Updated to reflect the latest changes of September 1, 1999.

Organization Of NATO

After signing the treaty in 1949, steps were taken by the United States to restore military strength in Europe and the first military aid with a value of US$1 billion was offered.

As a result of the South Korean invasion by North Korea in January 1950, the United States wanted to prove it could resist any Soviet military expansion in Europe. General Dwight D. Eisenhower -- former leader of the western allied armed forces in WW2 -- was named Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR) by the North Atlantic Council, the government body of NATO.

It is important to realize that NATO decisions are taken on the basis of consensus, i.e. after discussion and consultation among the member nations. It is an inter-governmental association of free and independent states, with no supra-national authority.

That the principle of consensus can result in a complex decision-making process became evident during Operation Allied Force -- the NATO air campaign against Serbia in 1999.

Civil Organization

The North Atlantic Council was established soon after the signing of the treaty. The Council has the highest authority and is composed of representatives of all members. There are two levels at which the Council meets:

* Ministerial level.
The members are represented by one or more of their ministers, depending on the items on the agenda. Meetings usually take place twice a year.
* Level of permanent representatives.
The permanent representatives have the rank of ambassador and usually meet more than once a week.

The chairman of the Council is chosen by rotation amongst the members. He is head of NATO's International Secretariat, which is a civil organization of NATO.

Military Organization

In July 1994, NATO's new command structure became effective, eliminating the Allied Command Channel and leaving only two Major Commands:

* ACE: Allied Command Europe
Headed by SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe)
* ACLANT: Allied Command Atlantic
Headed by SACLANT (Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic)

With the NATO Council decision on the new NATO Command Structure in 1997, only 20 of the former 65 military headquarters remained. The reconfiguration of those remaining in the Northern Region led to savings of approximately 28% of the total personnel.


Joseph W. Ralston (May 3, 2000)

The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) is head of Allied Command Europe (ACE), with headquarters in Casteau, Belgium. The headquarters are referred to as Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).

The area covered by ACE is extending from the northern part of Norway to Southern Europe, including the Mediterranean, and from the Atlantic coastline to the eastern border of Turkey.

The primary task of SACEUR, is to contribute to preserving the peace, security and territorial integrity of Alliance member states.

SACEUR also has responsibility for developing the capabilities and maintaining the force readiness needed to contribute to crisis man-agement, peace support, humanitarian aid and protection of the vital in-terests of the Alliance.

On March 3, 2000, the new command structure in the northern region became effective and the former Headquarters Allied Forces Northwestern Europe (HQ AFNORTHWEST) and Headquarters Allied Forces Central Europe (HQ AFCENT) were combined into the Regional Headquarters Northern Europe.

As a result, two Regional Headquarters are reporting to SACEUR:

Regional Headquarters Allied Forces Northern Europe
(Brunssum, Netherlands)
Activated March 3, 2000
The area of this command comprises Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, UK, including the international waters of the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Irish Sea, and the Channel.
Command rotates between Germany and the United Kingdom.
Component Commands:
Allied Forces Northern Europe
(Ramstein, Germany)
Allied Naval Forces Northern Europe
(Northwood, UK)
Joint Sub-Regional Commands:
Joint Command Centre
(Heidelberg, Germany)
Joint Command Northeast
(Karup, Denmark)
Joint Command North
(Stavanger, Norway)
Regional Headquarters Allied Forces Southern Europe
(Naples, Italy)
The area comprises of Italy, Greece, Turkey, Mediterranean Sea (from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Syrian coast), the Sea of Marmara and the Black sea. The region is seperated from AFCENT by non-NATO countries (Switzerland, Austria).
The commander is a four-star admiral.
There are the following subordinate commands:
Component Commands:
Allied Air Forces South
(Naples, Italy)
Allied Naval Forces South
(Naples, Italy)
Joint Sub-Regional Commands:
Joint Command Southwest
(Madrid, Spain)
Joint Command South
(Verona, Italy)
Joint Command Southcenter
(Larissa, Greece)
Joint Command Southeast
(Izmir, Turkey)

Note that during peace time, these commands do not actually command the allied forces, but rather plan the defence of NATO territory and supervise the member's forces. Only in actual war time the national Commanders in Chief will be placed under SACEUR.

There are also several commands below the level of Component Command or Joint Sub-Regional Command of which peace time facilities and operations are retained by member nations. These commands report to SACEUR as well.

* Reaction Forces Maritime
Standing Naval Force Atlantic
Standing Naval Force Mediterranean
RHQ AFSOUTH exercises direct command and control.
This force is composed of destroyers and frigates contributed by Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Ships of other NATO nations participate from time to time. It forms the core of SACEUR's multinational maritime force in periods of tension or crisis.
Mine Counter Measures Force North
Mine Counter Measures Force Mediterranean
RHQ AFSOUTH exercises direct command and control.
Striking and Support Forces Southern Region
(Naples, Italy)
RHQ AFSOUTH exercises direct command and control.
* Reaction Forces Land
- AMF(L)
ACE Mobile Force (Land)
(Heidelberg, Germany)
The land component of the force consists of a brigade-sized formation of about 5,000 men and is composed of units assigned to it by NATO nations.
The AMF was created in 1960 as a small multinational force which could be repidly deployed to any threatened part of Allied Command Europe. Its role is to demonstrate the solidarity of the Alliance and its ability and determination to resist all forms of aggression against any member of the Alliance.
The AMF was deployed for the first time in a crisis role during the Gulf War in January 1991, when part of its air component was sent to south-east Turkey, as a visible demonstration of NATO’s collective solidarity in the face of a potential threat to Allied territory.
ACE Rapid Reaction Corps
(Rheindalen, Germany)
Activated October 1992
The ARRC is the land component of the ACE Rapid Reaction Forces. It is prepared for deployment throughout ACE, augmenting or reinforcing local NATO forces whenever necessary.
Peace time planning: 10 divisions plus corps troops from 12 NATO nations, allowing a rapid response to a wide range of eventualities.
The major units available to the ARRC consist of:
  • National divisions from Germany, Greece, Turkey, and the United States;
  • Framework divisions under the lead of one nation: one British with an Italian component; one British with a Danish component; and one Italian with a Portuguese component;
  • Multinational division Central Region (MND(C)) including Belgian, Dutch, German, and British units.
  • Multinational Division Southern Region (MND(S)) including Greek, Italian and Turkish units.
  • Corps troop units -- predominantly British.
- MND(C)
Multinational Division (Central)
(Rheindahlen, Germany)
- MND(S)
Multinational Division (South)
(Not yet activated or located)
* Reaction Forces Air
Reaction Forces Air Staff
(Kalkar, Germany)
Activated April 1993
The RSAF was created to facilitate detailed planning for Reaction Forces Air. The staff consists of 80 people and is headed by a German three-star air force general.
NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force Command
(Geilenkirchen, Germany)
This is the largest commonly funded force of the Alliance (total costs US$1,826 billion), following decisions in 1978 to acquire NATO-owned Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft. NAEW&CFC consists of a multinational E-3A component (17 aircraft) at Main Operating Base Geilenkirchen, Germany and the British E-3D component (6 UK-owned and flown aircraft) at RAF Waddington, United Kingdom.

The Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT) is head of Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT) with headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, USA. The area for ACLANT extends from the North Pole to the Tropic of Cancer and from the coastal waters of North America to those of Europe and Africa, including Portugal, but not including the Channel and the British Isles.

The primary task of Allied Command Atlantic is to contribute to security in the whole Atlantic area by safeguarding the Allies’ sea lines of communication, supporting land and amphibious operations, and pro-tecting the deployment of the Alliance’s sea-based nuclear deterrent.

The following headquarters report to SACLANT:

Regional Headquarters Western Atlantic Command
(Norfolk, USA)
This comprises the western part of the Atlantic Area of Responsibility.
Regional Headquarters Eastern Atlantic Command
(Northwood, UK)
Focusses on the northeastern and eastern part of the Atlantic, including Iceland.
Regional Headquarters Southern Atlantic Command
(Oeiras, Portgual)
Focusses on the south-eastern part of the Atlantic, including mainland Portugal
Headquarters Striking Fleet Atlantic
(Norfolk, USA)
Provides a readily available seabased strike and CJTF HQ capability able to operate anywhere in the NATO area -- or if necessary beyond it.
Headquarters Submarines Atlantic
(Norfolk, USA)
Provides a coordination capability for Allied Command Atlantic and direct liaison with Allied Command Europe for management of Alliance submarine policy and doctrine. It will be essentially a coordinating authority and principal source of submarine operational and tactical doctrine to both Strategic Commands.

The Canada-US Regional Planning Group (CUSRPG) develops and recommends to the Military Committee plans for the defense of North America. Meetings take place in one of the two countries alternately. The area under the responsibility of the group covers North America.

See the page with links for NATO websites.

[Sources: Encyclopædia Britannica, NATO]