Playing by the Rules

Standardization is an important goal of NATO. Since the organization has 28 member nations, and it also works with several states that are not members through programs such as Partnerships for Peace and the Mediterranean Dialogue, having every one on the same page is paramount to success. Standardization means everything from carrying compatible weapons to using the same procedures for creating operational plans. These standards are codified in what is known as STANAGS or standardization agreements.

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the first meeting of a working group that is drafting a STANAG for training troops of participating nations in rules of engagement (ROE). ROE are essentially the circumstances in which force may be used and every mission has unique ROE. Since NATO relies on forces from many different states, it is important for all states to have a sense of how NATO ROEs work. This working group is made up of representatives from 21 nations and coordinated by the office I am working in. The group is a mix of military and civilian legal advisors and military officers who train armed forces in rules of engagement. The goal is to have the STANAG drafted within one year and there will likely be at least two more of these meetings over the next twelve months.

The three-day conference was held that the Club Prince Albert, which is as royal as it sounds, in Brussels not far from the Grand Place. The working hours were mostly spent sifting through draft language. It was interesting hearing different representatives’ opinions about whom certain aspects of ROE should be taught to and how to articulate this in the STANAG. As we debated whether the document should refer to “Personnel,” “personnel,” or “units,” I thought back to class lectures I participated in at St. John’s about statutory interpretation and treaty formation. This experience really highlighted how important the language of an agreement can be. The group was always cognizant of how the document would be interpreted in English and French (the two official languages of NATO), but it also considered how it would translate to any one of the national languages of the participants. While the group reached consensus on most of the contested issues, representatives must now take the language back to their ministry of defense for approval or reservation.

The social highlight of the conference was a dinner at the Club Prince Albert hosted by the Belgian ministry of defense. A Belgian general welcomed the group and praised its hard work. The dinner was an informal opportunity to get to know some of the participants and unwind from a busy week. While the next meeting will probably not occur until my internship has concluded, there is plenty of work to do in the next few months on this project to make sure the group can meet its deadline.

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