NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) is a military alliance of 26 countries. NATO membership] NATO does not have its own army. It are the member states who assign their armies to NATO and place them under NATO command. NATO itself exists of several headquarters and a limited amount of military infrastructure, all jointly funded. The organisational structure of NATO can be divided into 2 areas: the political, with its headquarters in Brussels, and the military. The North Atlantic Council (chaired by the Secretary-General and put together from the permanent representatives and ambassadors of the members) is responsible for the political decisions – taken on the basis of consensus. The Military Commitee advises the North Atlantic Council, the Defence Planning Commitee and the Nuclear Planning Group. This political structure is based in the NATO HQ in Brussels

Military Command Structure

The military structure consists of a series of military headquarters. On top are two strategic military commands: Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation.
Allied Command Transformation is based in Norfolk (US) and commanded by Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT). It is responsible for promoting and overseeing the continuing transformation of Alliance forces and capabilities, especially through training and development of concepts and doctrine.
Allied Command Operations (ACO) is responsible for all military operations by NATO. In war time troops from the national states come under its command. For the several non-article 5-operations, in other words military interventions not based on self-defense, the member states deliver case-by-case troops for the operation. For this purpose a force generation conference is called together. The force generation process is well described in the study by RUSI on Reforming NATO Force Generation.


Allied Command Operations is based in SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe).
At the top of the ACO structure are the posts of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) supported by the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR) and the Chief of Staff (COS). SACEUR’s position is always assigned to the US, while DSACEUR and COS posts are now permanently assigned to the UK and Germany respectively. SACEUR is also the commander of the US European Command (USEUCOM) with its Headquarters located in Stuttgart (Germany). The DSACEUR is also the European Operational Commander once EU avails herself of NATO assets and capabilities under the Berlin Plus Agreement.

The second tier or operational level consists of standing joint force commands (JFC) in Brunssum (the Netherlands) and in Naples (Italy), both of which can conduct operations from their static locations or provide a land-based Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) headquarters, and a robust but more limited standing joint headquarters (JHQ), in Lisbon (Portugal), from which a deployable sea-based CJTF headquarters capability can be drawn. The joint force command in Brunssum now provides the headquarters, minus the maritime component, for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, and the joint force command in Naples the headquarters for NATO operations in the Balkans.

The third tier or component/tactical level consists of six joint force component commands, which provide service-specific – land, maritime or air – headquarters to the operational level. Although these component commands are routinely subordinated to the joint force commanders, they can be allocated to operations under another commander as the need dictates. The joint force command in Brunssum has an air component command in Ramstein (Germany), a maritime component command in Northwood (UK) and a land component command in Heidelberg (Germany). The joint force command in Naples has an air component command in Izmir (Turkey), a maritime component Command in Naples and a land component command in Madrid (Spain).
Supporting the air component commands are four static Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOCCs) to direct NATO air operations – in Udem (Germany), Finderup (Denmark), Poggio Renatico (Italy) and Larissa (Greece) - and two deployable CAOCs in Udem and Poggio Renatico. The static CAOCs can support Allied air operations from their fixed locations, while the deployable CAOCs will move where they are needed.

Prior to building a new NATO command structure, NATO member states had already established as part of the new force structure six High Readiness Forces (Land) Headquarters modelled on the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) and supplemented by other headquarters at lower readiness. These deployable headquarters can command and control forces from the size of a brigade numbering thousands of troops up to a corps of tens of thousands. Apart from the ARRC these headquarters are not part of the NATO structure itself but organised by the national military forces on their own or by multilateral agreement. SHAPE formulates standards and certificates these headquarters if they qualify to lead NATO operations. The participating states decide when to commit these headquarters to NATO tasks and operations.
SHAPE has certified six High Readiness Forces (Land) Headquarters:

  • ARRC Headquarters in Rheindalen (Germany), with the UK as framework nation, providing nearly 60 per cent of the headquarters personnel and assigning its two divisions to the corps, as well as combat service and combat service support units. The ARRC is prepared for employment throughout Allied Command Europe in order to augment or reinforce local forces whenever necessary.
  • Rapid Deployable German-Netherlands Corps Headquarters based on the 1st German-Netherlands Corps Headquarters in Münster (Germany).
  • Rapid Deployable Italian Corps Headquarters based on the Italian Rapid Reaction Corps Headquarters in Solbiate Olona, close to Milan (Italy).
  • Rapid Deployable Spanish Corps Headquarters based on the Spanish Corps Headquarters in Valencia (Spain).
  • Rapid Deployable Turkish Corps Headquarters based on the 3rd Turkish Corps Headquarters near Istanbul (Turkey).
  • Eurocorps in Strasbourg (France), sponsored by Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain. Eurocorps has a different international military status than the other five headquarters but has signed a technical arrangement with Allied Command Operations and can also be committed to NATO missions.

These headquarters are taking turns commanding ISAF in Afghanistan for six- to nine-month rotations. All but Eurocorps take turns providing the six-month rotating land component command of the NATO Response Force. France is preparing a seventh High Readiness Force (Land) Headquarters, the Force d’Action Terrestre (Ground Action Force) in Lille.

Deployable High Readiness Forces (Maritime) Headquarters can command and control assigned forces up to the level of a NATO naval task force made up of dozens of warships. Three such headquarters have been certified by SHAPE:

  • Headquarters Commander Italian Maritime Forces on board the Italian Navy aircraft carrier Garibaldi
  • Headquarters Commander Spanish Maritime Forces on board the Spanish Navy landing ship dock Castilla
  • Headquarters Commander United Kingdom Maritime Forces on board the British Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal

Two more High Readiness Forces (Maritime) Headquarters are being prepared, one by France, initially on board the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and in future the landing ship dock Mistral, and by NATO’s Striking Force Atlantic, which is double-hatted with the US Second Fleet, on board the command ship USS Mount Whitney.

A last command responsible to ACO is the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force. It provides air surveillance and command and control for all NATO commands. It is based in Geilenkirchen, Germany, and Waddington, United Kingdom.

NATO Response Force (NRF)

Operational and component command of the NRF rotates every six months to share the burden and to keep all headquarters at the same level of training and readiness. Operational command of the NRF alternates every six months among the three operational headquarters in Brunssum, Naples and Lisbon. The air component of the NRF is commanded by the third-tier air component commands, alternating between Ramstein and Izmir. Command of the NRF’s land component alternates among NATO’s six High Readiness Forces (Land) Headquarters and of its maritime component among the Alliance’s three High Readiness Forces (Maritime) Headquarters.

Common NATO assets

Although most military forces are national forces, NATO member states sometimes finance assets through NATO common funding or by multilateral agreement.

NATO Airborne Early Warning Force: It provides air surveillance and command and control for all NATO commands. It is based in Geilenkirchen, Germany, and Waddington, United Kingdom.

Common strategic airlift:

  • SALIS: Antonov planes in Leipzig (Germany) (both NATO / EU)
  • 3 or 4 C-17’s in Pápa (Hungary)

European Union

Since the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is one of the three pillars of the EU. With the Amsterdam Treaty (signed in 1997, in force in 1999) the so-called Petersberg Tasks were transferred from the WEU to the EU. In 1999 the European Security and Defence Policy was set up under the CFSP-pillar and the EU started to build a political structure similar to that of NATO.

The European Union still has a more limited intervention capacity but it is in full build-up. Like in NATO the military forces and assets are still nationally-owned. These national troops are on decision of the member state given a task in the EU framework. The EU has no troops of its own but can lead military operations under the CFSP. Main difference with NATO is that the enormous logistical capacity for military interventions worldwide owned by the US is not available for the EU interventions.
In 1999 the political decision was made to do military operations under EU-flag, the first step was giving national troops a EU-role. This was done in the Headline Goal 2003 or Helsinki Headline Goal. Objective was to be able by 2003 to set up a rapid intervention force of 60000 soldiers, available within 60 days and capable to do an operation 4000 km outside Europe during a year. Seen the necessary rotations of troops this means a force of 180000 soldiers.
A catalogue of available forces was made. After this the shortcomings in this catalogue were identified: lack of sea- and airlift, intelligence, ... With a second Headline Goal 2010 the EU wants to address these shortcomings and develop its military capacities: 2010_headline_goal.pdf. Important new aims were the setting up of battlegroups and the creation of the European Defence Agency.
More information on the EU military capabilities

In 2003 the EU agreed on its Security Strategy. This document states how the EU sees security threats and how to repond to them. It provides the strategic guidelines for the ESDP.

Political and military structure

The European Council makes the main strategic decisions and gives the green light for military operations. The more daily work is done by the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and by the Political and Security Committee (PSC), also known under its French abbreviation COPS (Comité de politique et de sécurité), which consists of permanent representatives of the member states. They get adviced by the EU Military Committee. This is officially composed by the Chiefs of Defense of the Member States, who in practice are represented on a regular basis by their permanent military representatives.
They get supported by the EU Military Staff. They give strategic advice, do early warning and situation assessment and perform the strategic planning for Petersberg tasks. This EUMS consists of 200 people (including the EU Operations Centre) and is situated in the Avenue Kortenberg 150, 1040 Brussel.

Compared to NATO the EU has not a full developed headquarter structure but just an embryonal headquarter: the EU Operations Centre. But it can fall back on SHAPE and several national headquarters which got a EU role.
The EUMS does not directly control the EU military missions but an Operational Headquarters (OHQ) is nominated. The OHQ directs the Force Headquarters or FHQ, also provided by a member country, which carries out the operation on the ground. Five national operational headquarters have been made available for use by the Union to fulfil the OHQ role: Mont Valérien near Paris, Northwood Headquarters northwest of London, Germany’s Armed Forces Operational Command near Potsdam, Centocelle in Rome and Larissa. For example, Operation Artemis used Mont Valérien as its OHQ and EUFOR’s DR Congo operation used Potsdam.
The second option is to use NATO facilities, under ‘Berlin plus’ arrangements, as was the case for mounting EUFOR Althea, for which SHAPE was used. From 1 January 2007, as a third option, the EU Operations Centre also began work in Brussels. It can command a limited size force of about 2000 troops (e.g. a battlegroup).

More information on the ESDP Structures:

Battle Groups

European Union battlegroups (EU BGs) are military forces of 1500 combat soldiers under the control of the European Union. There are currently fifteen, mostly multi-national groups who rotate actively so that two are ready for deployment at any one time. The groups are intended to be deployed on the ground within 5-10 days of approval from the Council. It must be sustainable for at least 30 days, which could be extended to 120 days, if resupplied. There is no fixed structure, a ‘standard’ group would include a headquarters company, three infantry companies and corresponding support personnel. Deploying such a Battle Group would need 200 C-130 flights, 30 C17-Globemaster flights or a big half of a RoRo-ship. For more information, see this study of the European Institute for Security Studies.

From 1 January 2005 the battlegroups reached initial operational capacity: at least one battlegroup was on standby every 6 months. The United Kingdom and France each had an operational battlegroup for the first half of 2005, and Italy for the second half. In the first half of 2006, a Franco-German battlegroup operated, and the Spanish Italian Amphibious Battlegroup. In the second half of that year just one battlegroup operated composed of France, Germany and Belgium.

Full operational capacity was reached on 1 January 2007, meaning the Union could undertake two battlegroup sized operations concurrently, or deploy them simultaneously into the same field. The battlegroups rotate every 6 months, the roster from 2007 onwards is as follows:

Period Battlegroup Lead Nation Operational HQ
2007 Jan-Jun French - Belgian Battlegroup France Paris
Battlegroup 107 Germany Potsdam
2007 Jun-Dec Italian - Hungarian - Slovenian Battlegroup Italy Rome
Balkan Battlegroup Greece Larissa
2008 Jan-Jun Nordic Battlegroup Sweden London
Spanish-led Battlegroup Spain tbd
2008 Jun-Dec French - German based Battlegroup Germany Paris
British Battlegroup United Kingdom London
2009 Jan-Jun Spanish Italian Amphibious Battlegroup Italy tbd
tbd tbd tbd
2009 Jun-Dec Czech - Slovak Battlegroup Czech Republic tbd
tbd tbd tbd
2010 Jan-Jun Polish-led Battlegroup Poland tbd
UK - Dutch Battlegroup United Kingdom tbd
2010 Jun-Dec Italian - Romanian - Turkish Battlegroup Italy tbd
tbd tbd tbd
2011 Jan-Jun Battlegroup 107 Netherlands tbd
Swedish Battlegroup Sweden tbd
2011 Jun-Dec tbd tbd tbd
tbd tbd tbd


An overview of the military operations by the EU:

US Posture in Europe


European Command (EUCOM) is the regional combatant command of the US military in Europe. It is a ‘joint’ command, which means it has the different components (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine) under its command. It is based in Stuttgart and its supreme commander is also the SACEUR or the supreme commander of the NATO military forces.

US Army

In 2004 the US Army in Europe (USAREUR) counted 62000 soldiers. This is planned to go down to 25000 soldiers by 2012. Headquarters are in Heidelberg (Germany). Deployable headquarters are the V Corps HQ (Heidelberg), the Southern European Task Force (SETAF) (Vicenza) and the Joint Task Force East (JTF-E) HQ (Mihail Kogalniceanu, Romania). Planned is the merger of USAREUR and the V Corps HQ.

As primary combat forces it has 3 Brigade Command Teams (BCT):

  • 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment (SCR) (Vilseck - Grafenwoehr, Germany)
  • 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (Vicenza, Italy). This is at the moment partly based in Bamburg and Schweinfurt (Germany) but are planned to be all located in Vicenza in 2011.
  • a rotational brigade in Romania and Bulgaria

Extra tactical enablers: a combat aviation brigade (Ansbach), an engineer brigade, a military police brigade, a sustainment brigade, an air defense artillery battalion and a rocket artillery battalion (Grafenwoehr).
At the moment it has 2 extra BCT’s in Germany, the 2nd Brigade, 1st ID (Schweinfurt - relocating to Grafenwoehr, Germany) and the 2nd Brigade, 1st AD (Baumholder, Germany). This are planned to be relocated to the US in 2012 and 2013.

US Air Force

In 2004 the US Air Force in Europe (USAFE) counted 33000 military personnel. This will be reduced to 29000 in 2012. Its headquarters are in Ramstein. It consists of 7 Main Operating Bases and more than 70 Geographically Separated Units (GSU). The main operating bases are: RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall in England, Ramstein and Spangdahlem Air Bases in Germany, Aviano Air Base in Italy, Lajes Air Base in the Azores, and Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.

US Navy

In 2004 the US Navy in Europe had 14000 military personnel. This is planned to go down to 8000. It has its headquarters in Naples (Italy). Aside of this the US 6th Fleet with 12000 extra military personnel is present in the Mediterranean Main bases are Rota (Spain), Sigonella (Sicily - Italy)), Souda Bay (Crete - Greece). Other bases are in Naples and Gaeta (Italy). La Maddalena on Sardinia will be closed.

Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons available to NATO

The Strategic Concept of NATO states: " A credible Alliance nuclear posture and the demonstration of Alliance solidarity and common commitment to war prevention continue to require widespread participation by European Allies involved in collective defence planning in nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces on their territory and in command, control and consultation arrangements.” (§. 63)
In the NATO Strategic Concept, the US, UK and French nuclear arsenals are mentioned in general terms as support of the deterrence role.

Directly assigned to NATO are the following nuclear weapons: - US tactical B61 plane bombs (350 bombs in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and UK) - nuclear missiles on the 4 UK Trident-submarines (each submarine has a maximum of 48 nuclear warheads on board) - nuclear missiles on US Trident-submarines: 4 of the 15 submarines are assigned to NATO (24 missiles on each submarine)

US Nuclear weapons are stored on the following European bases:

When will NATO nuclear weapons be used?

Under US pressure NATO has since 2000 allowed a new strategy which permits the use of nuclear weapons against states who do not posses nuclear weapons themselves. After the Cold War the US changed it nuclear strategy. Originally nuclear weapons were used to deter other nuclear weapon states. Countries that did not posses nuclear weapons were not threatened by them. Since the 90’s the US broadened the role of nuclear weapons. Also countries which the US supposes to posses weapons of mass destruction like chemical or biological weapons, are now threatened with nuclear weapons. Documents of US Stratcom, released under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that US nuclear weapons on European soil have a role in the US war planning for the Middle East. Because many more countries have the potential to posses chemical or biological weapons than nuclear weapons, many more countries are now the target of US nuclear weapons. NATO accepted a similar doctrine in June 2000 by adopting a revision of her military strategy in the secret document MC 400/2. The first use of nuclear weapons is now possible against an enemy that is supposed to possess any sort of weapon of mass destruction. This new nuclear strategy, combined with an active policy of military intervention and concepts like ‘preventive defense’, make nuclear weapons much more threatening to a whole new range of countries and pulls them in a new arms race.

The role of NATO headquarters in Brussels

Political decision making concerning NATO nuclear strategy is carried out at the NATO headquarters in Brussels by the North Atlantic Council and the Nuclear Planning Group. The military decision making of NATO happens at SHAPE, the ‘Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe’ in Mons. The North Atlantic Council takes all important decisions like the approval of the NATO Strategic Concept. This Council consists of a representative of each country, sometimes the head of state or a minister, but most of the time the permament representatives or NATO-ambassadors. Nuclear policy is decided by the Nuclear Planning Group, which functions in the same way. France does not take part in it since it does not belong to the military structure of NATO. Each of these decision making bodies is supported by a range of committees and working groups. The whole is supported by the International Staff under the leadership of the Secretary General. The connection between the civil authority and the military headquarter SHAPE is formed by the Military Committee, which consists of the national military supreme commanders. It advises the political bodies and gives directives to the NATO-commanders.

The role of SHAPE

The use of nuclear weapons is planned at SHAPE by means of the NATO Nuclear Planning System (NNPS) and the NATO Nuclear Command and Control Reporting System (NNCCRS). In peacetime all defense planning happens at SHAPE. NATO states its nuclear weapons are not targeted at a specific country but this does not mean it does not plan the actual use of nuclear weapons. A range of scenario’s and target lists are prepared and available for use. This effectively forms a threat of use. In wartime all NATO troops, including the Belgian, Dutch, ... pilots, are under command of SACEUR. The use of nuclear weapons will happen on his command.

More detailed information can be found in the report of Hans Kristensen: US Nuclear Weapons in Europe and on his website
Official US nuclear weapons related doctrine relevant for Europe can be found on


Base Structure reports

These reports give an overview of installations owned and/or used by the US military worldwide

Base Structure Report 2005
Base Structure Report 2004
Base Structure Report 2003
Base Structure Report 2002
Base Structure Report 2001
Base Structure Report 1999

Other reports:
BRAC process: installations owned installations leased

Overseas Basing Commission

This report contains a lot of information on the rationale and the implications of military bases outside the US: Overseas Basing Commission Report

The Congressional Budget Office (part of the US Congress support structure) made its own study on ‘Options for Changing the Army’s Overseas Basing’: CBO report

report EUCOM commander to US Congress

The commander of EUCOM, called CINCEUR (Commander in Chief Europe), reports every year to the US Congress. This report gives a view on upcoming changes in the posture and the strategy behind these changes.

announcement EUCOM Strategic Theater Transformation-plan. This announcement explains the plans for troop reduction and the rationale behind the announced changes.
2006 report 2005 report 2007 report



White Paper 2006 on German Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr: White Paper 2006

Overview German Army:
overview German army