NATO Defense Science and Technology

Article excerpt


The accord establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 provided the framework for the greatest international mechanism ever in defense science and technology. From its earliest days, NATO involvement in science and technology has sought to build cooperation and promote security and stability. Today, the central element of the NATO defense science and technology program is the Research and Technology Organization (RTO), which provides the best basis for collaboration among the most technologically advanced countries in the world. Through this body, alliance nations plan and execute activities that cover the full spectrum of technologies vital to current and future security.

RTO and its two predecessors, the Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development and the Defense Research Group, have a history of fostering long-term relationships among senior executives, scientists, and engineers; sharing information and research; and enhancing military capabilities. There is no international activity that rivals RTO in scope, magnitude, or potential. RTO can continue to build on these successes by emphasizing longevity of its highly qualified members, prioritizing areas of opportunity, integrating the seven newest NATO invitees, and building a closer relationship with Russia. This paper examines the origins of NATO defense science and technology, provides an overview of the Research and Technology Organization, and analyzes the elements that make RTO successful. The paper concludes with recommendations for enhancing RTO effectiveness in the 21st century.

Origins of NATO Science and Technology

Involvement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in defense science and technology dates to the earliest days of the alliance. It was founded on the principles of international cooperation and security. Although neither science and technology nor research and technology are explicitly mentioned in any of the 14 North Atlantic Treaty articles, they are clearly implicit in Articles 2 and 3, which address "promoting conditions of stability and well-being" and achieving "the objectives of this Treaty ... by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, (to) maintain and develop ... capacity to resist armed attack." (1) In drawing the connection between promoting stability and providing for mutual aid for defense, the NATO charter laid the foundation for future cooperation among the alliance nations in defense science and technology. This unique cooperation has been a key element in establishing and maintaining the connection between the military and technology.

The first scientific and technical organization of the alliance was the Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development (AGARD), founded by Theodore von Karman in 1953. Von Karman was a powerful, if quiet, voice in establishing the post-World War II model of a military that was closely coupled with the scientific and technical community. He contended that "scientific results cannot be used efficiently by soldiers who have no understanding of them, and scientists cannot produce results useful for warfare without an understanding of operations." (2)

The mission statement of the AGARD Charter actively sanctioned the free exchange of militarily relevant scientific information to strengthen the NATO common defense posture and increase the scientific potential of member nations, thereby providing the essence of international technical cooperation for NATO that continues today. (3) Although commonly accepted now, this charter at the time represented significant new thinking for an international activity. Oversight and management of AGARD evolved somewhat over the years but generally consisted of a Board of Delegates, which reported to the NATO Military Committee, and various technical panels, which had oversight in their own areas. The Board of Delegates provided guidance to the technical panels and approved their program of work. …