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NATO Military Command Structure

This LibGuide is intended to provide a few starting points to assist you with your research on issues related to NATO's military command structure.


The Command Structure has a strategic scope, primarily intended to command and control the Alliance’s joint operations (i.e. operations in which more than one service are involved). (Source: The New NATO Force Structure, 2011)

NATO’s Command Structure has been reviewed, as part of a major reform process, to make it more efficient, flexible and responsive. While the Alliance’s level of ambition remains the same, the changes will make its Command Structure more affordable, reducing the overall number of staff from 13,00 to 8,800 posts.

The reform will also create a more deployable, streamlined command configuration. Keeping its two Strategic Commands – Operations and Transformation – the new structure will have two Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQs). For the first time, each JFHQ will be able to deploy into theatre to exercise Command and Control up to the level of a major joint operation.

The reforms “will make NATO more effective – focusing on the capabilities and command systems we need,” said Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a statement on 8 June 2011.

The review process took into account the Command Structure’s core functions such as planning of operations, conduct of operations, development and transformation, military cooperation, and support activities. It also considered a number of new tasks stemming from the 2010 Strategic Concept and key principles such as the ability to conduct Article 5 operations, deployability and sustainability, as well as Alliance cohesion. Greater interaction between NATO headquarters and national headquarters will also be developed as a result of this reform. The reform aims to make the command structure “more fit for purpose”. “It will be able to meet the current and the future challenges and it is designed in a forward-looking way.” (Source: Technical background briefing on NATO Command Structure by Brigadier General Patrick Wouters, DPP, NATO)

Some historical milestones

The NATO Command Structure was first revised in 1997.

The 2002 Prague Summit saw major commitments to improving NATO’s capabilities and transformed the military command  structure.

At their meeting on 12/13 June 2003, Defence Ministers agreed on the design of a new streamlined military Command Structure, more flexible and better able to deal with the security challenges of the 21st century.

The NATO Command Structure is on course to declare Initial Operational Capability for Air Command and Control System (ACCS) in 2017, with a small number of command and control centres already using the system for operations. (See 2016 Secretary General Annual Report, p. 39)

During the Meeting of the NATO Ministers of Defense which took place in Brussels on 8 November 2017, the Ministers agreed on "an outline design for an adapted NATO Command Structure, with new commands to improve the movement of troops across the Atlantic, and within Europe." (Doorstep statement by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prior to the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers, 8 November 2017).

On 14 February 2018, at Defence Ministers Meeting, ministers took decisions to modernise the NATO Command Structure, in response to a changed security environment. (NATO, 15 February 2018)

Recommended Reading on NATO Military Command Structure

NATO Pages:

A selection of articles: