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(Atlantic Treaty Association) – Collective Defence- NATO’s Mission: New threats to security and the transformation of the alliance


Article published on the Atlantic Treaty Association Website

NATO defence ministers recognize that new security challenges require a new command structure. This organizational enhancement must be robust, agile and enable the Alliance to take quick and decisive action, say ATA Macedonia’s Ilija Djugumanov and Marija Jankuloska

The growing threats to security, which over the past decade have reached unprecedented and unimaginable levels in becoming unpredictable, unconventional and asymmetric, have challenged the traditional perception of the Alliance’s role and mission. Modern security developments stemming from globalisation and advances in technology have led to significant changes in the security environment, and NATO has had to adjust its structure and policy in response.

Due to these shifts in the security environment, the focus of NATO’s security objectives was gradually transferred from traditional collective self-defence to other forms of tackling global issues. In 2010, the Alliance’s new security challenges were highlighted in the NATO new Strategic Concept, in which NATO redirected its policies and actions into a more flexible approach to security. Its focus on crisis management and cooperative security represented major leaps forward in defining the role of the Alliance as a flexible, decentralised and inclusive structure capable of responding to global security challenges with a globalised and proactive approach.

As the reach and range of the NATO missions significantly expanded – with new goals that transcend the traditional “Article 5 missions” – it became evident that the parameters that determine the effectiveness of the NATO command structure had to be redefined. Against this backdrop, the need for the Alliance to adapt its internal command structure to the complex and diverse challenges and to effectively manage the large spectrum of missions has become increasingly relevant.


The restructuring that began at the Lisbon Summit in 2010 has notably redefined NATO’s far-reaching goals, which are reflected in the ongoing conversion of the Alliance’s command structure.

The NATO command structure, which over the years experienced a significant cutback of its headquarters, currently comprises two international Strategic Commands: Allied Command Operations (ACO) in Mons, Belgium, which covers the territory of Europe, and the Allied Command Transformation (ACT) based in Norfolk, United States for the Atlantic. Despite the geographic split of responsibilities, it is noteworthy that these strategic commands are also assigned different tasks. The ACO Strategic Command is mostly focused on operational tasks, such as the planning and execution of NATO operations, while ACT chiefly manages the transformation tasks – for example, the training and education missions. The NATO Command Structure includes two regional Joint Force Commands currently in place (in Brunssum, Netherlands, and Naples, Italy), as well as three commands dispersed for air (Allied Air Command – AIRCOM), land (Allied Land Command – LANDCOM) and maritime (Allied Maritime Command – MARCOM) missions respectively. This reduction of the headquarters, along with the realignment of the tasks, was meant to ensure the Alliance’s greater effectiveness and readiness for responding to rapidly changing security challenges. These command structures are fully operational both in peacetime and during periods of conflict and crisis.

At the same time as the NATO command structure underwent its transformation, there were notable improvements of NATO military capabilities. The simplification of the command structure had a positive effect both in terms of the execution and framing of tasks, as well as operational functionality and effectiveness. The strict division of tasks, along with the reduction of headquarters and delineation of the command responsibilities, has significantly contributed to the current flexibility, agility and robustness of the NATO command structure.


Notwithstanding the practical and functional dimension of the current NATO command structure, there are future challenges ahead. The shifting nature of the world’s security threats and challenges mean it is essential to keep pace with the evolution of technology and to invest the resources for advancing and improving NATO military capabilities on a doctrinal, tactical and structural level.

In this regard, one could say that it was rightly observed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that the current NATO Command Structure “must be robust and agile, empowering the Alliance to continue to take quick and decisive action.” In the aftermath of the Warsaw Summit it was also agreed that a Senior Experts Group would be established, aimed at reassessing and reconsidering the operability of the current command structure in light of these challenges.


With regard to the current NATO command structure, it can be argued that there are two challenges that the Alliance should focus on. The first is whether the new command structure can respond to the new security challenges while preserving its affordability and cost-effectiveness in the context of new economic and financial measures and budget cuts. A flexible and deployable structure capable of covering, simultaneousl, different geographic areas usually requires greater expenditure for equipment, training and personnel. Adjusting the current NATO missions in accordance with NATO’s fiscal policy and budgetary demands remains an imperative that should constantly be sought.

The second challenge is embodied in the necessity of the current command structure to effectively manage multinational forces and balance the often imbalanced military capabilities of the member and partner countries. The strive for deployable, mobile and flexible forces with capacity to strengthen the interoperability and sustainability of the NATO command structure – and be capable of effectively conducting a diversity of tasks – demands better coordination efforts, a unified approach and complementary and well-balanced capabilities. The Smart Defence Initiative is one of the key concepts that should be utilised in this direction by employing various cooperation efforts in line with smart defence spending. Further measures for minimising the capability gap between Allies and partner countries are vital to ensure the effectiveness of NATO’s command structure over the long term.

The new command structure should be tailored in line with the demands of the new security reality and volatile security challenges to preserve its relevance in the current security landscape. Keeping pace with developments is central to the success of NATO’s actions and policies, and is the only option for enhancing efficiency and responsiveness within the Alliance’s command structure.

Ilija Djugumanov is member of the presidency of ATA Macedonia, president of YATA Macedonia and former vice president of YATA International.

Marija Jankuloska holds a master’s degree in international law and international relations and is a research coordinator at ATA Macedonia.

Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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