Updated: 01-Jun-2004 Issues

valid as of
June 2003
NATO’s Command Structure:
The Old and the New
26/05/2004 - NATO
Structure of Allied Command Operations (PDF/54kb)
26/05/2004 - NATO
Strucutre of Allied Command Transformation (PDF/87kb)


In the London Declaration of July 1990, Heads of State and Government NATO nations called for a process of adaptation commensurate with the changes that were reshaping Europe. This was a decisive turning point in the history of the Alliance and led to the adoption of the new Alliance Strategic Concept in November 1991, reflecting a broader approach to security. This in turn led to NATO’s Long Term Study to examine the Integrated Military Structure and put forward proposals for change to the Alliance’s Force Structures, Command Structures and Common Infrastructure. During this assessment, Foreign Ministers provided further guidance at their meeting in Berlin in June 1996, defining the scope of missions for NATO with which the new command structure had to cope.

As part of Alliance adaptation in the 90’s three fundamental objectives had to be ensured:

  • the Alliance’s military effectiveness;
  • the transatlantic link preserved;
  • the European Security and Defence Identity developed within the Alliance.

NATO’s Military Committee proposed a new military command structure to Defence Ministers on 2 December 1997; implementation commenced in 1999 and this is the command structure NATO has been working with to-date.

In essence, the Cold War command structure was reduced from 78 headquarters to 20 with two overarching Strategic Commanders (SC), one for the Atlantic, and one for Europe, with three Regional Commanders under the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT) and two under the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR). Reporting to the Regional Commanders in Europe were the Component Commanders and Joint Sub-Regional Commanders.

NATO’s New Command Structure 2003

The Prague Summit

At the Prague Summit in November 2002, the Alliance Heads of State and Government agreed to further strengthen NATO’s ability to meet the new threats and security challenges of the 21st century. To this end, they approved the Defence Ministers’ report, which reflected the agreed minimum military requirement and provided the outline of a leaner, more efficient, effective and deployable NATO command structure. Since the Prague Summit, the Senior Officials Group (SOG), based on work by NATO’s Military Authorities, has finalised the design of a structure which reduces the number of headquarters and Combined Air operations Centres while enhancing the transatlantic link and remaining capable of meeting the operational requirements for the full range of Alliance missions.

Command Structure from June 2003

The new structure is split in two at the strategic level: one strategic command has all operational responsibility and one has responsibility for transformation.

Allied Command Operations (ACO)

The former Allied Command Europe (ACE) will become the Allied Command for Operations (ACO). The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and his staff at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) situated in Mons, Belgium will henceforth be responsible for all Alliance operations, including those previously undertaken by SACLANT. The operational level will see a considerable reduction in headquarters. In total there remain 10 headquarters: one at strategic level, three at operational level and six at component level. This is an approximate 40% reduction, (on top of the 70% reduction in the previous Command Structure review in 1999). A major advantage of this streamlining will be the ability to redirect cost and manpower savings to existing Alliance shortfalls.

Allied Command Transformation (ACT)

The Allied Command Transformation (ACT), situated in Norfolk, USA, replaces the Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT), having an entirely different purpose, structure and rationale. ACT will promote the transformation of Alliance militaries and improve their ability to inter-operate, whilst enhancing the transatlantic link. It’s long-term objective will be to foster change, evolution and development, providing continual improvement and advancement.

ACT will work closely with the US engine for transformation, the US Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), Alliance schools and potential (multi) national Centres of Excellence.

The new NATO Command Structure will in fact be undergoing a metamorphosis, which involves major structural changes of headquarters, overall reduction in the number of HQs, addition of transformation tasks, fundamental redistribution of functions and substantial increases in robustness, all of which should be finished within three years from now.

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