Transforming NATO's military structures
The international security environment is continually evolving and new threats are emerging that are qualitatively and quantitatively different from the conventional and traditional challenges of the 20th century. In recognition of threats such as those posed by radical fundamentalism, international terrorism and transnational criminal networks, Allied leaders agreed at the Prague Summit in November 2002 to implement sweeping and historic changes to the way that NATO operates.
The transformation process that was set in motion at Prague represents a new vision for NATO and a radical shift away from the Alliance's original core objective, namely the defence of Western Europe from the Soviet threat. As the nature of the threat has changed from that posed by the Soviet Union's enormous conventional and nuclear forces, it has become necessary to restructure Alliance militaries and to prepare them for the unconventional and asymmetric threats NATO members face today. In the words of former NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson: "This is not business as usual, but the emergence of a new and modernised NATO, fit for the challenges of the new century."
This necessary transformation bridges the physical and conceptual differences between two different eras of warfare. During the Cold War, the Alliance focused on mass and firepower in preparation for the expected war of attrition - any unit or capability offered by a member state would have helped deter the enemy. Today's forces have to be agile, proactive and manoeuvrable on a battlefield with no clear front lines. During the Cold War, Allied forces would have fought close to home and relied on national logistics located only a short distance from the battlefield. Today, NATO forces must be prepared to deploy to, and sustain themselves in, any location in the world.
A new Command Structure
One of the Prague Summit's most important decisions was to streamline the NATO Command Structure to provide "a leaner, more efficient, effective and deployable command structure, with a view to meeting the operational requirements for the full range of Alliance missions". NATO deactivated the Supreme Allied Command, Atlantic, based in Norfolk, Virginia, and vested all operational responsibilities under the Allied Command for Operations (ACO), formerly the Allied Command Europe, based in Mons, Belgium. The new Allied Command for Transformation (ACT) was simultaneously activated in Norfolk, Virginia, and is responsible for the Alliance's military transformation. In addition, a third joint command was created in Lisbon, Portugal. This was formally inaugurated in March 2004 and will form the basis for a sea-based Combined Joint Task Force. Twelve subordinate regional headquarters are to be deactivated in the next few years.
The results already emerging from these changes are impressive. Overlapping and confusing lines of authority have been cleared up as all operations now fall under the ACO. A clear division of labour has been established between the ACO and the newly formed ACT: ACO defines the standards that units will have to meet to be included for service in a NATO command and ACT develops the necessary training for these units. Both ACO and ACT will certify whether units meet necessary standards. By vesting all operational responsibilities in one command and focusing the second strategic command on the challenges of on-going transformation and improving the interoperability of member nations, NATO has postured itself for continuous transformation to meet the ever-evolving challenges of today's security environment.
NATO Response Force
The second groundbreaking change arising from the Prague Summit was the decision to create a NATO Response Force (NRF), that is a technologically advanced, flexible, deployable, interoperable and sustainable force. It was to include land, sea and air elements and be ready to move quickly wherever it was needed, as decided by the North Atlantic Council, NATO's highest decision-making body. This clear guidance - something any military commander wants to receive - provided Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) with the authority to craft the NRF into a truly transformational force and one which gives the Alliance significant new military capabilities.
Once the NRF is operational, NATO will for the first time in its history have a standing, integrated force with sea, land, air and special operations components under a single commander. This force will train together, be certified together, and if necessary, deploy together. The NRF's very high-readiness element will have the capability of beginning deployment within five days of receiving its notice to move and of sustaining itself for up to 30 days. Given the Alliance's new global mind-set - manifested in its assumption of responsibility for the international peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force - the NRF must be ready to deploy and sustain itself anywhere in the world.
One important aspect of the NRF's transformational nature is that it will be a standing force. Unlike other NATO forces created for a specific mission when the need arose and which often required mobilisation, the NRF will be available for immediate use for any mission deemed appropriate by the North Atlantic Council. In that sense, the NRF will be similar to NATO's Airborne Early Warning Force and the Standing Naval Forces. But unlike those two forces that are focused primarily on one component - air and maritime respectively - the NRF will possess units and capabilities from all components, as well as being a truly integrated, joint, and combined force from its inception.
The Alliance inaugurated the first prototype NRF rotation force, the so-called "NRF 1", at Regional Headquarters North in Brunssum, the Netherlands, on 15 October 2003. The first two NRF rotations, while operational, are experimental. They have been designed to be small and limited in scope. SHAPE, ACT and the Regional Headquarters are experimenting with this force to develop the necessary doctrines, training and certification standards, operational requirements, and readiness reporting requirements to ensure the NRF's success when it reaches its initial operational capability in October 2004. It will become fully operational in October 2006.
Once this occurs, the Alliance will possess an important new military capability, namely the ability to act proactively. This represents a significant and historic change in the Alliance's ethos and culture, since during the Cold War NATO was simply reactive. At the time, the Article 5 commitment to collective defence was clear, defence plans were already prepared and large standing forces were stationed along the Iron Curtain.
Being proactive does not always mean rapidly resorting
to the use of force, however. As important as it is for the NRF to
be able to operate effectively at the high end of the intensity spectrum,
its agility and expeditionary nature could help forestall conflict
in the first place. In addition to being able to participate in peacetime
engagement programmes that will help strengthen national institutions,
the NRF's agility and expeditionary nature gives the Alliance the military
capability to insert a small force onto the ground during the deterrence
phase of a deteriorating situation. The presence of this force, during
a humanitarian crisis, for example, could help stabilise a situation
before it escalates and might even help bring about the conditions
for an eventual political settlement without a significant loss of
life occurring first. With a humanitarian crisis in particular, it
is better to deploy in advance of a potential disaster rather than
waiting until it has occurred and having to deal with the consequences.
* Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.