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 Home > News & Policies > November 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 21, 2002

Fact Sheet: NATO: Building New Capabilities for New Challenges

     Fact sheet NATO Summit Trip

NATO is transforming to meet the new challenges of the 21st century. NATO's core mission of defending the nations of the Alliance remains; but the threats of the Cold War have ended, and the new threats -- a dangerous nexus of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and rogue dictatorial regimes -- is growing. After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, America's NATO allies wanted to help fight terror and most did, but because of the speed with which the Afghan campaign was planned and their limited combat power projection capabilities, many NATO allies were not able to contribute as fully and meaningfully as they wanted. Our agenda for NATO capabilities improvements at Prague is intended to make NATO able to play the vital role its members on both sides of the Atlantic want in defending against new threats.

The capabilities improvements have four interrelated components: (1) a NATO response force; (2) the Prague Capabilities Commitment; (3) streamlining NATO command structures; and (4) creating a strategic command dedicated to shaping the transformation of our military forces.

NATO Response Force (NRF). The NRF will be a force that can quickly deploy to undertake the full range of military missions and sustain itself for 30 days. It will consist of air, maritime, and ground units rotating in assignment for 6 months and commanded by a Combined Joint Task Force headquarters. The size of the force will be determined by the mission, but would notionally consist of air assets and command and control capabilities to support up to 200 combat sorties per day, a brigade-sized land force, and maritime forces up to the size of a NATO Standing Naval Force. This translates into roughly 21,000 personnel.

The units will train prior to that assignment to ensure they are capable of fighting together on 7-30 days notice anywhere in the world. NATO will focus its exercise program and joint training on units that will be participating in an upcoming NRF rotation. SACEUR will certify the units' readiness prior to assignment and tailor contributions into high-readiness force packages that NATO could employ for combat operations. The NRF will link high-readiness forces with combined joint task force headquarters to better integrate NATO's command and force structures. By doing so, it increases the deployability, sustainability, and fighting capability of the Alliance for new tasks we may face.

Prague Capabilities Commitment. NATO is embarking on a focused program to concentrate spending on specific near-term capability improvements. The goal is to encourage European allies, old and new, to focus their defense spending on the most critical combat shortfalls identified by NATO military authorities: deployability, sustainability, interoperability, information superiority, and chemical/biological/radiological/nuclear defense (CBRN). Rather than attempting to sustain interoperability across the combat spectrum, our goal is to focus on creating niches of excellence in these areas of allied forces.

Through their Prague Capabilities Commitment, NATO leaders have resolved to equip Alliance forces with leading-edge communications and weaponry essential to NATO dominance of the battlefield. New members, as well as existing Allies, will be able to produce specialized niche capabilities in their forces by concentrating modernization and transformation efforts on units identified for the NATO Response Force.

NATO Secretary General George Robertson has organized several efforts to fill shortfalls through multinational efforts:

  • Germany is committing to lease C-17 transport aircraft as an interim measure, and lead a consortium of nations aimed at pooling airlift resources and capabilities;
  • Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Turkey are individually committing to buy UAVs;
  • The Netherlands is leading a consortium with Canada, Denmark, Belgium, and Norway to pool purchases of precision-guided munitions; Spain and the Netherlands are buying munitions for suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD);
  • Denmark and Norway are contributing air-to-air refueling and Spain is leading a consortium of nations interested in pooling their refueling capabilities;
  • Norway and Germany have committed to improving maritime counter-mine capabilities; and
  • Poland and Hungary, are improving nuclear, chemical, and biological identification and defense capabilities.

Command Restructuring. NATO's current headquarters structure was designed to fight in place with a fixed contribution of forces. It is undergoing a major restructuring to make it limber enough to run joint task forces of varying sizes and composition. Large, static headquarters are having personnel reduced and missions reassigned. Lower-level headquarters are being redesigned to command joint task forces of varying sizes and composition. Other headquarters will become specialized to functions like improving special operations forces or assigning transport assets (comparable to U.S. Specified Commands). Allied commands will have greater flexibility in organizing their staffs to increase their ability to address new threats and missions.

The new command structure will include two commands at the highest (military-strategic) level -- one for operations and one for functional transformation of Alliance forces. Previously, two NATO commanders divided responsibility for operations between Europe and the Atlantic. In the new structure, the strategic commander for operations will be responsible for the preparation and conduct of all operations, including defense of the NATO territory previously under the responsibility of SACLANT.

Reducing headquarters is a difficult political challenge, akin to closing military bases in the U.S. However, NATO has committed to making those difficult choices so that our structure is better able to meet the challenges of deploying combined and joint military forces. The new NATO command structure provides an effective but streamlined organization capable of performing the full spectrum of Alliance missions. We expect the new command structure to be fully agreed at the Spring 2003 NATO Ministerial meetings and implemented by 2004.

Allied Command Transformation (ACT). NATO will establish a new command at the highest level, based in Norfolk, Virginia, and co-located with the U.S. Joint Forces Command. NATO's SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) command will focus on the near-term operational requirements (as do U.S. Combatant Commanders). ACT will focus on the longer-term shaping of the force (akin to the role of JFCOM and U.S. Service Chiefs). Its work will focus on improving the interoperability of NATO forces and reducing the "transatlantic capabilities gap" over time by sharing innovation and experimentation with new concepts of warfare now possible because of improvements in technology. ACT will develop concepts and doctrine; design and conduct experiments; identify future force requirements; supervise military education and training; and set and assess unit standards for jointness and transformation. We expect the command to begin functioning by the summer of 2003.

There will be some realignment of responsibilities between SHAPE and ACT. Allied Command Transformation will be NATO's means of synchronizing efforts across our national programs and forces to create a more effective alliance fighting team. ACT will increase interoperability by ensuring that as transformation accelerates in U.S. and other militaries, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are able to find solid, creative solutions to the operational challenges of coalition warfare against the new threats.

This ambitious program of capability initiatives will dramatically change NATO military operations. These improvements in NATO's military forces, and thus the effectiveness and credibility of NATO, depends on our ability to create this new, more capable NATO.

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