NATO Military Committee meets ahead of Summit; adopts gender-inclusive language in break from 1950s

24 May 2021

NATO’s 30 Chiefs of Defence met on 18 May at NATO Headquarters for their second Military Committee* meeting of 2021. (For details of the January 2021 meeting see here). According to a NATO news release they discussed “military support for the NATO 2030 proposals”, two classified military strategic concepts currently under development (the Concept for Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area and the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept), and NATO-led operations, missions and activities. They also met with the Chiefs of Defence of two of NATO’s Enhanced Opportunity Partners, Ukraine and Georgia.

NATO 2030 and the forthcoming Summit

The meeting opened with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg discussing the NATO 2030 initiative and his plans for the forthcoming Summit on 14 June. He told the defence chiefs that the Summit will “be a unique opportunity to future-proof our Alliance, reinvigorate the transatlantic bond and demonstrate our commitment to transatlantic solidarity. Not just in words, but in deeds''. According to a separate NATO news release eight core proposals are expected to form the core of the Summit agenda, although they are currently being negotiated in the North Atlantic Council. These proposals, which range from “closer political consultations and a renewed commitment to collective defence, to concrete measures to step up work on resilience, climate change and new technologies, as well as to better coordinate with democracies around the world”, are aimed at “reinforcing the unity between Europe and North America, broadening NATO’s approach to security, and safeguarding the rules based international order”.  (For peace research perspectives on the NATO 2030 initiative see here).

In his press statement, the Chair of the Military Committee, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach stated that “The allied chiefs of defence enthusiastically welcomed the NATO 2030 agenda, which underpins the work of NATO's military authorities". In his opening remarks, Peach stressed that in response to Russia’s “pattern of destabilising aggressive actions”,  since 2014, NATO has “implemented the biggest reinforcement of collective defence in a generation" strengthening the alliance’s military posture “from the Baltic to the Black Sea". Among several future challenges he listed in his press statement was the effects of climate change on long-term military development. "Climate change will impact our lives in many ways, but crucially for the Military Committee, we are focused on how it affects our common security," he said. The chiefs called for a survey on the impacts and possible consequences of climate change to be completed across the alliance's national armed forces. "From there, the military authorities can further integrate climate change risks and considerations into NATO's military planning and exercises," Peach said.

The drawdown in Afghanistan

With the drawdown of the Resolute Support Mission ongoing, the allied Chiefs apparently exchanged views on progress and NATO-Afghanistan’s future relationship. Peach said the Chiefs of Defence “recognised the challenges involved in this drawdown, commended the operational planning going into the process and discussed the way ahead”. No further details were forthcoming although it is widely recognised that the US and NATO support will continue remotely in some form. The possibilities range from strategic advice to intelligence sharing to training (presumably outside Afghanistan) to airstrikes and other forms of remote warfare. Indeed, three days after the Military Committee meeting it was confirmed that NATO would continue to train Afghan Special Forces outside the country after the withdrawal in September. “As we end our military presence, we are opening a new chapter,” Jens Stoltenberg said in Paris after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on 21 May.  In addition to giving “advice and capacity-building support to Afghan security institutions, as well as continued financial support”, he added that NATO also plans “to provide military education and training outside Afghanistan, focusing on Special Operations Forces”.

Adoption of gender-inclusive language: from ‘Chairman’ to ‘Chair’

In his opening remarks, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach welcomed the change in his title from Chairman to Chair of the NATO Military Committee. He noted that the armed forces should reflect the societies they protect and be as diverse as they are inclusive. In a NATO news release, Peach says: “Developing and maintaining high standards for ourselves is crucial. Setting the example and encouraging high standards in other militaries around the world is also important. We have made progress and while there remains much work to do, I am proud to see this title changed”. While welcome, this belated attack on gendered nouns is a long way from being translated into an inclusive and representative Military Committee. All the current 30 NATO Chiefs of Defence are men; all past (and the present) Chairmen of the Military Committee—35 post-holders since 1949—were men, as is the next one. It was Peach's last Military Committee meeting as chair, having served in the position since June 2018. The chiefs elected Dutch Navy Adm. Rob Bauer to become chair of the Military Committee next month.


The NATO’s Chiefs of Staff also met with Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Ruslan Khomchak and discussed the security situation in and around Ukraine after Russia's build-up of troops near the Ukrainian border. "Although we have seen some reduction in the number of Russian troops near the border, tens of thousands remain including their weapons and equipment", Peach said in his opening remarks. "NATO needs to stay vigilant and preserve our freedom of movement in all relevant seas and airspaces," he added. In his final press statement, Peach stated that “The Chiefs of Staff of the Alliance reaffirmed their full support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and discussed future cooperation in and around the Black Sea. The Military Committee called on Ukraine to continue the implementation of major reforms, to ensure security and stability for all Ukrainians”.


Finally, the Chiefs of Staff also met with their Georgian counterpart, Chief of Defence General Giorgi Matiashvili. Discussions centred on the updated Substantial NATO-Georgia Package, which contains measures and initiatives aimed at strengthening Georgia’s defence capabilities and developing closer security cooperation and interoperability with NATO members.

* The Military Committee meets twice a year at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, at the level of Chiefs of Defence, to provide the North Atlantic Council with consensus-based military advice on how the alliance can best meet global security challenges. Once a year they meet in a member state. On a day-to-day basis, their work is carried out by the permanent Military Representatives at NATO headquarters in Brussels.