BRUSSELS – The United States and Germany have volunteered to host the two new commands being set up by NATO, part of a broader change in NATO’s structure that could see over 1,000 new personnel added to the alliance headquarters staff.
A NATO official, speaking on background during a meeting of the alliance defense ministers, said America has tentatively agreed to host the new Atlantic Command, created to help track submarines and protect shipping lanes across the ocean.
That office would be structured as a NATO force structure headquarters, meaning it would be a national office run by the Americans until activated by NATO in a time of crisis, at which point command would devolve to the supreme commander.
Day by day operations for NATO maritime security will continue to run out of the Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) in the Northwood, U.K. Because MARCOM will continue to be the point office on maritime security, it will be getting a plus-up in funding and personnel.
Location wise, the official hinted a likely spot would be “not far” from the location of the old Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic office – an indication that Norfolk, VA would be a likely location. If that is the case, it is possible that the head of Fleet Forces Command could become dual-hated for the new office.
Germany has offered to host the Joint Support and Enabling Command (JSEC), previously discussed as the Rear Area Operational Command. This command will focus on logistics and making sure NATO forces are capable of speeding to the battlefield in case of an incursion from Russia.
The official stressed that final decisions have not been made by either country, and that may not come until the June ministerial event. However, the official said situations made “sense,” and indicated there were unlikely to be any hangups.
The official declined to give cost estimates for the new commands, but said that NATO’s personnel burden for the new structure will result in 1,000-1,500 new NATO headquarters staff. Of that total, 50-100 will go into each of the two new commands. However, the host nations will provide more personnel on their own, with the number to be determined at a later date.
The rest represent increases for MARCOM and investments in the areas of advanced planning, cyber, logistics, air command and control and situational awareness.
More broadly, NATO is looking to invest heavily in infrastructure and mobility capabilities, including working on command and control links between the military and civilian institutions and better understanding of which roads, trains and bridges could support the weight of military vehicles crossing them.
Earlier in the day, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg denied the new structures represent a shifting back to Cold War posture for NATO. Instead, he described them as needed shifts for an alliance that had, for years, intended to work more closely with Russia.
“We have seen, especially since 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea, with Russia being responsible for destabilizing eastern Ukraine, we’ve seen a pattern where Russia is more assertive and where Russia has been responsible for violating international law,” Stoltenberg said. “We are responding in a defensive, proportionate way.”
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.