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Tweaking NATO: The Case for Integrated Multinational Divisions

Authored by LTC Raymond A. Millen.

June 2002

40 Pages

Brief Synopsis

As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) adapts to the emerging strategic environment, it must consider innovative organizational structures that will allow it to harness the potential of its European partners. NATO's enduring deficiencies and their detrimental effect on military capabilities are examined. The decade following the end of the Cold War has revealed a far different world than envisioned. As the United States ruefully discovered, the reduced threat did not diminish security obligations. NATO's European members hoped otherwise and paid insufficient attention to military capabilities. NATO enlargement exacerbates the existing problems. NATO's integrated military structure does not easily accommodate the new members, which still suffer from the effects of the Soviet system. Simply put, their nascent market economies and unsophisticated militaries represent great obstacles to NATO interoperability.

Establishment of integrated multinational divisions as a solution to NATO's salient problems is explored. Streamlining the Alliance to a single active corps of ten divisions and the establishment of a robust logistical supply group permits greater utility of limited manpower and equipment. Under this structure, all Alliance members can focus modernization on select units and become active participants in all NATO operations.

This bold approach creates challenges for the Alliance, but the tremendous benefits outweigh the short-term risks. To remain relevant, the Alliance must seek innovations. Otherwise, it will become a Cold War relic.


The greatest peril to NATO is not a matter of relevancy but rather the inability to adapt to European realities and enduring deficiencies. Insufficient military spending and investment as well as significant downsizing have resulted in an ever-widening capabilities and interoperability gulf between the United States and the Alliance partners. The Defense Capabilities Initiative will likely not bear fruit because the Allies are incapable of correcting the identified deficiencies under existing budget constraints. NATO may have broadened its mandate to include crisis response operations, but European military forces are incapable of swift power projection and will suffer inveterate manpower shortages for deployed forces. Multinational corps and divisions suffer from the enduring problems with command authority, transfer of authority, and corps combat service support. NATO's approach to multinational formations suffers from a lack of true integration. Subordinate units are isolated from each other until assembled for a crisis. This approach is akin to baking a cake without mixing the ingredients beforehand.

The problems associated with veteran members pale in comparison to NATO’s new members and candidates. The lingering effects of the communist economies and the Soviet integrated military structure represent enduring barriers to swift integration with the Alliance. Several more years of reforms are necessary before the new members can contribute to the existing NATO integrated military structure. Financing a modern, interoperable force is simply beyond their economic capabilities. NATO enlargement is a superb initiative, enhancing European stability and security, but without the ability to harness the potential of new members, NATO will lamentably view them as not-ready-for-primetime and continue to marginalize them.

The vast majority of NATO’s ailments can be cured by the adoption of integrated multinational divisions (IMD), meaning the subordinate brigades and battalions are stationed together under the host division headquarters. The IMD allows every NATO member to contribute forces according to its size and relative wealth. Integration of new members will proceed more quickly and assuredly because they have the opportunity to train intimately with Allied units. Language immersion as well as daily contact with democratic values and Western culture creates stronger bonds among members. For the Alliance as a whole, IMDs allow for a greater pooling of resources and manpower and permit focused modernization of the force contributions.

IMDs permit NATO to rely on the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) as the centerpiece of the Alliance with a dedicated, robust combat service support group and rotating commanding general. Maintenance and modernization of two other corps headquarters are crucial to ensure seamless command and control for enduring peace support operations. Such an approach permits Allies to lower the readiness of their remaining divisions and brigades until mobilized for major threats. The result is a more cohesive, modern, mobile NATO at a pittance of the current cost. Perhaps, these reforms can lower the defense spending obligation to 1.5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) without lowering military capabilities.


The United States can improve its strategic position and cohesion by pursuing the following:

• Convert the two U.S. divisions in Europe into IMDs in order to assist in the assimilation of new members into the Alliance.

• Encourage other NATO members to adopt this model in order to make more effective use of their military spending and resources.

• Establish the ARRC as NATO’s higher readiness force for all missions and maintain the EUROCORPS and EUROFOR corps headquarters, sufficiently staffed and equipped with the most modern and robust command and control systems. Rotate the command of the ARRC among the contributing members.

• Expand the existing ARRC combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) base into an Area Support Group (ASG) equivalent to provide assured logistics during training and deployments. The ASG must be sufficiently large to support multiple rotations during extended peace support operations (PSO).

The IMD architecture means that all Allies share responsibilities, risks, and benefits. With all members actively engaged in operations, the United States will not feel compelled to take unilateral military action or constantly bear the lion's share of military operations. Making the necessary reforms will be a challenge and will require substantial marketing of the idea, but the alternative solutions are no cure. NATO must break the mold and grasp the opportunities.

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