Updated: 22-Oct-2001 NATO Review

Web edition
Vol. 47 - No. 3
Autumn 1999
p. 28-30

A new College for a new NATO

Lt. General Dr. Hartmut Olboeter
Commandant, NATO Defense College, Rome

General Olbaeter speaks at the inauguration of the NATO Defense College's new premises in Rome on 10 September, while NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, Italian Defence Minister Senator Carlo Scognamiglio and NATO's Chairman of the Military Committee, Admiral Guido Venturoni (from left to right), listen to the Commandant's remarks.
(NDC photo - 52Kb)

In September 1999, the NATO Defense College moved to new purpose-built premises in Rome, at the generous invitation of the Italian government. The larger, fully equipped facilities will enable the Alliance's flagship academic institution to better serve the needs of today's open, enlarged NATO, its new missions and new Partners. In particular, it will support the PfP Training and Education Enhancement Programme (TEEP), as well as the deepening of the Mediterranean Dialogue.

The need to set up a NATO Defense College was identified by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR), in a cable sent back to Washington in April 1951:

"...[T]here is a high priority requirement to develop individuals, both on the military and civilian side...who are capable of adapting themselves to this new environment and who find it possible in a reasonably short time to broaden their outlook and to grasp the essentials of this challenging problem sufficiently to shoulder the responsibilities inherent in this new field.... These considerations have brought me to the conclusion that it is highly desirable to establish...a NATO Defense College for the training of individuals who will be needed to serve in key capacities in NATO Organisations."

The NATO Defense College was founded later that year. The vision and noble sentiments are as relevant now as they were nearly 50 years ago. In those days, the Alliance was in its infancy, facing the challenges of the revolution in geopolitics that emerged with the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War. Today, NATO is adapting to the risks and opportunities of an international security environment that has been in a state of flux since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Every year, some 500 representatives from NATO member states and countries participating in Partnership for Peace (PfP) and the Mediterranean Dialogue come together at the College to attend an increasingly wide range of courses. Key Alliance and geo-strategic issues are analysed with the help of top political, military and civilian leaders, as well as outstanding international academics. Many of the key players in the Alliance today, both military and civilian, are graduates of the College. Future leaders pass through our doors every year.

The new College is larger and, with its multipurpose conference facilities and up-to-date technology, better equipped. Not only have facilities been improved, but a recent review of the curriculum led to the definition of a new mission for the College by NATO's Military Committee:

"To contribute to the effectiveness and cohesion of the Alliance by developing and conducting:

  • strategic-level courses on politico-military issues, designed to better prepare selected officers and officials for important NATO or NATO-related appointments;
  • other programmes in support of NATO initiatives and interests."

In pursuit of understanding and cooperation

The new NATO Defense College building.
(NDC photo - 61Kb)

The success of our courses is widely recognised. Each provides a platform for information exchange and consensus-building, and promotes better understanding and cooperation between NATO and our PfP and Mediterranean partners. The team spirit generated during the courses in turn evolves into a useful network of contacts between NATO and Partner participants. This esprit de corps, especially within the various committees, breaks down pre-existing barriers and strengthens trust between nations. In the words of a senior Russian officer who participated in one of the College's courses earlier this year: "If more military and civilian leaders attended the NATO Defense College, the world would be a much safer place."

The core activity of the College's overall programme is the strategic-level Senior Course for Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels, which lasts five and a half months and is run biannually. Up to 10 PfP participants are invited per course. The course covers key developments in international politics generally and NATO/PfP politico-military issues. A two-week Integrated PfP/OSCE Course is built into this course, which then encompasses roughly 35 nations.

The College's flagship course is the two-week General and Flag Officers' (GFO) Course, which is also run twice a year and aims to improve understanding of current Alliance politico-military issues among nationally selected NATO GFOs. One of the GFO courses is also open to PfP and Mediterranean partners. The College also runs a NATO Reserve Officers Course and International Research Seminars - the latter are co-sponsored by either a PfP or Mediterranean Institute. Twice a year, an Academic Fellowship is offered to PfP participants in the field of security studies. Next year, Mediterranean participants will be offered the same opportunity.

Finally, the annual Conference of Commandants brings together the heads of senior training establishments throughout NATO and many of its Partner countries. This conference has enormous potential as a forum for discussion, the exchange of information and establishment of best practice, which we will try to exploit to the full in future years.

Adapting to the new security environment

The success of the NDC educational programme is the product of continual adaptation and scrutiny of the new strategic environment. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has witnessed the growth of large multinational units, the opening and enlargement of our Alliance, and the setting up of ad hoc coalitions when necessary. Operations are increasingly multinational and joint. At the same time, new missions have appeared such as conflict prevention, crisis management and peace-support operations. Finally, international organisations, including non-governmental organisations, have a more important and diversified role to play in NATO's present and potential activities.

As a consequence, military education has had to adapt itself to meet the need for

  • Senior officers and officials to understand, and correctly interpret new politico-military events;
  • A high level, multinational education;
  • Commonality of approach through learning;
  • Analysis and reasoning.

The operational framework has changed too, shifting from a unidirectional to a multidirectional risk strategy, which involves a far broader definition of security and the respective roles of politicians and the military.

To accommodate these requirements, the curricula are built around the following five points: consensus-building, information-processing, developing the concept of common values and interests, broadening outlooks, and language proficiency.

The advent of the information age, with the increased role of technology and the growth of global networking, is also revolutionising higher defence and security education, which is set to undergo permanent and ongoing change. This calls for closer cooperation between institutes in this field to prepare tomorrow's military and civilian élite. Our Conference of Commandants provides an excellent forum for such linkage.

Reflecting the new Strategic Concept

The focus of the College in the coming years will be determined by two interrelated "drivers". The first is the updated Strategic Concept, which provides the five fundamental security tasks around which the College must centre its teaching, discussions and exercises: security, consultation, deterrence and defence, crisis management, partnership. Courses aim to give participants a broad perspective and a particular emphasis is placed on crisis management, including a major three-day negotiation, mediation and decision-making exercise. The latest proposals for establishing a new security and defence role for Europe, underpinned by the transatlantic link, are also treated in depth.

The ramifications of the updated Strategic Concept will be integrated into our courses, which broadly speaking cover:

  • The Alliance's shared values and interests, current and prospective missions, politico-military concept, policies, organisation and working methods;
  • The potential risks to the security of the Alliance and its members;
  • The political, security, defence and socio-economic systems and the interests of Alliance members and Partners; their capabilities, limitations and prospects in international relations, particularly in the fields of defence and security, and their cultural diversity;
  • The role and interaction of other key Euro-Atlantic security-related international organisations;
  • NATO's defence planning and resource management;
  • Academic research and expert evaluation and discussions on security issues.

Boosting cooperation with Partners

The second "driver" of our activities in coming years will be the need to further develop our outreach capability. Indeed, the NATO Defense College has become an essential pillar of the new, open NATO, as is reflected in the PfP Training and Education Enhancement Programme(1) and the enhanced Mediterranean Programme, which were endorsed at the Washington Summit.

This autumn, we welcome Czech, Hungarian and Polish participants as regular NATO members, some of whom previously participated as Partners in the Senior Course. Soon, our team will be augmented by our first Faculty Advisers from Poland and Hungary, who will lead committee work, study periods, and short courses. These developments should allow us to invite increased participation from Partner and Mediterranean Dialogue countries. The College seeks to promote the total integration of NATO participants with Partner and Mediterranean participants, reinforced by improving communication through English and French language-training.

We intend to engage the best possible international speakers to stimulate our strategic dialogue. Many valuable lessons can be learnt from high-level exchanges of views on common security issues and different practices, and our aim is to ensure that the Conference of Commandants becomes one of the key platforms for constructive debate within NATO and Partner countries.

Practical priorities

On a more practical level, the College will concentrate its efforts on fully developing the new premises in order to offer a wider scope of activities, especially for participants from Partner countries, and to respond rapidly to new educational requirements.

The College will also prioritise the complete development of its research and information/technology branches. In particular, it will capitalise on its new research capability by publishing, where appropriate, material stemming from the International Research Seminars, Fellowship Programmes and course activities. In addition, the information/technology branch will provide the impetus to improving a whole range of communication and automation equipment for the new premises, including an improved web site. As a result, the internal systems for participants and staff will be upgraded, as will our service to NATO HQ, its subordinate HQs, and the many national institutions which work with the College. Both in research and IT, we will seek to boost cooperation with other colleges and strategic institutes.

Serving the new NATO

Serving the Alliance at the NATO Defense College has always been a challenge, but a rewarding one. As I have outlined above, the challenge is greater still today. First, we need to ensure that NATO's senior staff, both military and civilian, have a strategic and intellectual understanding of the fundamental security tasks set out in the new Strategic Concept.

Secondly, the College will play a key role in addressing the growing need for greater cooperation and integration with new Partners. This need was highlighted recently in a letter sent to me by the Ukrainian Ambassador to NATO:

"The Kosovo crisis underscores the importance of the efforts of the NATO Defense College in promoting better understanding and cooperation among NATO member states and EAPC partner countries."

The new NATO Defense College will continue to strive for excellence in pursuit of its central mission of contributing to the effectiveness and cohesion of the Alliance and its Partners, as "Your College", in the twenty-first century.


  1. See following article on PfP Training Centres