and Standardization Agreements. With the establishment of partnership and cooperation with the states of Central and Eastern Europe following the end of the Cold War, the scope of this effort has broadened. Now, with the experience gained through the integration of non-NATO forces into the IFOR operations in Bosnia and as NATO nears decisions on enlargement, it is perhaps timely to look at how we are moving from cooperation to interoperability between NATO and Partner countries.

Interoperability is defined within NATO as "The ability of systems, units and forces to provide services to and accept services from other systems, units or forces and to use the services so exchanged to enable them to operate effectively together." This definition has met our needs within the Alliance for many years but when we are dealing with Cooperation Partners from Central and Eastern Europe, particularly within the specific objectives of Partnership for Peace (PfP), perhaps that definition needs to be qualified. The Major NATO Commanders, SACEUR and SACLANT, (1) have proposed that for Partners, interoperability with NATO should include:

  • the training of personnel and units in NATO doctrine, procedures and practices which are capable of working effectively within NATO or NATO-led organizations on specific operations;
  • adapting or procuring equipment which interfaces with that of NATO;
  • selection and training of staff officers in NATO doctrine and procedures, so as to be able to fill staff appointments within NATO or NATO-led Headquarters or in national posts dealing with NATO/Partnership matters.

Before discussing the specifics of interoperability, including lessons learned from North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) and PfP activities, and most importantly, those we are learning every day within the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) in the former Yugoslavia, I should like to discuss briefly cooperation under NACC and Partnership for Peace.


With the declaration of the end of the Cold War at the London Summit in July 1990, (2) NATO extended to the then Soviet Union and the nations of Central and Eastern Europe an offer to work towards a new relationship based on cooperation. This cooperation across a wide spectrum of political and military activities was to take many forms, including an intensification of visits and diplomatic contacts between NATO and our former adversaries. The most significant of these high level contacts was a post-Summit visit by Secretary General Manfred Wörner to Moscow to convey the Alliance's proposals to the Soviet leadership and to make clear our determination to take advantage of opportunities arising from the historic strategic changes taking place.

In November 1991 at their meeting in Rome, the leaders of NATO member nations issued a Declaration on Peace and Cooperation (3) which, among other things, represented a qualitative step forward in our relations with the Soviet Union and the other states of Central and Eastern Europe. NATO committed itself to consultations and cooperation in a range of areas, while focusing on security and related issues where Allies could offer their experience and expertise, including among others: defence planning; principles and key matters of military strategy; force and command structures; military exercises; and democratic concepts of civilian/military relations.

To institutionalize this cooperation, which had begun even before the London Summit, the North Atlantic Cooperation Council was formed in 1991 and a commitment was made for NATO's Military Committee and NATO subordinate committees to meet with representatives from Partner nations at regular intervals. An annual NACC Work Plan was prepared and agreed, laying out topics for dialogue and cooperation and specific activities by which the objectives of the programme could best be met. The majority of the military topics and activities of the Work Plan, which is now issued once every two years, falls under the headings of Peacekeeping and Defence Planning Issues and Military Matters.

The NACC process was and remains an important institution working towards the emergence of a Europe whole and free. But at their Brussels Summit in January 1994, the Alliance Heads of State and Government (4) decided that there was a need for an immediate and practical programme which would go beyond dialogue and cooperation to form a real partnership - a Partnership for Peace - within the framework of NACC. The activities under PfP are fully coordinated with other activities undertaken in the NACC programme.

Berlin Meeting
NACC and PfP Foreign Ministers meeting in Berlin on 4 June.
(NATO photo / 38Kb)


One of the major objectives of PfP is for Partners to develop cooperative military relations with NATO for the purpose of planning, training and exercising in order to strengthen their ability to undertake missions in such fields as peacekeeping, search and rescue and humanitarian operations. A second major objective is for Partner nations to develop, over the longer term, forces which are better able to operate together with those of NATO nations. These two objectives are very closely linked to the goal of interoperability.

Up until now, the most common means of achieving the practical military objectives of PfP has been through the conduct of exercises. Initially focused on familiarizing individuals, crews, squads/sections and platoons with personal equipment, such low level exercises were a necessary first step in getting to know each other and finding out our differences and similarities. As valuable and motivational as this may be for the individuals involved, we must significantly move forward. Now we must get ships, air force squadrons and army units from Alliance and Partner nations working together in realistic scenarios. Command post staff at the level of battalion and brigade could be exercised on common doctrine and procedures, including such things as staff duties, reporting, movement and logistics.

PfP has shown its value in the operations of the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The experience gained and the interoperability achieved, even over the relatively short period since PfP was launched in January 1994, has been a major factor in the success of operation Joint Endeavour, the largest military operation in Europe since the end of the Second World War. Soldiers from 12 PfP nations are serving alongside their NATO counterparts in the IFOR, using common doctrine and procedures. And it is upon that solid NATO/PfP foundation that we have also been able to effectively integrate the contributions from four non-NATO nations which are not members of PfP - Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia and Morocco. PfP exercise specifications and training requirements are being reviewed and where necessary modified to better prepare forces for participation in operations like IFOR.

The Partnership Work Programme - the 'menu' of cooperation activities available in PfP - has grown to over 700 individual activities and over 20 Individual Partnership Programmes have been agreed with Partners. But we cannot stop there. While the scope and substance of our cooperation are growing quickly, the Alliance is committed to further develop PfP by broadening and deepening the PfP Planning and Review Process (PARP) - which is designed to advance interoperability and transparency among NATO and Partner nations. By increasing the scope of partnership in areas such as civil/military relations, interoperability and defence policy and planning, the Alliance will open another page in the history of PfP.

One of the great successes of PfP to date has been the first round of PARP with 15 nations voluntarily taking part. (5) By reporting how they are able or plan to meet the initial 20 interoperability objectives spelled out in the PARP, Partner nations are better able to learn what is required of them to work with NATO and NATO is able to learn more about the doctrine, equipment and operations of our Partners. PARP interoperability objectives may not be very exciting but they do identify 20 areas of interoperability, such as commonality of fuel requirements, replenishment in harbour, commonality of airfield procedures and something as basic, but so very important, as NATO land map symbology.

But we need measurable PfP requirements against which we will be able to gauge the progress of Partners and from which we can draw lessons learned to improve the process. To that end, the Major NATO Commanders have produced a draft concept for the implementation of the military aspects of PfP which is currently being reviewed by the Military Cooperation Working Group. If agreed by the Military Committee, this concept will spell out a PfP planning framework, including how PARP fits in. The concept seeks to establish very extensive interoperability requirements for planning of training tasks and to enable the assessment of Partner nations' progress in improving their ability to interoperate with NATO military forces. As an additional objective, one could think of a set of force goals accepted by our Partners which, if achieved, could qualify units as "interoperable with NATO". This, in conjunction with appropriate readiness to deploy, could considerably improve NACC's flexibility to act, when necessary, jointly and swiftly to preserve peace and stability.

Enlargement and adaptation

PfP will obviously play a valuable role in helping to prepare interested Partners for possible membership of NATO and as a means to strengthen the long-term partnership with all other Partner countries. The steps taken towards interoperability within the PfP programme will put potential new members well on the road towards being net contributors to our North Atlantic Alliance once the political decisions of "who and when?" of NATO enlargement are taken.

But PfP also has a very valuable role to play by promoting stability both while NATO is engaged in the process of enlargement and later beyond the boundaries of an enlarged Alliance. In conjunction with the strategic partnership NATO wishes to achieve with Russia, it will remain a most useful tool in its own right which will help us to avoid new dividing lines in Europe and which should result in stability for all NACC Partners.

Cooperation Partners are not the only ones who must adjust to the changing circumstances in Europe. Since the Rome Summit, NATO has undergone a very significant change in its command and force structure. Since 1991, NATO nations have reduced their forces assigned to NATO for collective defence obligations by 18 per cent and by 1998 this reduction will be over 25 per cent. In the area of command structure, the Headquarters within the integrated military structure have been cut by almost 25 per cent. Moreover, at the 1994 NATO Summit, the Combined Joint Task Force concept was put forward as a means of providing more flexible, efficient and effective command and control of an operation both for Article 5 collective defence as well as the new mission of out of area peace support operations.

Future scenarios

The old menace of a single, large, aggressive foe is gone, but in its place we face multidirectional and multifaceted risks. Of particular concern, we are faced with an arc of instability from Morocco to the Indian Ocean. The previously mentioned rapid and significant reduction in the forces which member nations make available to NATO, combined with compelling political reasons, make it clear that all future "out of area" operations - that is, beyond the territory of Alliance members - involving NATO nations will be, without doubt, multinational in nature. No nation, even if it had the military capability to conduct such operations on its own, will likely do so in the future. Therefore interoperability will be essential if we are to work effectively together, be it in an Article 5 collective defence scenario or, as is more likely at this time, in a non-Article 5 operation beyond NATO's area of responsibility. Long standing Alliance standardization programmes as well as the new Planning and Review Process must continue to adapt and grow to meet the needs of both an enlarged NATO and of Partner nations which may have no desire or possibility of joining the Alliance.


(1) Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, respectively.

(2) See London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance, issued by the Heads of State and Government at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in London, 5-6 July 1990, in NATO Review, No. 4, August 1990, p. 32.

(3) See Rome Declaration on Peace and Cooperation, issued by the Heads of State and Government at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Rome, 7-8 November 1991, in NATO Review, No. 6, December 1991, pp. 19-22.

(4) See Declaration of the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council.

(5) For more on the PARP, see Anthony Cragg, "The Partnership for Peace planning and review process", NATO Review, No. 6, November 1995, pp. 23-25.

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