By SCHMAGLOWSKI Dieter

* The article was written, and initially published in 2020, in light of the commemoration of the 70 years Anniversary of NATO Standardization 


 Importance of standardization for the Alliance

The NATO Alliance is constantly evolving and is very different today compared to when it was established by Allies in 1949. What has not changed, however, is the requirement for NATO forces and capabilities to be interoperable.  

Member states need a common set of standards to carry out multinational operations. Standardization is a way of codifying activities across the Alliance, building capacity and confidence among NATO Allies’ forces, as well as with those of its partners, enabling pooling of resources and allowing for an efficient use of resources. It therefore greatly increases the effectiveness of the Alliance’s defence capabilities with respect to doctrine, tactics, training, as well as materiel. Standards are the foundation for achieving interoperability, essential for success of multinational military capabilities operating together.

Interoperability, i.e. the ability to act coherently, effectively and efficiently to achieve Allied tactical, operational and strategic objectives, has been a key concern for the Alliance since the Cold War era and NATO has a long history of developing standards to enhance NATO interoperability. Operational standards, common doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures have been essential elements of national staff and units’ training in all member states. Although materiel standards may not have led to the complete standardization of systems, they have provided the required level of interoperability between systems and the interchangeability of replacement components. In fact, NATO standardization has been so successful that partner nations, governmental, non-governmental and international organizations have adopted many of NATO standards. 

While interoperability based on standardization has been one of NATO’s greatest strengths since the Cold War era, it was given little attention following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Looking back over the past three decades, the Alliance has focused on managing conflicts beyond its borders. Bosnia, Kosovo and the ongoing mission in Afghanistan are prominent examples. National contributions to these operations were identified during a force-generation process well before their deployment to the mission areas. This allowed for the achievement of interoperability through a series of education, training and exercise events and very often doctrine and procedures determined by the ‘Lead Nation’ were used. New NATO standards developed during this time addressed very specific requirements for these operations. Examples are doctrine, tactics and procedures for countering improvised explosive devices, the military contribution to peace support and humanitarian assistance, or counter‑insurgency.      

Real-world events, in particular Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its aggressive actions against Ukraine have forced NATO to react and plan for the “worst-case” scenario, the need to deter, counter and, if forced, defend against a peer competitor in an Article 5 operation. Additionally, NATO faces an ever-growing number of new threats. It must be prepared to engage in collective defence while at the same time having to manage crises and promote stability beyond its borders.    

Over the last few years, the Alliance agreed on several significant steps to respond to changes to the security environment. Efforts have been taken to significantly improve the readiness of Allied forces by ensuring troops and capabilities are appropriately trained, deployable and able to work closely together. NATO’s strengthened deterrence and defence posture builds primarily on responsiveness and readiness. An important cornerstone of NATO’s response to the changed security environment is the Readiness Initiative, which aims at making 30 air squadrons, 30 ships and 30 combat battalions available to fight within 30 days. 

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The value of Standardization both in the civilian and the defense sector has long been recognized at a national, European, but also international level. In the European Defense Standardization Journal (2007) issued by the European Defense Agency (EDA), for example, it is highly emphasized that “Standardization helps achieve Force interoperability and reduces associated risk in areas of operational, material and information exchange”. Some other benefits of Standards existence are: Provision for the economy in manufacture and services, collaboration improvement between countries or contractors, minimizing the risk of dependence from specific vendors, utilizing best practices to reduce unnecessary use of resources and cost and many more.

What usually is taken for granted though in most organizations and businesses, regardless the industry and if they belong to the civilian or the defense sector, is that because standards and regulations are written and set, they will, by default, be continuously implemented effectively and according to the “letter of law”. Reality though has proven that lack of sufficient training that would reach to a point that each stakeholder for the implementation of those part of standards that fall within his job position, or area of responsibility, has gained a conscious understanding of what they mean and why they are important, leads to failing in effective standards implementation, because either stakeholders are not aware of some of them at all, or they get “lost in translation” by explaining standards in their own way of understanding. Another reason might be stakeholders have to handle an already increased workload and that enhances their tendency to skip some standards, in order to speed up. Thus, wherever a person has the autonomy in his or her job position, to skip the implementation of some standards within his or her responsibility that might not be of crucial importance, according to his or her own judgment, or are not subject to inspection or control by official authorities, he or she will do so. Finally, another important reason for not taking ownership of the constant implementation of standards is the lack of commitment and motivation, which usually stems from the command and control style of leadership, in which people feel that they are there only to be told what to do, so there is no need for the them to personally safeguard the standards and regulations, unless there will be a kind of punishment or negative consequences for them.

At this point, inspirational leadership might be the solution to handling these effects that lead to the implementation of standards going of track and the challenges that accompany them. By inspirational leadership we mean that type of leadership with which a leader has the ability to be a positive influence for his or her team, but also his or her peers, and motivate individuals and the whole team to raise performance levels to reach success, which is this case is to consciously take ownership and be committed in safeguarding and implementing the standards that fall within the area of their responsibility and department.

Behind every professional outfit or uniform, there are human beings. And that is where inspirational leadership focuses and makes the difference. Thus, as regards the implementation of standards, an inspirational leader should work with his or her team, through the following steps:

Getting to (really) know the team. As each human being is unique and different, so are team members. A leader should be able to spot the unique characteristics and needs of each team member and be able to see how each person might be motivated in doing the best he or she can, in making sure that the bar does not fall under the standards set.

  • Working with the team to develop or remind themselves what the core values of the team are and how these values are connected with their personal values.
  • Working on connecting the mission of their organization with the mission of their team. Why does their team exist and why they are important? How does their mission affect the successful conduction of their organization’s mission and how is it connected?
  • Focusing on each of the team members and help them elicit their own personal mission. Why are they there? Why is it important to them to be part of the organization? How is their personal mission connected with the team’s and the organization’s mission?
  • What are the standards connected with their job position and why are they important?
  • How are they mission, values and contribution through their job position are connected with the standards and why is it important for each one of them to act as a safeguard of the standards implementation?

Working on the above points, a leader helps his or her team consciously become aware of their role, their contribution and the importance of making no compromises as regards the implementation of the standards. Actually, he or she helps them understand that they are a valuable part of the organization and their performance has an impact to humanity and the world. After all, it’s the small actions each one of us does or neglects to do that collectively make a positive or a negative impact on the bigger system of this planet. And with inspirational leadership civilians but also military people are able to go beyond command and control reaction and go the extra mile by making standards and quality in their work a mindset and a habit, instead of following an attitude of just doing their job. And as the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle states «Quality is not an act, it’s a habit».  


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