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1975-Today: New Security Challenges
– New Training Opportunities

A New Start

Handover of Site

On 29 June 1974 the last US Commandant of the Hawkins Barracks, Colonel Kemp US Army, handed back the site to the German MoD, represented by Mr Christoph Wirsching, Director of the Wehrbereichskommando IV (Military District HQ) in Munich. The majority of facilities became part of the new Bundeswehrverwaltungschule IV (German Army Administration School IV) although the buildings assigned to the NATO Weapon Systems School would remain under US control.


On 12 August 1975, the NATO School (SHAPE) was officially established by Charter as a bilateral institution between the governments of the United States of America and the Federal Republic of Germany.

NATO School (SHAPE) Charter

The NATO School (SHAPE), short title NS(S), located on the Oberammergau Kaserne, Oberammergau, Germany, has been designated by Headquarters, United States European Command (USEUCOM) as a separate joint USEUCOM activity under the operation control of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). Administrative and logistical support as necessary will be furnished by US Army Europe (USAREUR) as executive agent for USEUCOM and by the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in accordance with Support Agreements and Memorandums of Understanding written as separate documents approved and signed by agencies of MOD Bonn and the Federal Ministry of Finance for the FRG and USAREUR for USEUCOM.

Publicity of the time highlighted how NATO School (SHAPE) 'offered a unique opportunity for both NATO and nationally assigned officers to improve their ability to deter war thru increased awareness and readiness'.

By 1978 the academic portfolio of NATO School (SHAPE) had four key departments:

  • Orientation Providing training for staff officers newly-assigned to NATO HQs
  • Employment Covering planning, policy and surety aspects of the employment of NATO nuclear weapons
  • Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) Instruction on the defence against NBC weapons
  • Electronic Warfare Training and instruction on defensive electronic warfare

End of the Cold War

The rapid collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and impending dissolution of Soviet Union resulted in huge changes across Europe.

  • NATO's Heads of State and Government agreed in London in July 1990 on the need to transform the Atlantic Alliance to reflect the new and more promising era in Europe. Leaders recognised that the developments taking place in Europe would have a far-reaching impact on the way in which its aims would be met in future.
  • New policies were adopted at the NATO Summit in Rome in December 1991 resulting in most Alliance members cutting their defence budgets and greatly reducing their troop deployments in Europe.
  • The reunification of Germany took place in 1990 and in 1991 Russia agreed to greater dialogue and cooperation with NATO. In 1994 Russia joined the Partnership for Peace programme.

New Conflict - New Training:
NATO Securing the Peace across the Balkans

The end of the Cold War did not stop conflict in Europe. Simmering political and ethnic tensions within Yugoslavia led to the break-up of the country and widespread conflict. In 1995 NATO embarked on its first military operation - Operation Deliberate Force - by launching a campaign of air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions to force the Bosnian Serbs to negotiate a peace settlement; NATO subsequently deployed thousands of troops - Implementation Force (IFOR) - to monitor and enforce a ceasefire across Bosnia-Herzegovina.

  • As a result of NATO intervention and the Dayton Agreement signed in late 1995, NATO School (SHAPE) hosted a Special Arms Control Course in April 1996. Arms control inspectors from the five Parties to the Dayton Agreement attended a course on implementation of the detailed arms control agreements to support the Bosnia peace process. These agreements drew on the major arms control processes already established in Europe such as the Vienna Document and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.
  • The course was organised by NATO on behalf of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Seasoned CFE (Conventional Armed Forces in Europe) inspectors from NATO and Partner countries shared their experiences with the course participants, and also guided them through two inspection exercises in the field. Thus, NATO School (SHAPE) progressively broadened its programmes, away from specifically military training and towards addressing wider peace support concerns.

The character of warfare in Europe changed, amply illustrated by the conflict across the Balkans. Wars were no longer fought solely between regular, trained armies. The battlespace was now shared with militias, civilians, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations. By 1997, IFOR had been replaced by a smaller Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnian-Herzegovina and NATO's Security Cooperation Activities with Bosnia- Herzegovina were intended to contribute to long-term stability in the country.

From 1997 NATO School (SHAPE) hosted a range of courses reflecting these changes.

  • The Civil Emergency Planning (CEP)/Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) Course addressed the basic principles and procedures of civil-military co-operation within NATO's strategic concept. It also provided practical examples of the links between CEP and international organisations. The course not only had subject matter experts form NATO HQ, but also drew on expertise from the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
  • European Security Cooperation Courses as part of wider NATO-sponsored Security Cooperation Activities.

The First European Security Cooperation Course started in June 1997

Each regular course included 45 Bosnian participants: 15 from each ethnic group, including both military and civilian defence officials from each of the two Entities. Course participants ranged in age from their late 20s to mid-50s and ranks from Captain through to Major General, with all participants having directly experienced the conflict in their country. The course introduced the participants to NATO - its structure, political agenda, crisis management concept and Partnership for Peace. It also covered topics such as democratisation, reconciliation, the Peace Agreement and the role of SFOR, and an introduction to key international organisations. In addition, Bavarian State officials and local Oberammergau officials addressed the course on the manner in which a state fits into a federal system and how a small democratic community functions.

A mix of ranks and military and civilian officials was in the classroom, and each course member was flanked on either side by colleagues from the other two ethnic groups. Working groups and accommodation also was arranged in a similar fashion and an active social to build confidence and to promote personal reconciliation.

Into the New Millennium

NATO School Oberammergau

As part of a wider restructuring of the NATO Command Structure, NATO School (SHAPE) operational control was transferred from SHAPE in Belgium to the newly-formed Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in Norfolk, Virginia on 27 June 2003. In the same year, the Secretary- General of NATO, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, sent a note to the Commandant, congratulating the School of 50 years of Academic excellence.

NATO Military Body

In September 2004, NATO School Oberammergau (NSO) - as it was now known - was formally recognised a NATO Military Body under the Paris Protocols, 1956.

NATO Training Mission in Iraq

The new century brought a widening role for NATO School Oberammergau. After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, NATO acted on its unanimous political support for Iraq when SACEUR ordered Joint Force Command Naples to deploy a training and equipment needs assessment team on 30 July 2004. The mission was named the NATO Training Implementation Mission-Iraq (NTIM-I) and was composed of officers and non-commissioned officers from nine nations and four NATO commands, including specialists from the NATO Joint Warfare Centre in Norway and NATO School Oberammergau.

  • Based on the NTIM-I recommendations, NATO political authorities agreed to expand assistance, including establishment of an Alliance-supported, Iraqi-led formal military training institution in Iraq.
  • In November 2004, a strategic-level operations plan received political approval, codifying training and equipment support and the Military Committee issued an activation order on December 16, authorizing expansion in Iraq to 300 trainers and staff.
  • This changed from the Training Implementation Mission-Iraq to the NATO Training Mission-Iraq, which eventually ended successfully in December 2011.
  • NATO School Oberammergau was involved with NTM-I from the beginning and provided education on a wide variety of subjects including Defence against Terrorism, Peace Support Operations, Crisis Management, Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) and NATO Public Affairs Policy.
  • NATO School Oberammergau was one of several NATO institutions and Centres of Excellence throughout NATO member countries that offered education and training facilities to Iraqi students.
  • During the period 2004-2012, 1,530 places were provided to Iraqi Security Forces at NATO Educational and Training Facilities; the vast majority of them (81%) - 1245 - were at NATO School Oberammergau.

Into Russia

In 2002 the NATO-Russia Council was established to increase cooperation, and as part of a wider programme agreed in November 2003, a NATO-Russia Interoperability course was approved. In October 2004 a team from NATO School Oberammergau conducted a the first course at the General Staff Academy and the Combined Arms Academy in Moscow. The aim was to provide a large audience of Russian Federation officers from various education and training institutions with an overview of NATO including structures, functions, operations, NATO’s crisis management and NATO crisis response operations.

Although NATO-Russia cooperation reduced after the Russia invasion of Georgia in August 2008, in 2011 NATO School Oberammergau hosted a Training Team from the Russian All Arms Academy and also sent a Mobile Education and Training Team later in the year. In October 2011, NATO School Oberammergau also volunteered to host the NATO-Russia Council Nuclear Doctrine Seminar, where NATO and representatives from the US, France, Great Britain and Russia discussed nuclear doctrine and policy as part of wider confidence-building measures.


From a modest start in 1953, by 2012 NATO School Oberammergau had become the global leader in multinational individual education and training, with over 10,000 military and civilian personnel receiving training per year.

  • Between 1994 and the end of 2012, more than 130,000 students had passed through Oberammergau and from being initially limited to Alliance members, by 2012 students from 79 countries had attended courses at NATO School Oberammergau.
  • To accommodate the increase in student numbers, Buildings 615, 616, and 617 were taken over from the German MoD and converted into offices, lecture and seminar rooms, with the refurbishment programme finishing in 2011. Buildings 615 and 616 were completely refurbished, retaining many original features including the intricate external lattice work under the eaves and the massive wooden trusses which are a feature of the upper floors of the Command Group wing. Building 617 was completely rebuilt from 2009 onwards after much of the woodwork was found to be contaminated with DDT insecticide, probably from its use to disinfect displaced persons when much of the Kaserne was used as a United Nations Refugee Camp in 1945 - 1946.
  • The main auditorium in Building 615 was dedicated on 24 June 2005 to Dr Manfred Wörner (1934-1994). The auditorium, which can hold up to 240 persons, was named after Dr Wörner who had served as the Defence Minister of West Germany between 1982 and 1988 and then as the seventh Secretary-General of NATO, from 1988 to 1994. His term as Secretary General saw both the end of the Cold War and the German reunification.

Admiral James G. Stavridis USA-N SACEUR and Commander US European Command (EUCOM) visited the NATO School Oberammergau on 17 August 2011 to officially open the rebuilt Building 617. Funds of approximately 6.5 Million Euro were provided by the NATO Security Investment Programme. This building, rebuilt in the vernacular Bavarian style, provides additional and flexible lecture and seminar rooms as well as computer support facilities. At the opening, SACEUR stressed the importance of education and training institutions such as the NATO School Oberammergau, who prepare individuals for complex operations that the Alliance is conducting on behalf of the member nations.

Oberammergau as a Conference Venue

In addition to the NATO School Oberammergau's reputation of delivering high-quality training, the unique selling point is the stunning alpine location, nestled high up in the Ammergau Valley. The School has now become a popular destination for many defence and security related conferences.

The annual NATO Defence Planning Symposium, where NATO members agree on force levels and structures, has been held at Oberammergau since the mid-1970s. Representatives from Alliance Foreign and Defence Ministries gather in Oberammergau and hold three days of talks and lectures at the School. NATO School Oberammergau is also a popular venue for conferences held by US Commands, as well as the NATO Partnership Symposium, where NATO Partner countries meet to discuss mutual defence and security issues.

In November 2007, SACEUR, General John Craddock, USA-A, held his Senior Commanders' Conference at the School, with topics ranging from the latest development of the NATO Reaction Force, ISAF measures of effectiveness, SACEUR's strategic plan and strategic communications.

"We picked Oberammergau as the setting for the Senior Commanders Conference (SCC) to provide the leadership of Allied Command Operations (ACO) with more visibility into this exceptional NATO asset" (General John Craddock, USA-A, SACEUR)

New Security Challenges – New Training Opportunities

The security environment continues to change at a rapid rate and NATO is working to ensure that the Alliance is capable of meeting these emerging security challenges. Cyber attacks, the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and other emerging threats such as energy vulnerabilities are all matters of concerns to the security of NATO’s almost 900 million
citizens. NATO School Oberammergau continuously adapts its training and education programme to meet these challenges.

Non-Commissioned Officer Programme

The NATO senior military leadership identified the requirement for enhanced Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) development, as a principal force multiplier in the Alliance. Missions such as Afghanistan have shown that the operational environment has changed significantly and progressively NCOs have to face these challenges with increasing levels of responsibility and leadership. As a result there is a strong need to enhance the interoperability of NCOs working in international setting. By establishing a Non-Commissioned Officer Programmes Department in 2009, NATO School Oberammergau became the principal NCO training and education asset of the Alliance, focussing on enhanced interoperability among NCOs.


A significant output of the School is training personnel destined for operational service in Afghanistan. Since 2007, NATO School has run a variety of courses, from supporting Provincial Reconstruction Teams to delivering courses world-wide on the emergent 'insider threat', as part of the Expeditionary Intelligence Training Programme. Additionally, Mobile Education and Training Teams from Oberammergau have delivered operational-level planning to senior Afghan commanders in Kabul. Afghan National Security Force personnel attend courses at NATO School Oberammergau and although the ISAF combat mission will end in 2014, the training of Afghan forces is likely to continue for many more years.

Shari’a Law

Since 2010 the NATO School Oberammergau has run Shari’a Law and Military Operations Seminars in cooperation with the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Science, Syracuse, Italy. The week-long seminars are designed to cross the cultural divide and increase understanding of the legal constructs that are encountered in the Islamic world, and are attended by a wide cross-section of jurists, academics, legal practitioners and military personnel from across the world.


In October 2010 the School conducted the first Cyber Security-Network Vulnerability Assessment and Risk Mitigation Course, run in cooperation with the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Participants from 11 NATO nations attended this eight week course, consisting of a one-week residential opening segment at Oberammergau, a six week distance learning session from the students' home location, concluding with a resident block of one week at the NATO School Oberammergau.

Maritime Security and Counter-Piracy

In early 2012, an Anti-Piracy Workshop was conducted at NATO School Oberammergau to provide Commanders and Legal Advisors a broad knowledge of piracy issues, from the historical, legal, commercial and NATO perspectives. The workshop outlined the legal framework for anti-piracy operations and especially the legal issues related to detention, extradition and prosecution of suspected pirates. Lessons learned from past and current NATO anti-piracy operations as well as the future maritime security concept were presented by the speakers. Since then the School has worked with the US Naval Postgraduate School to develop a wider 8-week long maritime security course.

Political Recognition

On 2 December 2010 The United States Congressional House of Representatives officially recognised the achievements of the NATO School Oberammergau by approving House Resolution 527. This resolution acknowledged the School as NATO’s “premier operational-level education and training facility” and its accomplishments since being established in 1953. Resolution 527 also commended the School for “its critical support of NATO’s efforts to promote global peace, stability, and security”.