Centres of Excellence (COEs) are nationally or multi-nationally funded institutions that train and educate leaders and specialists from NATO member and partner countries, assist in doctrine development, identify lessons learned, improve interoperability, and capabilities and test and validate concepts through experimentation. They offer recognized expertise and experience that is of benefit to the Alliance and support the transformation of NATO, while avoiding the duplication of assets, resources and capabilities already present within the NATO command structure.
Coordinated by Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in Norfolk, Virginia in the United States, COEs are considered to be international military organizations. Although not part of the NATO command structure, they are part of a wider framework supporting NATO Command Arrangements. Designed to complement the Alliance's current resources, COEs cover a wide variety of areas, with each one focusing on a specific field of expertise to enhance NATO capabilities.
ACT has overall responsibility for COEs and is in charge of the establishment, accreditation, preparation of candidates for approval, and periodic assessments of the centres. The establishment of a COE is a straightforward procedure. Normally, one or more members decide to establish a COE. The idea then moves into the concept development phase. During this phase the "Framework Nation" or "Nations" fleshes out the concept to ACT by providing information such as the area of specialization, the location of the potential COE and how it will support NATO transformation.
Once ACT approves the concept, the COE and any NATO country that wishes to participate in the COE's activities then negotiate two Memorandums of Understanding (MOU): a Functional MOU, which governs the relationship between Centres of Excellence and the Alliance and an Operational MOU, which governs the relationship between participating countries and the COE. Once participating countries agree to and sign the MOU, the COE seeks accreditation from ACT.
The Alliance does not fund COEs. Instead, they receive national or multinational support, with "Framework Nations", "Sponsoring Nations" and "Contributing Nations" financing the operating costs of the institutions. Twenty-one COEs have either received NATO accreditation or are in the development stages.
Role of the Centres of Excellence
Considered to be international military organizations, the primary purpose of COEs is to assist with transformation within the Alliance, while avoiding the duplication of assets, resources and capabilities already present within the NATO command structure.
They generally specialize in one functional area and act as subject matter experts in their field of expertise. They distribute their in-depth knowledge through training, conferences, seminars, concepts, doctrine, lessons learned and papers.
In addition to giving NATO and partner country leaders and units the opportunity to augment their education and training, COEs also help the Alliance to expand interoperability, increase capabilities, aid in the development of doctrine and standards, conduct analyses, evaluate lessons-learned and experiment in order to test and verify concepts.
While NATO does not directly fund COEs nor are they part of the NATO command structure, COEs do work alongside the Alliance. They are nationally or multi-nationally funded and are part of a supporting network, encouraging internal and external information exchange to the benefit of the Alliance. The overall responsibility for COE coordination and utilization within NATO lies with ACT, in co-ordination with the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).
Different types of participants
There are three different types of supporters for COEs: "Framework Nations", "Sponsoring Nations" and "Contributing Nations". Generally, a Framework Nation agrees to take on the responsibility of developing the concept and implementation of the COE. In addition, it agrees to provide physical space for the operation of the COE, as well as personnel to run the institution. Sponsoring Nations contribute financially to the COE and also provide personnel, whose salary they cover. Contributing Nations may provide financial support or some other service that is of use to the functioning of the COE.
Receiving NATO accreditation
All COEs follow a set process to receive NATO accreditation. The Framework Nation or Nations submit a proposal for the COE, which HQ ACT then considers. Next, the Framework Nation or Nations coordinate with ACT to further flesh out the proposal before sending the official offer to establish a COE to SACT. If the proposal meets certain criteria, ACT formally welcomes the offer.
Afterwards, the Framework Nation or Nations further develop the concept, draft an Operational Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and present the COE offer to other countries. Those that are interested in joining the COE then engage in MOU negotiations before agreeing to the terms of the MOU. For COEs that did not have some sort of facility in place previously, the COE is physically established.
The Framework and Sponsoring nations must also coordinate, draft, negotiate and agree to a Functional MOU with HQ ACT. The COE then enters into the accreditation phase. HQ ACT develops accreditation criteria, after which the Framework Nation or Nations request accreditation for the COE. A team from ACT then visits the COE and assesses it against the tailored list of points based on the Military Committee (MC)'s accreditation criteria for COEs.
All COEs must act as a catalyst for NATO transformation and open activities to all Alliance members. COEs must not duplicate nor compete with current NATO capabilities, but instead offer an area of expertise not already found within the Organization. To this end, all COEs must have subject matter experts in their field of specialization. ACT periodically re-assesses COEs in order to ensure that they continue to meet those criteria and assure continued NATO accreditation status. Ultimately, the Military Committee and the North Atlantic Council must approve the initial accreditation of the COE.
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