From Political Symbol to Regional Responsibility – The Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin (Poland)
In September 2019, Headquarters Multinational Corps Northeast celebrated its twentieth birthday. The age of twenty might ordinarily signify reaching a certain level of maturity and even capability, but one would be mistaken to believe that this actually means being fully grown up.
Moving with the times and keeping pace with developments, means appreciating the present, careful not to take it for granted as a permanent state of affairs. In the same way, Multinational Corps Northeast is meeting current and future challenges, true to its motto: “Ready Today – Prepared for Tomorrow – Adapting for the Future”.
Continuous Change as the Constant
NATO’s relevance as the backbone of European security remains unbroken. This is particularly true for the Baltic Sea region, where NATO territory directly borders with Russia. While a broad military invasion of Western Europe may no longer be something to be feared, a regional military intervention in the Baltic Sea region cannot be precluded, not least as Russia continues to use every opportunity to create divisions within NATO. In times of limited resources, the different priorities set by NATO can be best safeguarded by a threat-appropriate and regionalisation of its military headquarters (HQ). This way, groups of states dedicate themselves to those threats that are a priority for them. A great advantage of this approach lies in the close cooperation between like-minded NATO member states with similar interests. A more regional NATO posture is to be understood as an essential contribution to an appropriate response capability of the Alliance. For the Baltic states and the Baltic Sea region, this regional responsibility lies with Multinational Corps Northeast (MNC NE) based in Szczecin, Poland.
Political Symbol – and the Spirit of Integration
Headquarters Multinational Corps Northeast was established in the city of Szczecin in north-western Poland on 18 September 1999 upon the joint political decision of Denmark, Germany and Poland. Evolving from the erstwhile German-Danish Corps LANDJUT, it was the first time that, together with the Republic of Poland, a new NATO member was integrated into a multinational formation. Beyond its immediate military tasks, MNC NE became a political symbol of the accelerated transatlantic and European integration processes. The Corps is marked by a number of particularities concerning its creation, composition, tasks, as well as its current and future role. Both within the framework of the second round of NATO enlargement carried out in 2004 and in the course of growing military integration across Europe, these particularities were of increasing importance and continue to be so today.
Being the first newly established NATO military body east of the former Iron Curtain, the Corps attracted interest from new NATO member states from the very beginning. Only ten years after the Corps’ inception, the number of participating nations has increased by eight. These are Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (2004); Slovakia and the Czech Republic (2005); the US (2006); Romania (2008); Slovenia (2009); Croatia (2012); Hungary (2013); and Sweden as the first non-NATO partner in 2014. “In the spirit of integration” was the motto of the Corps at that time.
The decisions of the NATO Summits in Newport (Wales) in 2014 and Warsaw (Poland) in 2016 marked the first turning point in the orientation of the Corps. Having witnessed the events on the Crimean Peninsula and in eastern Ukraine in spring 2014, the transatlantic alliance decided to shift its main focus back to one of collective defence. In the process of implementing the measures contained in the Readiness Action Plan, the Szczecin-based HQ received a decisive role in reinforcing NATO’s presence on its eastern flank: the aim – credible deterrence.
From Headquarters to Command
The Corps has now grown to a current total of 25. The personnel strength has almost doubled, a new structure has been adopted and certification as a headquarters for high-readiness forces – as a Land Component Command – was achieved in 2017 with a preparation time of just 24 months. Furthermore, the structure of the Corps has changed from a headquarters to a command, complemented by various subordinate units. The Corps is responsible for the command and control of two newly established multinational divisions (Multinational Division Northeast (MND-NE) and Multinational Division North (MND-N)) in addition to four National Home Defence Brigade Headquarters located in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, four multinational enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battle Groups, and six NATO Force Integration Units. In this task, it is supported by the Command Support Brigade consisting of three Polish battalions and one German battalion. Thanks to their capabilities, HQ MNC NE can be independently deployed to and employed at any location within its area of responsibility.
In this regard, it is particularly important to have recourse to structures that already exist in the regions, to troops who know the situation in the field as a result of their permanent presence on the ground, for example, with active situational awareness. To this end, MNC NE can draw on the NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. They serve as the “eyes, ears and mouthpiece” for the NATO Regional Land Component Command in Szczecin. The NFIUs are perfectly integrated with the local structures and represent the Alliance. Thanks to the excellent relations they enjoy with their respective host countries, they are the ones who enable the rapid deployment of additional forces of Allied nations in the first place, thus substantially contributing to the credible deterrence and security in the region.
Since 2017, the enhanced Forward Presence Battle Groups are made up of four multinational formations under the command of lead nations the United Kingdom, Canada, USA and Germany, which provide the visible contribution of the Allied land forces to deterrence on the north-eastern NATO flank on a rotational basis. These Battle Groups are firmly integrated into the respective national brigades of their host countries Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. They provide a significant and highly valued reinforcement to these brigades.
The three turbulent and challenging years following decisions taken at the NATO Summits in Newport and Warsaw prompted new requirements for the development of the Corps in Szczecin: MNC NE is in the middle of implementing the next “evolutionary stage” – establishing itself as the Regional Land Component Command for the Baltic Sea region.
Regionalisation, regional focus and regional responsibility may sound unfamiliar at first for an organisation with a 360-degree defence approach, however, the multitude of unique tasks undertaken in the Szczecin-based HQ illustrate that credible deterrence is indeed the framework within which the Corps operates.
While the permanent tasks associated with crisis response are assigned to the eight other NATO Corps Headquarters on a rotating basis, MNC NE is the only permanent NATO Headquarters with a regional responsibility for the Baltic Sea region. It does not have to be deployed – it already is located in its area of operations.
More than “just” a Corps Headquarters, MNC NE is a command structure with a clear mission, area responsibility and subordinate units. In addition, the Corps is the only one assigned and subordinated to a Joint Force Command – JFC Brunssum – in peacetime. MNC NE is therefore already “on mission” and permanently capable of responding. Maintaining a common operational picture, planning and conducting exercises, as well as pursuing collaboration with military and civilian actors, ensures that MNC NE is aligned with the requirements and contingencies of real-time developments.
Ready for Action at any Time
In numerous multinational exercises, the men and women of MNC NE have demonstrated that, in their function as a Corps HQ, they are able to command and control major formations, counter emerging crises and defeat threats to security in an assigned area of operations – thereby able to act inwards and downwards. The challenge now is to develop, implement and operate the upwards and outwards thinking both at HQ, as well as at the national and local decision-making levels. The objective is to further establish HQ MNC NE as the responsible regional entity and point of contact, and not only to maintain its level of performance and response capabilities, but to continue to develop them. The crucial aspect in this regard is to further strengthen confidence in cooperation across national borders, which is a precondition for continued joint efforts and necessary investment. It is all about establishing a credible deterrence against any threat to peace and security in the Baltic Sea region.
New Cooperation Partners
The Baltic Sea serves as one of only two strategic access routes to the area of operations, together with the Suwalki Gap between Russian Kaliningrad and Belarus. The aim is therefore to foster closer cooperation between the naval forces in the future, beginning with initial visits and a mutual exchange of plans and information between Corps, the regional German Naval Headquarters in Rostock (Germany) and Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) in Northwood (UK).
Inspired by the HQ’s coat of arms, the Pomeranian Griffin, an organic series of exercises named “GRIFFIN” will pool and coordinate the efforts of nations in the area of responsibility and NATO partners, as well as relieve them by creating synergy effects. Establishing a uniform data and information network provides a decisive contribution to interoperability of the individual land forces, as well as to permanently monitor and update the cross-border operational picture.
The desired end-state as a recognised Regional Land Component Command will be implemented in an inward- and outward-looking adaptation process. The personnel structure of HQ MNC NE – only introduced in 2015 – is currently undergoing a rapid adaptation in order to quickly implement the new tasks and missions in a more efficient and effective manner. Command and control exercises, cross-border deployments of units and formations right up to regular live-fire exercises, serve to constantly develop levels of interoperability. In doing so, using tactical English as the working language, command and control, as well as decision-making processes, technical standards and IT networks, are all harmonised and improved. Far more important, however, are cooperation and information exchange with national decision-makers and government agencies in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. It is imperative to create the preconditions with regard to planning, logistics and infrastructure in order to move NATO reinforcement forces more quickly to any potential deployment location on NATO’s north-eastern flank. While in the Balkans and Afghanistan, smaller, brigade-size units (about 3,000 soldiers) were the operational norm, here it is more about rapid deployment, integration and command and control of complex major formations up to division or corps strength. Up to 40,000 soldiers must be able to arrive and operate within the theatre of operations.
Detailed planning for this eventuality is already being carried out from Szczecin, helping to build mutual trust between partners and other actors that has as its foundation the pledge of mutual defence enshrined in Article 5 of NATO’s treaty: One for all and all for one.
Hub of Regional Cooperation
The annual cross-border deployment exercises of NATO’s rapid response force (Very High Readiness Joint Task Force – VJTF) undertaken in peacetime conditions illustrates the ability of the Headquarters’ members to fulfil the role assigned to the Regional Land Component Command. However, it is vital that both the national and local decision-making levels of all NATO and security partners are confident in including the Regional Land Component Command in each and every consultation, and in every undertaking in the Baltic Sea region; only then, can MNC NE successfully implement its mission as a land force integrator and coordination hub for the region – true to its motto: “Ready Today – Prepared for Tomorrow – Adapting for the Future”.
Since September 2017, LTC Ulrich Pfützenreuter has been employed as Branch Head Policy in the J5 Division at HQ MNC NE. In this function, he is responsible for all corps policy matters.
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