NATO Training Mission-Iraq: Looking to the Future

By Lynch, Rick; Janzen, Phillip D. | Joint Force Quarterly, January 2006 | Go to article overview

NATO Training Mission-Iraq: Looking to the Future


Lynch, Rick, Janzen, Phillip D., Joint Force Quarterly


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been called the most successful military alliance in modern history. Achievements in forestalling Soviet expansion in Europe and in conducting the peace and stability operations in the Balkans demonstrate future utility for the organization. However, NATO is at a crossroads. Terror attacks on Western interests during the last decade were punctuated by the events of September 11, 2001. The former collective defense posture of the Alliance is now challenged both politically and militarily to engage in broader world policy. As a result, NATO politicians and strategic planners are confronted by operational considerations well beyond the bounds of Europe but with serious implications at home.

The transformation into this new era is highlighted by creation of the NATO Response Force (NRF) and the deployment of Allied forces to Afghanistan to command the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The NATO Training Mission-Iraq (NTM-I) represents the most recent test of the organization's resolve and future direction. Still in its infancy, NTM-I provides insight into the Alliance decision process while highlighting implications for future NATO-led, out-of-area operations.

NATO Transforms

The transformation of NATO has progressed rapidly in the 21st century. Beginning in 1999 with the expansion from 16 to the current 26 nations, the Alliance has embarked on ambitious ventures that have tested the resolve of old and new members. In the midst of the expansion (consisting of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in 1999 and Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia in 2004), members outlined future objectives at the Prague Summit in 2002. There, then-Secretary General Lord George Robertson stated, "NATO must change radically if it is to be effective.... It must modernize or be marginalized" Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General James Jones, USMC, emphasized the need to move NATO beyond its Cold War thinking of static defense, while capitalizing on its capabilities to shape and influence the 21st-century security environment: "We have too much capability for the past and not enough capacity for the future." (1)

To meet the challenge, NATO realigned its command structure from a static, defensive posture embodied in two strategic-level commands, two regional operational-level commands, and several joint subregional commands, to a more streamlined functional structure. The new structure is based in a strategic command responsible for transforming the Alliance-Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia (formerly Strategic Allied Command Atlantic), and a second strategic command responsible for the operational aspects of NATO--Allied Command Operations, or Strategic Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). The transformation further devolved the regionally based command structure into a more flexible, operationally based hierarchy with land, maritime, and air component commands.

With new focus and energy derived from the Prague Summit, NATO embarked on a historical out-of-area mission, taking command of ISAF in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 11, 2003. The German commander, Lieutenant General Norbert Van Heyst, marked this event, stating, "During the 1990s, we saw NATO starting to take on peacekeeping duties, first in Bosnia and later in Kosovo and Macedonia. But that was limited ... to the Euro-Atlantic region. But as of today, the Alliance will for the first time be leading an operation outside Europe, in Asia, and that is quite unique" (2) Later that year, NATO inaugurated the NRF, an operational concept designed to use modern, flexible, rapidly deployable joint forces to combat asymmetric threats, namely terrorism.

NATO's most recent and arguably most challenging out-of-area operation is the NTM-I. The hard political and military lessons identified in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan are being relearned in Iraq: success in NATO led operations will always rest on political will, funding, and personnel resources, all inextricably linked to the requirement for unanimity among members. …

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