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Tweaking NATO: The Case for Integrated Multinational Divisions

Authored by LTC Raymond A. Millen. | June 2002

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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.


NATO continues as the most successful and enduring alliance in history. Notwithstanding a handful of dissenting viewpoints, NATO has no security peers. Even so, its preeminent role in European security is not a foregone conclusion. Given Europe?s stable situation, NATO?s continued relevance is predicated less on collective defense than on collective security.

Post-Cold War initiatives, such as the Defense Capabilities Initiative, Combined Joint Task Force, and the European Security and Defense Policy, are laudable but address the manifestations and not the ailments plaguing the Alliance: burden sharing, command authority, interoperability, and diminishing military capabilities. The current political atmosphere and integrated military structure cannot reconcile these opposing forces. Another approach is needed?integrated multinational divisions (IMDs). At first glance, the reader may dismiss this approach as hackneyed, but the details reveal its practicability.

The first part of this monograph examines the enduring European NATO member deficiencies and the chronic assimilation difficulties of new members with the Alliance. The second part examines the opportunities presented through the restructuring of NATO nation land forces into IMDs and some recommendations for streamlining the integrated military structure. Through such reforms, NATO will gain enhanced interoperability, equalize burden sharing, mitigate ongoing command authority issues and accommodate existing lower defense spending. The U.S. Army will benefit by cultivating the military potential ofevery member and allowing it to realign forces in accordance with U.S. National Security Strategy and National Military Strategy without commitment penalties. Consequently, NATO not only will continue to be relevant but also a more cohesive and adaptive security organization for the future strategic environment.


Establishing IMDs allows faster assimilation of new members as well as increasing interoperability within NATO. The opportunity to buy or lease western equipmentallows new members to invest more money into their economies, which is an important goal for emerging market economies. Designating a few units for the IMD allows new countries to specialize and modernize without exorbitant defense budgets. Integration precludes the need of individual nations establishing separate logistical units in support of contingency missions. New members will acquire greater proficiency of English through immersion. By frequent participation in collective training, new members gain a greater appreciation for NATO training, planning, maintenance, and supply procedures. Moreover, soldiers and their families gain a greater understanding of Western democratic values and culture, which in turn will find its way to the home country, forging greater bonds.

If the Alliance does not adopt the IMD concept, NATO will not realize its full potential as a cohesive force. Enlargement will add to the collection of members, but the contributions of individual members will be limited. Heretofore, the burden of military operations rested on a few members. The current structure does not allow all members to contribute to every operation because the Alliance cannot integrate them fully. The IMD paradigm allows integration of even the smallest members and permits greater economy in military spending. Under this structure, members may be able to lower their military spending to 1.5 percent of their GDP without a drop in capabilities.