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NATO. Objective: to degrease the mammoth…

(In Evere, NATO headquarters) Defense ministers agreed to significantly reduce the size of NATO. As AF Rasmussen, its general secretary, says directly, “ you have to cut the fat and keep the muscle ". Thus NATO, which has approximately “13.000 at its headquarters in the 11 command posts, will have 9.000 men in the long term, explained the Secretary General during his press conference. As to " 14 Agencies, there will only be 3 left ". Statement approved by the French Minister of Defence, Hervé Morin, “ it is high time to convert the structures of the Alliance to the changing context, and a bureaucracy that is well worth contracting. The reduction of the structure, cThis is a fight that I have been waging with our British friends since 2007 – adds the minister –. It's a lifelong obsession. ".


The truth is a little more complex. The figure of 9.000 cited by the Secretary General is not false. To be very exact, this figure would be 8.950 exactly. Not very far from the objective set by the Franco-British couple who intended to reach a figure of 8.500 people (including nearly 2.000 dedicated to the 6 Awacs, according to a French source). But this number doesn't tell the whole story...

6000 people without control

NATO actually has nearly 20.000 people today. Because a certain number of agencies, more or less independent, have been created, and employ more than 6.000 people. Or half of the workforce cited by the general secretary. Which is far from negligible!

Agencies which have very variable staff numbers: 1150 at NAMSA, 850 at NC3A up to 35 at NAMA (which manages the C17) or 21 at BICES… (*) And even if the secretary general proposes a grouping in 3 agencies: Acquisitions, Support, Communications, there are still agencies outside the scope. Therein lies the problem, an expert on the matter explains to Brussels2, as in that of control and governance.

These agencies “vote their own budget, often without too much control and their operation is quite opaque“. So these agencies have planned to reduce their operating budget by 20%. But nothing was planned like “target objective for the workforce. Not even not replacing retirements“. The structure "resist” he comments. And there is strong fear among high-contributing States of seeing these agencies reincorporate the positions eliminated on the other side. This is a main issue for future discussions. The Lisbon summit in November is therefore only the beginning. These discussions are expected to continue until June.

The degreasing in the commandments

The 11 command posts should increase to 7.

Today. To be precise, today there is the Allied Command “Operations” (SHAPE) in Mons (Belgium), the Allied Command “Transformation” (ACT) in Norfolk (USA), 3 joint force commands (JFC OR JHQ) – has Brunssum (Netherlands), Naples (Italy), Lisbon (Portugal) – and 6 joint force component commands (JFCC): Air component to Ramstein (Germany) and Izmir (Turkey), Sea to Northwood (UK) and Naples (Italy), Earth component at Heidelberg (Germany) and Madrid (Spain).

Tomorrow, there will remain 7 elements: SHAPE and ACT, 2 force commands and 3 component commands (Land, Air Sea). Who will disappear?… “The boxes are currently empty, and will remain so until Lisbon” explains an expert. But you don't need to be a soothsayer to know that Germany and Italy, well endowed, are in the crosshairs. Hervé Morin refused to confirm it. But he gave two principles: “It is important to keep a structure in the United States because it is the transatlantic link and the guarantee of American involvement in Europe” (in other words Norfolk) "as well as a command in Türkiye because it has a major political and geostrategic significance (i.e. Izmir). Opinion shared by Robert Gates, US Secretary of Defense

The challenge of budget control ...

As for NATO's overall operating budget, it reaches the modest sum of 2 billion US dollars. A budget that has been increasing rapidly since 2002. We therefore understand the concern of the largest contributing States, such as France (1) and the United Kingdom, joined by the United States. Between them, the three countries provide, in fact, more than half of the NATO budget (and with Germany, we reach more than 2/3!). A concern that is reinforced by the budgetary crisis. Coupled with a little bitterness on the French side to see certain countries obtain a return on investment from which French companies do not benefit. The contracts awarded by NAMSA assures a diplomat, “ will often for a good part of the 2 million euros of market to American or Canadian firms which use companies under Belgian names, as cover.

The challenge of structural reform therefore also covers what we modestly call “financial governance”, namely obtaining a certain rigor and budgetary control, particularly over agencies. “ With our efforts, we managed not to spend the additional reserve envelope of 165 million euros, decided at the Istanbul summit ” we assure on the French side.

It is true that NATO has a budgetary transparency problem. So to obtain the exact budget of the organization, one has the impression of asking for the keys to the nuclear warheads. The organization's website, although well supplied, does not contain up-to-date information. As for NATO from A to Z, the B does not contain the budget box…

(1) France contributes approximately 130 million euros to the budget (13,75% of the civil budget and 12,87% of the military budget.

(*) Some NATO agencies

  • La NAMSA (NATO Maintenance & Supply Agency) provides support for the Alliance's operations, notably managing supply markets and services in theaters. A significant budget of 2 billion euros per year. Based in Capellen (Luxembourg).
  • La NAPMA (NAEW&C Program Management Agency) which manages the Awacs monitoring program.
  • La NC3A (NATO Consultation Command and Control Agency) manages the CIS (Communication and information systems).
  • La NCSA (NATO CIS Service Agency) deals with the deployment and support of CIS systems. Based at Shape in Mons (Belgium).
  • la NACMA (NATO Air Command and Control System Management Agency) is the management agency for the Air Command and Control System. Based in Brussels.
  • la CEPMA (Central Europe Pipeline Management Agency) is NATO's “fuel service”. Based in Versailles (France).
  • la RTA (Research and Technology Agency) is the Research and Technology Agency.
  • la NSA (NATO Standardization Agency) is the standards agency.
  • the NURC (NATO Undersea Research Center) carries out research activities in the field of underwater warfare. Based in La Spezia (Italy).
  • le NATO Defense College is the Alliance's training institute. Based in Rome (Italy).
  • The BICES (Battlefield Information Collection and Exploitation System)…

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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