News | June 1, 2003

Transforming NATO Command and Control for Future Missions

By Charles L. Barry Defense Horizons 28


Transforming NATO Command and ControlOverview

No military function is more critical to operational success than effective command and control (C2). There also is no more daunting military function to get right when it comes to the employment of complex multinational formations in the fast-paced arena of crisis response. Since the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—unique as an alliance with a permanent standing C2 structure—has ventured into a broader spectrum of missions and across a wider geographical area of operations, posing far greater C2 challenges than the single- mission, fixed-territory defense of the past. Threats to NATO interests have increased, demanding military structures and capabilities that can be employed on shorter notice and further outside NATO territory. At the same time, more sophisticated information-based battle systems and technologies are driving the need for increasingly interoperable forces. A key factor for success in this new environment will be a more agile, flexible, and responsive NATO C2 architecture for the 21st century. 

The NATO summit at Prague in November 2002 was a major milestone in the evolution of alliance command structure and future military force posture. Prague decisions outlined a new arrangement that will take several years and significant investment by both NATO and each member state to put in place. Although many details must still be worked out, early momentum toward the Prague goals is strong and encouraging. Those efforts should not falter at a time of new and proximate threats to NATO member territory and citizens, or collective interests. 

Alliance military commanders direct their organizations through the architecture of the distinctive NATO political-military process called consultation, command, and control (C3). Although C3 is a single NATO process, consultation is focused on the political process of consensus decisionmaking among allies, while command and control (C2) is a military function achieved through the full array of NATO military command and force structures, doctrinal command relationships, and technical standards and interoperability agreements. NATO C2 is also underpinned by a multifaceted communications and information system (CIS) that provides the connectivity and networks to conduct military operations. Related but separate NATO doctrines cover the functions of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.