Introduction to NATO

NATO recognised that standardization was essential in order to achieve compatibility between the key battlefield components, operating doctrine and systems of different members of the Alliance. Since the late 1950s, NATO has achieved a remarkable degree of standardization in the operational and procedural domains as well as promoting armaments co-operation among its member states.

The Early Days

Standardization has been a requirement in NATO since the earliest days of the Alliance. The Military Committee (MC) at its fourth meeting on 24 October 1950 recognised the need to establish an agency to promote and co-ordinate Standardization efforts within NATO as a means to facilitate interoperability. As a result, the Military Standardization Agency (MSA) was established in London on 15 January 1951 and received it's charter from MC 20/1 (30 January 1951), MC Guidance for Military Standardization.

MC 20/1 was revised several times over the next decade and the MSA became the Military Agency for Standardization (MAS). The Director of MAS (a two star rank) provided direction to NATO Major Commanders (MNCs) to indicate their priorities for standardization proposals. The MC 20/5 (21 April 1964) concluded that NATO military standardization process was the means "to enable the NATO forces to operate together in the most effective manner." The MAS moved to Brussels in November 1970 and was co-located with the IMS as part of the NATO headquarters structure. The MAS continued throughout the next two decades to lead the standardization efforts in NATO. Along with other major developments that marked the early 1990's, the approach to standardization and interoperability also evolved significantly.

NATO Agency for Standardization (NSA)

The 1991 Strategic Concept included a proposal to create a body within NATO responsible for standardization that was responsive to both the Military Committee and the North Atlantic Council (NAC). This proposal was eventually realised with the establishment of the NSA. After much debate, the NAC also established a senior steering committee, the NATO Committee for Standardization (NCS) that was tasked as the Board of Directors for all standardization activities in NATO. The NCS is one of the four major elements of the NATO Standardization Organisation. The Secretary General appointed the first Director of the NSA (DNSA) on 01 October 2001.

The revision of the Strategic Concept in 1999 (which was endorsed by the Heads of State at the Washington Summit in April 1999) further emphasised that standardization was a key to interoperability, illustrated by several specific initiatives to achieve this goal. For example, the NATO force structure review advocated smaller more capable force packages that included immediate reaction and rapid reinforcement elements designed to be multinational, deployable, mobile and flexible. In addition, the development of coalition operations in peacekeeping operations further stressed the need to include all of the participating national forces (including the PfP) in the standardization process.

Another initiative of the 1999 Washington Summit was the Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI) which placed significant emphasis on interoperability. DCI aimed to improve NATO military capabilities in order to enhance effectiveness of future multinational operations across the full spectrum of Alliance missions. There was a special focus to improve interoperability amongst NATO forces and where applicable, also between the forces of Alliance and Partnership for Peace (PfP) nations which might operate together in crises management operations and peacekeeping. Standardization and Interoperability is a necessary condition for achieving Alliance operational effectiveness, first among Alliance forces and then with the forces of PfP nations and other countries "willing and able" to participate in NATO led coalition operations. (NATO photo.)

500x378 image, 50894 bytesToday, there are many pressures and factors felt by all Alliance countries that serve to reinforce the aim of standardization to achieve interoperability among the armed forces of NATO nations. Most NATO nations continue to reform their armed forces and as a result reduce their size and structures. Yet, these same forces might be tasked to operate in different configurations without adequate preparation time between operations and missions to retrain for new kind of mission or mode of operation. They must be flexible and adaptable and able to operate with others. There is an added challenge for the smaller national defence organisations to cope with the number of standards already agreed to, depending upon the task assigned. (Click the graphic to enlarge.)

Coupled with this is the ongoing enlargement process that brings new challenges and commitments to the Alliance. NATO nations can expect to be asked to contribute specialised forces on a smaller scale than in the past. The NATO Response Force (NRF) concept that was agreed by the Heads of State and Government at the 2002 Prague Summit is a good example of this. Therefore, forces are needed that are more rapidly deployable and more mobile once deployed in theatre. It furthermore highlights the need for standard doctrine, tactics, procedures and logistics to ensure that these smaller force packages are able to integrate and operate effectively together.

Prague Summit
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To ensure military interoperability, it is essential that all national units at all levels use NATO Standardization Agreements (STANAG) as the core reference point for the mode of operation. This is particular true when the operation is either UN or EU led or when the operation is a Coalition of the Willing. Both Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul enjoyed extensive use of NATO STANAGs as their basis for interoperability. This trend is expected to continue in the future.

The spectacular increase in world trade as a result of globalisation places an ever-increasing emphasis on the need for standardization in the commercial area. However, commercial organisations strive to achieve standardization so that their product maximises quality and compatibility while ensuring production efficiency and profit. Further underling the significance of the trends caused by globalisation is the growing propensity for national defence agencies to buy commercial "off the shelf" as much as possible in order to achieve cost savings. As a result, NATO is increasing its links with civil organisations that set standards and are also considering civil standards as part of its materiel standardization decisions and policy process.

The North Atlantic Council approved the following policy statement regarding standardization on 21 August 2000: "In order to strengthen the Alliance Defence capabilities, it is Alliance policy that nations and NATO Authorities will enhance interoperability inter alia through standardization."

The concept of standardization is not new as you learned in the earlier parts of this lesson. The challenge remains today just as it was in 1950. Two crucial limitations to effective co-operation between armed forces engaged in coalition operations are the numerous different types of weapon systems and equipment possessed by nations; and the differences in systems of staff work and military doctrine. The purpose of NATO standardization remains one to promote interoperability through the adoption of common standards in military doctrine; Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP); and materiel where appropriate.

AAP-6 (2003) NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions. (English and French)
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Click here(Click icon, then scroll to page 2-S-9 to read the NATO definition of "Standardization.")

Click here(Click icon, then scroll to page 2-I-7 to read the NATO definition of "Interoperability.")