By Lieutenant Colonel Stefan Geluk
Royal Netherlands Army

Although perhaps not as old as war itself, military doctrine has a long historical pedigree. In his classic work “The Art of War”, probably written in the fourth century BCE, Sun Tzu identifies doctrine as one of the five fundamental factors of war, along with moral influence, weather, terrain and command.

The roots of modern military doctrine can be found in two important developments in late 18th-century Europe: the identification of tactics as a branch of war, and the founding of military academies to give candidate officers a formal education and make them fit for their craft. By the end of the 19th century, the armies of all major powers were devoting much time and attention to doctrine, and since then interest has sharpened.

Today, NATO defines doctrine as “fundamental principles by which the military forces guide their actions in support of objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgement in application” (AAP-06, Edition 2019).

Doctrine provides the military commander with guidance on the “how” for virtually every aspect of military operations, but not on the “what” or “why”. In this manner, doctrine provides an ever-evolving structural framework that allows for flexibility of action in a dynamic combat environment.

During the 1990s, NATO recognized the need to revise the existing doctrine. Based on the U.S. approach, a decision was made to create a hierarchy of doctrine publications, namely the Allied Joint Doctrine Hierarchy. At the top is a capstone publication, the Allied Joint Publication Allied Joint Doctrine (AJP)-1, which is the general NATO doctrine. Immediately below that is a series of functional, keystone publications, such as the AJP-2 Intelligence, Counterintelligence and Security; and the AJP-3 Conduct of Operations.

The level below comprises publications that support the conduct of joint and multinational operations. These publications describe the contribution of the various components (maritime, land, and air), and also the underlying activities, such as counter-air operations and military police, to name but a few. Today there are more than 50 AJPs in total, and it is more than likely that this number will increase in the future.



The JWC Doctrine Support Branch

To assess and validate the existing doctrine and identify the need for new doctrine, Allied Command Transformation (ACT) uses a process that is directed by the NATO Military Committee’s Joint Standardization Board. The doctrine review process aims to ensure that all current AJPs are reviewed every five years.

The AJPs that are up for review are published in the Allied Joint Doctrine Campaign Plan and the respective custodians are then expected to collect feedback throughout the NATO Command Structure. The feedback can be obtained during ongoing operations, but also through training and exercises.

The Joint Warfare Centre’s (JWC) Doctrine Support Branch is tasked to support this process and the custodians. It does so by keeping a close relationship with the custodians and introducing them to the relevant counterparts within the training audiences. Furthermore, the branch constantly identifies any doctrinal gaps and shortfalls as well as outdated doctrine and contradictions between the various doctrine publications. This is mostly done during the planning and execution phases of the operational- and strategic-level exercises hosted and directed by the JWC.

Through the close contact with the custodians and the Exercise Planning Division at the JWC, the Doctrine Support Branch is also able to incorporate specific doctrine assessment or doctrine validation-related requests of the custodians into the different workshops that feed the scenario and incidents during the exercise. This way, the doctrine team can provide custodians with the best possible feedback for the assessment or validation.

The Doctrine Support Branch routinely provides specific subject matter expertise during periods of high-intensity training and exercises. The branch works with NATO Response Force (NRF) headquarters, NATO centres of excellence, the Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre (JALLC), as well as non-NATO entities. In addition to this, the Doctrine Support Branch is responsible for the bi-annual update of the NATO Force Structure (NFS) Joint Task Force Headquarters Handbook, which is written in cooperation with the JALLC and the NATO Command and Control Centre of Excellence. Regular participation in different doctrine-related working groups is also part of the workload.


Doctrine consists of a set of beliefs about the nature of war and the keys to success on the battlefield. It is, however, also the product of a complex process of different influences. Allied doctrine requires a consensus of the NATO member states, and therefore brings with it a unified way of planning and carrying out operations, which again strengthens the Alliance. The JWC Doctrine Support Branch is the ideal tool to support the NATO doctrine development process.