Previously in Joint Force Quarterly,1 we provided an overview of command relationships as they occur in U.S. joint doctrine. Now let us take a broad look at multinational command relationships that take place under normal conditions within multinational doctrine.
Multinational operations are conducted by forces of two or more nations usually under the formal agreement (for example, a treaty) of an alliance, an ad hoc lead nation coalition, or an intergovernmental organization.2 Each operation is unique and affected by national motives, situations, and perspectives that may cause tension between national interests and military plans. Nations that assign military personnel or national forces to multinational operations are usually called troop contributing nations (TCNs). When deployed, the forces of these nations have both multinational and national chains of command. Within multinational chains of command, TCNs can delegate command authority to organizational commanders, which may include caveats that trigger different levels of authority to multinational force commanders. Commanders at all levels must be aware that national caveats may exist and may impact force limitations, command and control relationships, and delegation of authority without obtaining further national approval.
Within a multinational operation, a command structure is developed by arrangement with TCNs that determines who is in charge. Arrangements such as alliances and coalitions operate under three types of command structures: integrated, lead nation, and parallel. Normally found in an alliance, the integrated command structure is made up of a multinational command and staff. Multinational operations formed outside of an alliance are known as coalitions or coalitions of the willing and led by a lead nation or parallel command structure.3 Within a lead nation command structure, a dominant lead nation command and staff arrangement exists, resulting in TCNs retaining more control of their own national forces with subordinate elements retaining strict national integrity.4
In regard to multinational special operations, special operations forces (SOF) provide multinational task forces (MNTFs) with a wide range of capabilities and responses. SOF responsibility will normally be assigned to a multinational SOF component commander or task force within the MNTF command structure, which is made up of SOF from one or multiple nations depending on the situation and the interoperability factors of the nations involved.5
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a military alliance of 28 members based on a 1949 treaty to provide mutual defense in response to an external attack on another member. Within a NATO operation, the integrated command structure is adopted, which provides maximum unity of effort. NATO commands are successful because commanders understand the boundaries of command relationships. Within NATO doctrine, no coalition commander has full command over assigned forces in a mission.6 TCNs, through their own national command authorities (NCA), always retain full command of their own forces. TCN forces follow NATO doctrine if they have not already adopted Alliance terminology as their own. Since TCNs assign forces, they delegate their authority through NATO operational command (NATO OPCOM)7 or NATO operational control (NATO OPCON).8 The difference is that NATO OPCOM is the authority granted to a commander to assign missions or tasks, deploy units, reassign forces, and retain or delegate OPCON and/ or tactical control (TACON), while NATO OPCON is the authority delegated to a commander to direct forces assigned to accomplish specific missions or tasks including the retention and assignment of TACON. Neither authority includes assigning administrative or logistic control. NATO OPCOM does give the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) the added authority to establish task forces and assign forces, which NATO OPCON does not.9
Within the NATO command relationships, national caveats are agreed on by and not dictated to TCNs, which are included in a TCN force preparation message (FORCEPREP) to SACEUR. Caveats in the FORCEPREP outline command and control relationships that may include the delegation of authority to and from SACEUR to subordinate commanders without obtaining further national approval. Additional authorities such as NATO tactical command (TACOM),10 which is narrower in application than NATO OPCOM, are delegated to a commander to assign tasks to forces to accomplish the mission assigned. NATO TACOM does include the authority to delegate or retain NATO TACON.11 NATO TACON and NATO administrative control (ADCON)12 are equivalent to U.S. TACON13 and U.S. ADCON,14 respectively.
U.S. participation in multinational operations is normally established by treaty led by an alliance such as NATO or led by a coalition of the willing with a lead nation structure. The President, as Commander in Chief, serves as the U.S. NCA who always retains command authority over U.S. forces in multinational operations. In past operations, U.S. commanders have led NATO missions with an integrated command and staff, and U.S. forces under any NATO commander agree to follow NATO doctrine. U.S. OPCON is used within the U.S. chain of command, but normally NATO OPCON is given to the NATO force commander within a NATO operation. U.S. OPCON15 is similar to both NATO OPCOM and NATO OPCON, but U.S. forces will normally fall under NATO OPCON being more limited and an acceptable choice to the U.S. NCA. In NATO-led operations such as the Kosovo Force and International Security Assistance Force, U.S. European Command and U.S. Central Command respectively retained U.S. OPCON of U.S. forces while the U.S. NCA delegated NATO OPCON to SACEUR. Within the limits of both NATO and U.S. OPCON, a foreign commander cannot change the mission or deploy U.S. forces outside the operational area agreed to by the President; separate units or divide their supplies; administer discipline; promote anyone; or change the internal organization of U.S. forces. Commanders must use caution and not interchange U.S. terminology with that of NATO or any other nation or organization.
Since World War II, the United States has participated and led in many lead nation command structure operations. In 1996, the United States became a member of the Multinational Interoperability Council,16 which is a forum for addressing coalition and multinational interoperability issues such as command relationships. Composed of seven countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, and the United States),17 these nations are potential NATO TCNs that would collaborate with U.S. forces and could be a lead nation in a mission outside the realm of a treaty authorized operation. In 1991, Operation Desert Storm was part of the Gulf War waged by a coalition of 34 nations led by the United States against Iraq. In 2003, the United States also led a multinational coalition in the invasion and postinvasion of Iraq. Three additional nations contributed troops to the U.S.-led invasion force (Australia, Poland, and United Kingdom), and an additional 37 countries provided troops to support U.S.-led military operations after the invasion was complete.
Another example of a lead nation command structure was during the Korean War when South Korea put its forces under OPCON of the U.S. lead nation force.18 These examples differ from the parallel command structure during the Vietnam War in which no single allied lead nation force commander existed (the South Vietnamese would not place its forces under U.S. control due to the perception that the country would be seen as a puppet of the United States).19 Additionally, a lead nation and a parallel command structure may exist simultaneously within a coalition. This occurs when two or more nations serve as controlling elements for a mix of international forces.20 Both the United States and Saudi Arabia acted as lead nations in parallel over their respective TCNs and not over each during the Gulf War.
Within multinational operations, dualhatted positions between two commands are common. In Afghanistan, a dual-hatted U.S. commander has OPCON of U.S. forces in both U.S. Forces–Afghanistan (USFOR–A) and NATO-led ISAF. The commander, U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), is the dual-hatted commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) that also has OPCON of assigned U.S. forces. USNORTHCOM and Canada Command are both national commands reporting to their respective governments, while NORAD as a North American defense collaborative effort is a binational command reporting to both governments.21 Furthermore, combatant commanders may establish subordinate unified (subunified) commands such as U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), which is similar to a combatant command but on a smaller scale. This particular command conducts operations on a continuing basis and exercises OPCON over assigned forces normally in a joint operational area. Established under a 1978 treaty, the Republic of Korea (ROK)–U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) commander in the USFK joint operational area is dual-hatted as the USFK commander. The CFC commander has CFC or “combined OPCON" of both U.S. and ROK forces. Used in the Korean theater, combined OPCON is a more restrictive term than U.S. OPCON strictly referring to the employment of warfighting missions. Another term used is “command less OPCON," which is similar to ADCON.22
There are a few more authorities worth noting. One authority over U.S. forces is within the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) Group. Created by treaty, MFO is not part of the U.S. Government. As participants, U.S. forces are under the responsibility of the Department of Defense, which appointed the Department of the Army as the executive agent for matters pertaining to U.S. military participation in support of MFO. The MFO force commander has OPCON over the U.S. contribution, known as Task Force Sinai.23 The combatant commander (USCENTCOM commander) does not have combatant command (command authority)24 over forces at MFO but does provide force protection oversight. The Army has ADCON, while the U.S. Department of State coordinates with the director general of MFO and U.S. Army. Another example worth noting is within a specific country. The senior representative of the U.S. Government is the Ambassador as Chief of Mission in-country; however, the Ambassador’s authority does not include the direction of U.S. military forces operating in the field when such forces are under the command authority of the geographic combatant commander.25 Additional authorities include coordinating authority and direct liaison authorized regarding coordinating actions.
Regardless of what arises during a multinational operation, U.S. military commanders must have an awareness and understanding of command relationship intricacies in multinational operations and be prepared to deal with military and political interests of nations, national caveats, and impact on multinational force contributions. JFQ
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