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Military organization and structures

NATO’s military organization and structures comprise all military actors

and formations that are involved in and used to implement political
decisions that have military implications.

The key elements of NATO’s military organization are the Military

Committee, composed of the Chiefs of Defence of NATO member
countries, its executive body, the International Military Staff, and the
military Command Structure (distinct from the Force Structure), which is
composed of Allied Command Operations and Allied Command
Transformation, headed respectively by the Supreme Allied Commander
Europe (SACEUR) and the Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation

The Force Structure consists of organizational arrangements that bring

together the forces placed at the Alliance’s disposal by the member
countries, along with their associated command and control structures. These
forces are available for NATO operations in accordance with predetermined
readiness criteria and with rules of deployment and transfer of authority to
NATO command that can vary from country to country.

Working mechanisms

In practice, the Chairman of the Military Committee presides over the

Military Committee where each member country has a military
representative (or Milrep) for his/her Chief of Defence. This committee,
NATO’s most senior military authority, provides the North Atlantic Council
and the Nuclear Planning Group with consensus-based military advice– that
is, advice agreed to by all of NATO’s Chiefs of Defence.

The Military Committee works closely with NATO’s two Strategic

Commanders – SACEUR, responsible for operations and SACT, responsible
for transformation. They are both responsible to the Military Committee for
the overall conduct of all Alliance military matters within their areas of

On the one side, the Military Committee provides the Strategic Commanders
with guidance on military matters; and on the other side, it works closely
with the Strategic Commanders to bring forward for political consideration
by the North Atlantic Council, military assessments, plans, issues and
recommendations, together with an analysis that puts this information into a
wider context and takes into account the concerns of each member country.
The Military Committee is supported in this role by the International
Military Staff.

In sum, the Military Committee serves, inter alia, as a link between the
political leaders of the HQ and the two Strategic Commanders.

The capacity to adapt

Over and above these working mechanisms, there are two phenomena that
have a direct impact on the military structure, the way it functions and the
way it evolves: first and foremost, international developments and events;
and secondly, the constant interaction between the political and military

Evidently, political events with far-reaching consequences such as the end of

the Cold War and military operations such as ISAF in Afghanistan do trigger
extensive reforms, especially within NATO’s military Command Structure.
To keep pace with all these changes and future challenges, the Command
Structure and way of doing business is constantly evolving. Additionally, the
permanent exchange of information and specialized knowledge and
experience between military experts and the political actors at NATO
Headquarters is a constant and continual means of mutual education. This
ability of the military and the civilian to work closely together makes NATO
a unique organization.

Military Command Structure