Diversity: A Double-Edged Sword for NATO

WASHINGTON (05/23/2000) - At the cradle of the Atlantic Alliance, a vast assortment of nationalities, languages, ethnic groups and religions come together to make Brussels seem a logical choice for the home of the world's foremost military alliance.

But for NATO's 19 member nations and the more than two dozen nations that belong to NATO's Partnership for Peace, that same diversity often wreaks havoc on a convoluted and sometimes irrational military information technology procurement process.

The political hurdles that face NATO military commanders are evident in the very name given to its command and control agency, according to a source, who spoke with me at one of Brussels' street-side cafes on the condition that he remain anonymous.

"In NATO, it's not command, control and communications, it's consultation, command and control," the source said, adding that even the best-laid technical plans for seamless communications can be laid to waste if NATO nations do not consent politically to decisions in a timely manner.

The problem, according to the source, involves NATO's politically charged committee system, where the political agendas of individual NATO nations can and do get in the way of real progress on the e-business front. In fact, large procurements often can take more than two years to complete, the source said.

Although a new e-procurement system is only about a year away, NATO officials have little insight into where the alliance's IT money goes.

So although NATO's growing diversity benefits European stability, it presents significant hurdles to the alliance's acquisition professionals who must contend with the bickering among NATO's cliques before they can get down to the business of delivering IT to soldiers in the field.

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