Did you know ... ?

Is there some aspect of SHAPE, ACO or NATO history that particularly interests you? You may find it below in some of the questions that have most frequently been posed to the SHAPE Historians over the years.As we have mentioned elsewhere, we have tried to make this information as accurate as possible, but the answers provided are the views solely of the SHAPE Historians and do not necessarily represent official positions of SHAPE or NATO.
Did you know... :
(Choose a question, then click for the answer.)

that Europe already had a defensive military alliance prior to NATO?
In 1948 Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom signed the Treaty of Brussels creating the Western Union for the defence of Western Europe. Under the Brussels Treaty a common defence structure known as the Western Union Defence Organisation or WUDO was established with its headquarters at Fontainebleau, France. Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein was the WUDO's senior officer as Chairman of the Commanders-in-Chief Committee, but he was very critical of this loose committee-type structure and called for the creation of a supreme commander.
The WUDO continued to exist until NATO created an effective military command structure in 1951 and took over responsibility for the defence of Western Europe, at which time the headquarters, personnel and plans of the WUDO transferred to Allied Command Europe. The Treaty of Brussels was revised considerably in 1954 as part of the negotiations that led to the admission of the Federal Republic of Germany into NATO, and the Western Union was transformed into the Western European Union (WEU).
that NATO has not always had an integrated military command structure with supreme commanders?

When NATO was created in 1949, it had very little in the way of a military structure. The NATO Military Committee, composed of the Chiefs of Defence of the member nations, met infrequently and there were no supreme commanders or multinational headquarters to provide command and control of NATO forces in crisis and war. Thus from 1949 until the spring of 1951 (when Allied Command Europe was activated under the first SACEUR, General Dwight D. Eisenhower), NATO's military structure consisted of five Regional Planning Groups with the task of drawing up plans for the defence of their areas. The five Regional Planning Groups were Western Europe, Northern Europe, Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic Ocean, and Canada-United States.

how the first SACEUR was chosen?
When the NATO allies decided at the end of 1950 that the Alliance's existing military structure was inadequate and that an integrated military command structure under a supreme commander was needed, there was universal agreementthat the best individual to serve as the first Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) was General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had led the allied forces in Europe during World War 2 and was highly respectedon both sides of the Atlantic. As a result, on 18 December 1950 the North Atlantic Council asked U.S. President Harry S. Truman to nominate General Eisenhower as the first SACEUR. President Truman did so on the following day.
why SACEUR has always been an American officer?

Even since 1950, when the post of SACEUR becomes vacant, the North Atlantic Council asks the President of the United States to nominate an American officer to fill the post. Unlike 1950, however, no specific individual is recommended. Thus while the decision on which nation should fill the post of SACEUR lies with the North Atlantic Council and thus could be changed by the Council, the tradition of having this post filled by a U.S. officer remains strong because: (1) the United States remains the strongest military power within the Alliance; (2) having an American officer in charge of the Alliance's military operations symbolises the continuing commitment of the United States to the defence of Europe and reassures those European nations concerned about potential threats to their security; (3) nuclear weapons remain the ultimate weapon of deterrence for the Alliance, and because the bulk of these weapons come from the United States, it is important to have an American officer in command. Until recently the second Supreme Commander post in the Alliance, that of the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) and previously the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT), was also held by an American officer, but since 2009 SACT has been a French general. To balance the leading role played by Americans in the command structure, other key NATO positions have been reserved for non-Americans. Thus the Secretary-General by tradition is always a European and the Chairman of the Military Committee (with the exception of the first one in 1949, when the role of this post was very different) is always either a European or a Canadian.

that a 1952 treaty created a European Army within NATO

When discussions began in 1950 about the possibility of using German troops to assist in the defence of NATO, some of the European Allies, in particular France, were concerned about the prospect of rearming Germany so soon after the end of World War 2. French premier René Pleven therefore came up with a proposal known as the Pleven Plan to form a multinational European defence force containing German troops rather than allow the formation of a national German army. On 27 May 1952 France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, and the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) signed a treaty creating the European Defence Community (EDC). For the next two years considerable planning was done on the best way to create this new European Army that was to be firmly embedded within NATO and have multinational divisions and even a common uniform, weapons and budget. The EDC project – and with it the European Army – collapsed when the French parliament failed to ratify the treaty on 30 August 1954. Afterward negotiations began on revising the Brussels Treaty of 1948 and admitting Germany to NATO, which occurred in 1955.

that France did not leave NATO in 1966 but continued to play a very active role in the Alliance?

Many people think that French President Charles de Gaulle took his country out of NATO in 1966 when he demanded that all military headquarters and installations not under French command depart French territory by 1967, but this is not the case. What France did was withdraw from NATO's integrated military command structure – thus French personnel were no longer assigned to the staffs of headquarters in the NATO command structure and French units were not placed under NATO command, but France remained an active member of the Alliance itself and French personnel continued to serve at NATO's political headquarters in Brussels as well as in liaison offices at the other military headquarters. The French armed forces also worked out secret arrangements for cooperation with NATO in wartime, so the Allies were sure that they could count on France in the event of a crisis or war. When NATO began peacekeeping operations in the Balkans in the 1990s, French forces were active participants and France resumed its participation in the NATO Military Committee, because this body was making key decisions about peacekeeping operations. French personnel were also assigned to SHAPE and subordinate headquarters to assist in planning these operations, although they served as members of a separate "Balkans Planning Team” rather than on the permanent staffs. In 2004 France moved one step closer to the NATO military structure by assigning personnel to the permanent staffs of SHAPE and its subordinate headquarters, and in 2009 France officially rejoined NATO's integrated military command structure.

why SHAPE moved from France to Belgium in 1967?

In the spring of 1966, when French President Charles de Gaulle decided to take France out of NATO's integrated military command structure, he declared that all non-French military headquarters and installations must depart French territory by 1 April 1967. This meant that NATO military headquarters such as SHAPE and AFCENT (Allied Forces Central Europe, located in Fontainebleau) plus major U.S. headquarters like the U.S. European Command located just outside of Paris, had to leave French territory within a year. NATO began looking for a suitable site for SHAPE and believed that for psychological reasons it was important that the headquarters remain on the continent of Europe rather than move across the English Channel to the United Kingdom. Germany was not considered a good location for SHAPE because it was too far forward in terms of the potential threat at that time, so the Benelux countries were approached about the possibility of hosting the NATO military headquarters that needed to leave France. The Netherlands offered to become the host nation for AFCENT and Belgium offered to host SHAPE. The Belgian government then identified a site just north of the city of Mons in western Belgium that was already owned by the government and thus could be quickly turned into the site for SHAPE. The site offered to NATO by Belgium was Camp Casteau, a 200-hectare summer training site for the Belgian Army. Belgium also offered to host NATO's political headquarters, because the NATO Allies had decided to move this headquarters from France at the same time as the military headquarters, even though France had not demanded the removal of NATO's political headquarters.

how long it took to build the new SHAPE Headquarters in Casteau, Belgium, in 1966-1967?

In September 1966 NATO agreed that Belgium should host SHAPE at the former Belgian army camp in Casteau. Only six and one-half months remained before the French deadline for SHAPE to leave France would expire. A massive seven-day-a-week building programme began, co-ordinated between the Belgian central and local authorities, the consortium of construction companies who were to actually build the headquarters, and SHAPE. Highest priority was given to building the command and control facilities. SHAPE closed its facility at Rocquencourt near Paris on 30 March 1967, and the next day held a ceremony to mark the opening of the new headquarters at Casteau. SACEUR Lemnitzer called the construction effort "a miracle of achievement” and praised the Belgian authorities and workmen for their efforts to ensure that SHAPE had a new headquarters in a remarkably short time.

that during the first four decades of NATO's existence the Alliance carried out no military operations?

During the Cold War NATO's priorities lay with ensuring an effective defence of the Alliance's territory so as to deter any potential attacker. Thus NATO concentrated on drawing up effective defensive plans, building up the necessary military forces, raising the standards of their proficiency and ensuring effective multinational cooperation through a wide range of military exercises. NATO was thus very active from 1949 to 1989, but the focus was on plans, procurement, training and multinational exercises within the NATO area. It was not until the end of the Cold War that NATO began conducting actual military operations, beginning with defensive measures taken to protect Turkey against an attack by Iraq during the first Gulf Crisis and War in 1990-1991.

that NATO played a very active supporting role during the first Gulf Crisis and War in 1990-1991?

Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, SHAPE implemented precautionary measures to ensure the security of NATO's Mediterranean members and prevent the spread of tension and conflict. Such measures included increased coverage of the area by NATO Airborne Early Warning aircraft, deployment of NATO naval forces to deal with any threats to shipping in the Mediterranean, provision of significant logistics and air defence support to Turkey, and the deployment of the Ace Mobile Force (Air) to Turkey in January 1991. Thus while NATO was not a direct participant in the Gulf War, Allied Command Europe played a major role in supporting those NATO member states threatened by the conflict.

that the first combat action by NATO forces took place in 1994, 45 years after the creation of the Alliance?

After the United Nations declared a No-Fly Zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina to prevent air attacks from being carried out by the warring factions, NATO began Operation Sky Monitor in October 1992 to monitor this No-Fly Zone. Then in April 1993 NATO agreed to conduct air operations to enforce the No-Fly Zone, and Operation DENY FLIGHT began. On 28 February 1994 NATO aircraft shot down four Bosnian Serb fighter-bombers conducting a bombing mission in clear violation of the UN No-Fly Zone. This was the first combat action in NATO's history.

that the Kosovo Air Campaign of 1999 was not NATO's first air campaign of attacks against ground targets?

When the situation in Bosnia continued to deteriorate due to Bosnian Serb attacks on areas that the United Nations had declared to be "Safe Areas”, NATO expanded its Operation DENY FLIGHT over the skies of Bosnia from just enforcement of the No-Fly Zone to Close Air Support attacks at the request of UN peacekeeping forces and also air strikes in support of UN resolutions. Such limited attacks began in 1994 and continued into 1995. After the Bosnian Serbs overran the Srebrenica Safe Area, killing a large number of the male inhabitants afterward, and then began to threaten two additional UN-declared Safe Areas, NATO carried out Operation DELIBERATE FORCE. From late August until mid-September 1995, NATO aircraft attacked Bosnian Serb military targets to force them to withdraw their heavy weapons from the Sarajevo area. NATO's forceful action contributed to the Bosnian Serbs' decision to enter into peace negotiations, and in November 1995 the warring factions signed the Dayton Peace Accords.

how long the tour of duty for a SACEUR is?

There is no specified tour of duty for a SACEUR, although in recent years the length of service as SACEUR has generally been around three years. During the Cold War SACEURs tended to stay in post for longer periods, often for five or six years, with the record being SACEUR Bernard W. Rogers' eight years in post from 29 June 1979 until 26 June 1987. The shortest terms of office for SACEURs have been slightly over one year.  Such short tours of duty have been the result of a SACEUR taking another position, such as Chief of Staff of the Army in the case of General Matthew B. Ridgway or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for General John Shalikashvili. And of course the first SACEUR, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, left SHAPE after somewhat more than one year because he was resigning from the army to begin his candidacy for President of the United States.

how many SACEURs continued their military careers in other posts after leaving SHAPE?

The post of SACEUR has always been seen as a very prestigious one held by a highly experienced officer nearing the end of his military career. Thus most SACEURs have retired from the military upon completion of their service as SACEUR. There are, however, three exceptions. The second SACEUR, General Matthew B. Ridgway, lacked the political skills of his predecessor and therefore did not always get along well with the European Allies, so in July 1953 President Eisenhower made him Chief of Staff of the United States Army. General Andrew J. Goodpaster retired from the Army at the end of his service as SACEUR in December 1974, but when a cheating scandal shook the United States Military Academy at West Point, General Goodpaster voluntarily returned to active duty in 1977 and took a demotion in rank to Lieutenant General (thus from four stars to three) in order to serve as the Superintendent of his beloved West Point and help it carry out needed reforms. In October 1993 General John M. "Shali” Shalikashvili, who had been serving as SACEUR for only one year and four months, became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thus in NATO terms the United States' "Chief of Defence”, which is the one post that is clearly superior even to that of SACEUR.

how many SACEURs have not been U.S. Army generals?

Four of the sixteen SACEURs have been from services other than the U.S. Army: General Lauris Norstad, U.S. Air Force, from 27 November 1956 to 1 January 1963; General Joseph W. Ralston, U.S. Air Force, from 3 May 2000 to 17 January 2003; General James L. Jones, U.S. Marine Corps, from 17 January 2003 to 7 December 2006, and Admiral James G. Stavridis, U.S. Navy, from 2 July 2009 to the present.

why there is a piece of the Berlin Wall at SHAPE?

When the Soviet Union began threatening to interfere with the access of the three Western Allies (France, United Kingdom and United States) to West Berlin in late 1958 and early 1959, these three nations established a small planning staff in April 1959 under the code name LIVE OAK to draw up plans for possible reactions to Soviet interference on the access routes to Berlin. LIVE OAK was commanded by General Lauris Norstad in a third hat known as "Commander LIVE OAK” in his addition to his NATO (SACEUR) and U.S. (Commander-in-Chief U.S. European Command or CINCEUR) hats. Initially located on the compound of the U.S. European Command on the outskirts of Paris, LIVE OAK soon moved to the SHAPE compound to provide better communications facilities for the two non-U.S. members of LIVE OAK (expanded to three through the addition of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1961). LIVE OAK remained co-located with SHAPE for the rest of its existence; thus when SHAPE moved to Belgium in 1967, LIVE OAK did so too. LIVE OAK continued to prepare for a possible Berlin crisis for the next two decades, and then ceased operations after German unification on 3 October 1990. In early 1991 the staff was disbanded, but prior to that a section of the Berlin Wall was placed in front of the LIVE OAK Building in recognition of the organisation's four decades of efforts to preserve the freedom of access to Berlin.

why SHAPE and SACEUR did not change their titles when Allied Command Europe became Allied Command Operations in 2004?
The change from Allied Command Europe to Allied Command Operations actually represented an expansion of the mission and geographic area of responsibility for SHAPE rather than a complete change in the way it did business. In addition, the titles of SHAPE and SACEUR had great historical significance due to their continued existence since the beginnings of the NATO integrated military command structure. Thus while some consideration was initially given to changing the name of SACEUR to something like SACOPS or even SACO, in which case SHAPE would have been changed to perhaps SHACO or SHACOPS, none of these acronyms were considered very dignified (somehow many terms ending in "o” have negative connotations, for example "psycho” or "sicko” or "wacko”, and "SHACOPS” sounded like "shack ups”), and the two terms had never been formed simply on the basis of the command's name (thus Allied Command Europe's commander and headquarters had never been called SACE and SHACE ). In addition there were important legal and fiscal considerations attached to retaining the name SHAPE, due to the many agreements and contracts signed by SHAPE over the years, so the decision was taken to retain the historic titles of SACEUR and SHAPE under the new command structure. In the case of Allied Command Atlantic and its commander SACLANT, however, the new mission for this command was so completely different - overseeing the transformation of NATO's forces and procedures in the 21st century rather than guarding the sea lines of communication to Europe – that both names had to be changed, with the command becoming Allied Command Transformation (ACT) and its commander the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT).
that SACEUR had a Russian general as his Deputy at SHAPE in the 1990s?

When NATO agreed to lead a peacekeeping operation in Bosnia to separate the warring factions after the fighting ended as a result of the General Framework Agreement for Peace that was initialled at Dayton, Ohio on 21 November 1995 and ratified in Paris on 14 December 1995, a number of non-NATO nations volunteered to contribute forces to the new Implementation Force (IFOR), including Russia. But working out NATO command and control arrangements for the Russian contingent proved very difficult, and high-level negotiations by NATO and US diplomats with the Russians failed to come up with a solution acceptable to all parties. The problem was then handed to SACEUR George A. Joulwan, who in a series of personal negotiations with Russian Colonel General Shevtsov worked out the command and control arrangements for the Russian forces under which a Russian general would be named as SACEUR's Deputy for Russian Forces. General Shevtsov was named to become the first Russian deputy to SACEUR, and a Russian delegation joined the IFOR Co-ordination Centre established at SHAPE. Interestingly, this centre was located inside the LIVE OAK Building, which until 1991 had hosted the Allied planning staff responsible for preserving access to Berlin in the event of a Soviet blockade.

the truth about an alleged 1960s report by SHAPE on the threat posed by UFOs?

Over the years the Historical Office has been asked many times for a copy of an alleged top secret report by SHAPE from the 1960s assessing the threat posed by UFOs to NATO. A retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major named Robert O. Dean has frequently claimed in speeches and internet postings that while stationed at SHAPE in the mid-1960s he read a highly classified document with the title "The Assessment: An Evaluation of a Possible Threat to NATO Forces in Europe”, which studied all aspects of the existence of UFOS and the potential threat they posed to NATO. (For an idea of how widely such claims have circulated, just put the words "Assessment”,” UFOs”, "SHAPE”, and "NATO” into any search engine and see how many thousands of hits you get!) We have analyzed these claims in detail, including a photograph alleged to be of the front cover of the assessment, and have concluded that the cover page is a forgery and that SHAPE prepared no report on UFOs during the 1960s. While some will no doubt dismiss this conclusion as part of some sort of long-standing cover-up of the existence of UFOs, we would like to point out that in the 1960s – like today - SHAPE was confronted by much more pressing threats than UFOS and did not have the time and resources to spend 2½ years studying them, as Sergeant Major Dean alleges. We are not saying that UFOs do or do not exist but simply that SHAPE did not prepare a report on them. For the complete Historical Office analysis of the alleged 1964 SHAPE "Assessment” of UFOs, see "The Alleged SHAPE ‘Assessment' of UFOS: What the Official Historical Records Show” in the Historical Documents section.