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Multinational Land Formations and NATO: Reforming Practices and Structures

Authored by Dr. Thomas-Durell Young. | December 1997

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To ensure that at this reduced level the Allies' forces can play an effective role both in managing crises and in countering aggression against any Ally, they will require enhancedflexibility and mobility and an assured capability for augmentation when necessary.

The Alliance's New Strategic Concept, Rome, November 19911

The NATO Alliance has a long and varied history as regards multinational formations. From the failed effort to create a European Army during the early 1950s, to the creation ofthe Allied Command Europe (ACE) Mobile Force-Land in 1960, to the formation of the plethora ofbi-/multi-national corps following the end of the Cold War, two generations of NATO officials have confronted the nettlesome difficulties of operating these formations. And, indeed, nettlesome their attending problems are. These problems range from balancing the command authority requirements of a multinational force commander and the reticence by nations to relinquish sovereign control of forces to a foreign commander, to effecting multinational logistics, where national laws and financial regulations have traditionally outweighed a foreign commander's requirements. In consequence, in NATO multinational formations today, to cite one of the best contemporary studies on the subject, ?...a gap exists between planning, perceptions and reality.?2

Yet, irrespective of the difficulties inherent in such units, their political value has become too important to dismiss. In an era of diminished NATO standing land force structures and a widespread desire to manifest a Western European historic reconciliation that transcends the end of the Cold War, these headquarters and their subordinated forces have a tremendous political cachet. In an era of continued pressures for greater European political and economic union, military integration will continue to be seen as a relatively low cost, high profile manifestation of greater assimilation. So compelling are the political pressures and incentives that since 1991, some European NATO partners have even created their own multinational land headquarters outside of NATO's integrated military structure. Very strong military rationale also exists for creating the ACE Rapid Reaction Corps?ARRC (which contains one multinational and three framework divisions) and five main defense bi-/multi-national corps since the announcement of the multinational formation concept in the spring of 1991.3 The principal military basis for forming these organizations revolves around the issue of diminished force structures. In 1990, the Alliance agreed to force reductions under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and, in 1993, this trend continued resulting in a 45 percent decrease in peacetime strength in the Central Region.4 In light of subsequent decisions by Central Region countries to restructure and field professional armies, the number of standing forces have fallen even further.5 Thus the creation of bi-/multi-national land headquarters serves the purpose of:

  1. achieving maximum efficiencies from remaining forces,
  2. preserving higher level command structures for smaller nations, and
  3. maximizing residual military capabilities, especially of smaller nations.6

While politically useful and possessing potential for significant military utility, the current state of these headquarters is quite ?untidy,? to say the least. More specifically, what the Alliance has created in this wave of multinational enthusiasm is a number of bi-/multi-national headquarters which are too strongly oriented toward main defense, vice rapid reaction, missions. Some of them include subordinate units with different missions from their parent corps. Headquarters also have not been organized in a manner which would be conducive to cooperation with other land commands. Finally, the actual ?mechanics? of cooperation, i.e., multinational command authorities and logistics predominantly, are still in their infancy due to the reluctance of nations to revisit such ?nettlesome? issues. In effect, one of the objectives of the 1991 Strategic Concept, enhanced flexible force structures, has yet to be achieved by the creation of these headquarters.

In its broadest sense, the fundamental problem presented by bi-/multi-national land headquarters is a rather ineffectual relationship which exists between national general staffs, which must ?raise, train and equip? forces, and the allied commanders who must command such forces in crisis and war. Even more daunting: how can Allied commanders plan to employ such formations in crisis and war, given the legal, political and financial restrictions placed upon them by sovereign contributors? Given that NATO strategy is based upon the cornerstone of flexible forces, NATO should examine whether these headquarters and formations support the objectives outlined in the New Strategic Concept.

Recent developments in NATO ought to lend immediacy to the review of the current state ofbi-/multi-national headquarters themselves. First, the experience of the Alliance in the NATO Peace Implementation Force (IFOR) and the Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina has seen three multinational divisional headquarters (i.e., American, French and British) conducting peace enforcement missions with a large number of forces with which they had no previous peacetime relationship.7 It would not be imprudent to assume that this type of ad hoc arrangement; i.e., the assignment of forces to headquarters with which there has not been any previous associations, will be more likely in future operations than headquarters deploying with their wartime designated forces. While it is difficult to plan for such eventualities, the Alliance's experience inBosnia-Herzegovina should demonstrate that it needs to establish the clear requirement for bi-/multi-national headquarters to be standardized in terms of procedures and practices so as to enable them effectively to integrate ad hoc assigned forces.

Second, the Alliance is still in the midst of achieving the politically elusive goal of internal adaption, i.e., reforming its integrated command structure, in the form of the ?Long Term Study.?8 While it is still not yet finalized, one proposal which appears to have been accepted is that the third level of Alliance command will be headed by Naval, Air and Joint Sub-Regional Commanders (JSRC).9 In other words, under current plans, at that crucial nexus where national forces are integrated into the command structure in wartime and where crucial peacetime planning takes place, there will be no exclusively allied land headquarters to oversee what has traditionally been a very vexatious task: the peacetime coordination and wartime command ofmultinational land forces. Thus, should this proposal be implemented, one could expect that bi-/multi-national land headquarters will take on greater importance than they do today in the area of acting as the necessary link between national land forces and the integrated command structure. However, before they can achieve this difficult challenge, they must first be reformed.

This essay has two rather ambitious objectives. First, senior political officials in NATO nations need a wider understanding of the problems which have surfaced from the creation of numerous bi-/multi-national land headquarters in Europe. The military cohesion the Alliance anticipated creating with these headquarters has yet to be realized. In effect, we have less integrated and less interoperable land forces. However, before a process of reform can be initiated, a sound understanding of the factors which have produced these centrifugal forces must be identified. While a number of excellent monographs have been written on, or are related to, this subject,10 there has yet to be published a comprehensive analysis of all NATO and European land bi-/multi-national headquarters above brigade level (see Chart 1), particularly from the perspective of ascertaining their individual and collective weaknesses through an assessment of their structures and the organization of their headquarters.11

Second, in light of the organizational and resulting operational problems associated with bi-/multi-national structures which this essay will document, how should they be reformed the better to achieve the objectives of Alliance strategy, let alone contribute to an improved integrated command structure? Moreover, how should the conditions by which the Alliance and nations contribute forces to these formations be reformed? It is, of course, a facile task to propose militarily-sound changes to command structures and procedures in a political vacuum. However, one cannot ignore the truism that command is inherently a political act and, consequently, national political agendas frequently clash over command issues in NATO. Accordingly, national political factors must be taken into account when addressing the reorganization of bi-/multi-national structures in Europe and the manner by which multinational force commanders must command them.12 The reader will not find, therefore, sweeping or radical recommendations for fundamental reorganization of structures in this essay. Bi-/multi-nationality in NATO has been an evolutionary and, at times, painful process. The prudent reformer must, therefore, work within this reality.

This essay is organized in the following manner. The first substantive chapter provides an overview of the conditions and issues which have an impact upon the ultimateflexibility ofNATO bi-/multi-national headquarters. The objective of this section is to impress upon the reader that these headquarters have introduced into NATO political fora and military commands issues which before 1991 were largely national responsibilities. This is simply no longer the case. Whereas senior Alliance and national officials have been quick to embrace the concept of multinationality, they have been equally reticent to address the difficult financial, political, and legal challenges which must be solved if multinational forces are to be militarily effective beyond their political value.

The third chapter offers abrief description of the headquarters assessed in this essay. To avoid overwhelming the reader with too many organizational details, this section provides a concise overview of the formations and focuses on their political nuances, as well as problems in their ability to meet their mission statements. Amore detailed organizational description of each headquarters is found in individual appendixes.

The fourth chapter offers a number of observations concerning the need to reform the practices by which the Alliance currently ?commands? multinational land formations. It also assesses the ability of various headquarters and formations to accomplish their stated missions and offers suggestions for improving their ability to meet their respective mission statements.

The fifth chapter contains concluding remarks and proffers a number of recommendations with the aim of improving the Alliance's ability to employ bi-/multi-national land headquarters, recommendations which, in their entirety, will provide a plan to reform how the Alliance currently envisages the operation of multinational land formations in peace, crisis and war. This reform plan has been developed with the view of not intruding too harshly upon national political sensitivities. And it is the near term which should drive the reformation of these headquarters. For it is surely sound policy to reform the manner by which NATO commands these formations before the Alliance begins integrating the armies of new NATO members following enlargement.


While bi-/multi-national formations in Europe may be rather ?untidy,? militarily-speaking, they are not fundamentally flawed. As political manifestations of Alliance and European solidarity in an era of diminished force structure and strategic ambiguity, their creation at the end of the Cold War served a very important purpose. But a new security regime in Europe is emerging, one that will bring new members to an Alliance which has demonstrated that without its leadership crises in Europe are likely to go unresolved. If the Alliance intends to have its land force structures transcend the current significant impediments to becoming operationally effective, three distinct reforms need to be instituted. These are:

  1. the manner in which the formations are to be ?commanded,?
  2. the manner in which these headquarters are operated, and
  3. the need to reorganize many of their current structures.

As to the first point, a most disturbing aspect about NATO and subsequent ?European? initiatives to create bi-/multi-national headquarters has been the practice of not investing their respective commanding generals with the peacetime means to attain their wartime operational effectiveness. Recent experience by the ARRC in Bosnia also demonstrates that the Alliance and nations have yet to come to terms with the command authorities required by multinational force commanders on deployment.13 Thus, the Alliance, in a systematic manner, needs to revise the definitions of the command authorities it delegates to its commanders in war, as well as peace.14 Reform of NATO command authority definitions might influence in a positive way the operation of logistics, training, and staff procedures of these headquarters and forces. Concurrently with the reform of command authority definitions, NATO and nations should effect the following changes related to multinational force commanders:

  1. Commanding generals of all bi-/multi-national corps declared to NATO should have the peacetime authority (not merely ?Coordinating Authority?) to establish and validate training standards as established in a Military Committee-endorsed ?mission-essential task list,? as well as establish logistical requirements to meet stated missions.
  2. Commanding generals of all bi-/multi-national corps declared to NATO should be delegated OPCOM (without caveats) on deployment when conducting Article V missions and peace enforcement operations, with the attending authority to change missions, task organize subordinate forces and direct the redistribution of logistics as required.
  3. Commanding generals of all bi-/multi-national corps declared to NATO should be delegated on deployment with OPCON(+) for all other peace support operations; ?+?: the authority to direct the redistribution of logistics as required.
  4. Commanding generals of all framework divisions declared to NATO should have OPCOM on deployment for Article V missions and peace enforcement operations and OPCON for all other peace support operations. Commanding generals should also have the peacetime authority to validate the training standards established by Commander ARRC and influence logistics planning.

The above reforms of the command of multinational formations suggests a fundamental sea change in the manner by which Alliance and national authorities approach multinationality. While never a popular position, revisiting a politically-sensitive issue like command authorities is a sine qua non if Alliance members are ever to achieve the operational flexibility they established for themselves in the Alliance's New Strategic Concept. Notwithstanding NATO's impressive success in deploying multinational land formations to Bosnia in support of IFOR and SFOR, it would be erroneous to conclude that said deployment completely validated current command authority practices. The Alliance did not have to conduct defensive or offensive combat operations within this peace enforcement mission under the current restrictive command authority regime. The Alliance may not be so fortunate in future non-Article V missions.

As regards the second point, the Alliance needs to revisit the issue of how business is conducted in these headquarters with the objective of ensuring that they are indeed capable of operating together and with other than designated Allied forces. The Alliance would be well-served if MC guidance were promulgated which directs that bi-/multi-national headquarters adopt, in large part, the practices of headquarters Corps LANDJUT: possessing an international legal personality within NATO and declared to it, the use of English in the headquarters (with the important new caveat of the provision for French), and adherence to MC guidance, STANAGs, ATP 35, and planning guidelines emerging from Bi-MNC working groups to support CJTFs. Until such time that these reforms are instituted, the Alliance will suffer with headquarters that operate within their own distinct staff cultures, procedures, and lack of a standard language, etc.; qualities which are indicative of a less integrated, less interoperable Alliance, the opposite of what multinationality was intended to achieve.

In terms of the ongoing attempt to reform allied command structures, should land component commanders be abolished in favor of JSRCs, than the role and importance of bi-/multi-national land headquarters will increase. The integration of allied land (vice air and naval) forces into multinational units continues to be one of the most vexing challenges for allied commanders. Hence, why the Alliance has decided in the Long Term Study process that it will not require a land component commander at the third level of the integrated command structure to perform this difficult task is perplexing. However, should this eventuality come to pass, it will fall to the bi-/multi-national land headquarters assessed in this study the responsibility of providing the critical linkage between national forces and a JSRC. Should nations endorse this provision in the Long Term Study, the Alliance and nations equally need to be mindful of the necessity of ensuring that these bi-/multi-national land headquarters are reformed with the aim of providing for their effective employment. As the Alliance appears intent upon divesting itself of the fourth level of command, there would be no additional financial claims made to the Alliance. Rather, these land headquarters should enjoy the same Alliance status as do reaction headquarters. What the Alliance would stand to gain if it were to effect these reforms, at essentially minimal cost, would be more flexible land component headquarters.

As to the third point, some NATO structures need to be realigned, while those two legally outside NATO need to be declared to the Alliance and aligned to NATO standards. Simply stated, the process begun in 1991/1992 to create new bi-/multi-national land headquarters is not completed. Formations which were envisaged in 1991 now have much fewer subordinated forces then initially envisaged. Most importantly, the Alliance needs additional capabilities to deploy forces outside the Central Region and this can safely be accomplished by shifting the orientation of certain headquarters to include rapid reaction missions.

In other words, the Alliance requires the transformation of some existing NATO and European bi-/multi-national headquarters to function as the land component commander for a CJTF. The change in the missions of these headquarters, it must be stressed, should be seen as complementing, vice supplementing, the already existing rapid reaction mission of the ARRC. The headquarters which should maintain a main defense while adopting rapid reaction missions are:

  1. a I German/Netherlands Corps with German forces suitable for reaction missions,
  2. a multinational II German/V U.S. Corps with German forces suitable for reaction missions,
  3. a reformed EUROCORPS within NATO and subordinated to Commander LANDCENT,
  4. a reformed EUROFOR (?SOUTHFOR?) within NATO, with a reaction focus and subordinated to the SACEUR.

The addition of these headquarters for the Alliance's rapid reaction missions should enable NATO to select the most politically-acceptable CJTF land component headquarters and forces (e.g., representing participating nations) for crisis management operations.

Notwithstanding the present array of command and structural problems which plague the effective operation of bi-/multi-national headquarters in Europe, they still offer the Alliance an effective means of integrating land forces. The recent experience of NATO in conducting peace support operations demonstrates the necessity for maintaining the ability to command multinational forces. In the event of an Article V mission, many current national force structures are incapable of conducting unilateral corps-level operations, which speaks to the need to ensure that multinational corps must be effective on the battlefield. Finally, the need to effect these reforms has taken on an important immediacy: membership expansion. While acknowledging that the inclusion of new members in the Alliance from the former Warsaw Pact brings with it its own not insignificant risks, the integration of these forces into ineffective bi-/multi-national formations makes this contemplated move quite disturbing indeed.


1. Emphasis added. ?The Alliance's New Strategic Concept,? Press Communiqué S-1(91)85, Bruxelles, NATO Press Service, November 7, 1991, point 47. It should be noted that, in light of the evolving security environment, any substantive revision of the New Strategic Concept would assuredly endorse the overwhelming requirement for flexible forces in the Alliance.

2. See Roger H. Palin, ?Multinational Military Forces: Problems and Prospects,? Adelphi Paper No. 294, London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1995, p. 5.

3. See ?Final Communiqué,? Defence Planning Committee and the Nuclear Planning Group, Press Communiqué M-DPC/NPG-1(91)38, Bruxelles, NATO Press Service, May29, 1991, point 9. It should be mentioned that the initial plans for the ARRC included a Multinational Division (South) comprising Italian, Turkish and Greek brigades. This headquarters has yet to be formed due to Greek- Turkish disputes and is unlikely to be established.

4. ?NATO's New Force Structures,? NATO Basic Fact Sheet, No. 5, Bruxelles, January 1996.

5. See The Washington Post, July 29, 1996.

6. Forbehind the scenes background on the creation ofthese formations, see Rob de Wijk, NATO on the Brink ofthe New Millennium: The Battlefor Consensus, Brassey's Atlantic Commentaries, London: Brassey's, 1997, pp. 43-44. Dr. de Wijk has written what mustbe the most comprehensive and revealing assessment of the Alliance's evolution since the end of the Cold War. Its careful reading will become a requirement of any serious student of the Alliance.

7. For a breakdown in the ground forces in OPERATION JOINT GUARD (SFOR) see, ?SFOR/AFSOUTH Fact Sheet: Land Component Participating Forces as of April 3, 1997,? http://www.nato.int/ifor/general/sf-grnd.htm.

8. See de Wijk, NATO on the Brink of the New Millennium, pp. 101-106; 128-130.

9.See KlausNaumann, ?An Evolving NATO in an Evolving World?the Chairman's Perspective,? NATO's Sixteen Nations, Vol. 42, No. 1, 1997, p. 14.

10. See Palin, ?Multinational Military Forces?; Edward Foster, ?NATO's Military in the Age of Crisis Management,? RUSI Whitehall Paper Series 1994, London: Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, 1995; Multinationale Steitkräfte in der NATO: Gemeinsamkeit verbindet, Sankt Augustin: CPM Communication Presse Marketing GmbH, 1994; and, John Mackinlay and Jarat Chopra, A Draft Concept ofSecond Generation Multinational Operations 1993, Providence, RI: The Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies, 1993. A comprehensive, but regrettably error-laden, analysis is found in?European armed forces,? Document 1468, Paris, Assembly of Western European Union, June 12, 1995.

11. In consequence, the bi-/multi-national land formations not assessed in this study are: Franco-German Brigade, NATO Composite Force, ACE Mobile Force-Land, and the British-Netherlands Amphibious Force.

12. Under the rhetorical patina ofAlliance solidarity which enshrouds these headquarters, theNorth American observer is frequently visited with not so subtle pejorative comments by European officials about their ?staunch? European allies; comments which harken back to a pre-1939 Europe.

13. Michael Walker, ?AARC into Action,? p. 44.

14. MC 57/3, ?Overall Organization of the Integrated NATO Forces.?