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The Army Lawyer


Advising NATO



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(Credit: Headquarters 1 (Germany/Netherlands) Corps - 1GNC)

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Defender-Europe 20 is the largest military deployment to Europe in 25 years, military officials say. It is scheduled to run from April to July with operations occurring throughout parts of Germany, along with countries like Poland and the Baltic States that once were part of the Warsaw Pact. About 17,000 troops from 18 other NATO countries will take part in the U.S.-led division-level exercise.1

With the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Deputy Secretary General’s recent visit to Washington, D.C., Americans may have heard news of NATO’s 70th anniversary when Mr. Mircea Genoa gave a rousing talk at the Hudson Institute on “NATO’s relevance and effectiveness . . . amidst a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape.”2 As NATO celebrates this milestone, and as they perform legal functions in NATO, the Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps has members celebrating alongside our allies.

A truly broadening assignment, one with operational relevancy in the practice of national security law, the NATO Legal Advisor (LEGAD) is a little-known opportunity for judge advocates (JAs) to hone their skills in international and national security law. Since 2013 a terrifically helpful primer published in the Army Lawyer has served to guide JAs in filling these NATO LEGAD roles.3 The Personnel, Plans, and Training Office (PPTO) tends to fill the billets with a senior major or junior lieutenant colonel judge advocate. In close coordination with the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and the U.S. Army European (USAREUR) JA, that office routinely assesses which NATO units might most benefit from a U.S. Army attorney being assigned within that organization to work with international military lawyers on NATO missions.

Understanding what is in store for a JA assigned to a NATO billet is the key to success in this type of assignment. Educating yourself ahead of time about the organization, understanding key treaties and agreements, and having a strong grasp of NATO force structure, funding, and multinational operations doctrine will help JAs succeed as NATO LEGADs. That is not this article.4 Though this article highlights one specific NATO position, the 1st German Netherlands Corps (1GNC) LEGAD slot, there are several such assignments throughout Europe, all with varying duty descriptions. The importance of the JAG Corps continuing to fill these slots with excellent, competent, versatile officer-attorneys—even when it makes sense to move billets at times to other NATO-designated units, depending on what is going on in the world—cannot be understated. Besides serving as an ambassador for the U.S. Army JAG Corps (and, arguably, for the United States itself as JAs work alongside international partners), a JA’s breadth of learning from a NATO experience is incredibly helpful when contributing to academic discussions about the direction international law should take in any given national security law area, particularly when considering TJAG’s directive to flood the zone with strategic legal messaging.5

Who Has Been a LEGAD at 1GNC and What Exactly Is This Job?

Colonel Jeff Thurnher served as the first American NATO LEGAD at 1GNC in Muenster, Germany, from 2013-2015. The authors followed in his footsteps over the course of the next four years (LTC Kennedy, 2015-2017; LTC McDonald, 2017-2019), and LTC Don Potts is assigned there currently.

Though, as the name suggests, 1GNC started out as a bi-national corps headquarters element, 1GNC is now a corps-level headquarters staffed by members from 12 participating NATO and partner nations, primarily consisting of Dutch and German service members, but also including military members from the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Belgium, France, Turkey, and Greece.6 In cyclic fashion, the Headquarters serves either as a standby Corps Headquarters, Joint Task Force Headquarters, or NATO Rapid Deployment Force (also known as “NRF standby”) prepared to provide short- or no-notice mobilization within a designated theater of operations.

The mission of 1GNC is to “direct[] any mission of up to 60,000 troops at short notice—flexible forces including land, sea, and air elements ready to move quickly to wherever needed.”7 When not preparing for one of the three primary roles as assigned, 1GNC operates as a Professional Training Platform (PTP), designing and executing exercises for other NATO units, which serve to certify those units for certain assigned missions. The LEGAD will always have a key role in those exercises,8 which provide a wealth of operational experience for U.S. Army JAs lucky enough to be assigned to one of the NATO billets.

In addition to practicing heavily in international and national security law, the U.S. LEGAD is the primary legal representative for the Corps’s Initial Command Element (ICE) and functions largely as an operational planner throughout the assignment. Intimate involvement in the crisis response planning process (the NATO version of the military decision making process), rules of engagement cells, and joint targeting working groups enhance not only NATO’s (and thus U.S. partners’) understanding of U.S. policies and U.S. interpretation of law with respect to international treaties, agreements, and other laws, but also the JA’s own understanding of coalition partners’ interpretations of the same. Mission planning also involves real life negotiation of technical arrangements and memoranda of understanding and agreement; this ensures that the force can enter the exercise or mission area and sustain and protect those forces as well. Truly, the most rewarding aspect of a joint, multinational assignment is the challenge of reconciling how to complete a coalition’s mission while figuring out what laws do or do not apply, what caveats will come into play, and how to coalesce participating nations’ militaries to achieve a given goal.

Does the LEGAD Perform Other Duties?

Once assigned to 1GNC, immersion into the exercise schedule (and the planning of those exercises, which serve to certify nations for NATO or other national duties/unit roles in the future) is the first step. Beyond that, the U.S. LEGAD can become involved in other NATO activities,9 whether it is volunteering as a trainer/observer for exercises at the Joint Warfare Center (Norway) or Joint Forces Training Center (Poland), or teaching at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany with other partner nations. The Allied Command Transformation (ACT), headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, is in charge of training and educating NATO LEGADs. They assigned personnel at the Staff Element Europe (SEE) of ACT in Mons, Belgium, at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). They are also in charge of LEGAD instruction in Europe.

The initial course every new NATO LEGAD must attend is the week-long instruction by the same name: the NATO LEGAD Course at the NATO School10 in Oberammergau, Germany.11 Following that, it is possible to teach there as well.12 United States JAs are usually in the mix to be selected (by supervising LEGADs at ACT SEE) to teach if they express interest and have an area of expertise to share. Both authors of this article taught classes on the Law of Armed Conflict, NATO Operations, NATO Exercises, the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, as well as rules of engagement in several iterations of the NATO LEGAD Course (NATO School) and at the Swedish Armed Forces International Centre (SWEDINT, in Stockholm, Sweden, a NATO partner nation).

What Should I Do in My Free Time?

This is a difficult question (but not really): If you check out any Europe-assigned JA’s Instagram or Facebook account, you’ll be able to confirm that picturesque European cities, castles, and any other adventures that you may be interested in are never in short supply. The beautiful and historic city of Münster provides a lifetime of art, culture, and opportunity; essentially, by hopping in the car, riding on the train, or flying in a plane, you can be in a different country (usually within hours). Of course, your question was probably more along the lines of this: How do I contribute in a meaningful way to the JAG Corps while assigned as a NATO LEGAD? Staying in touch with traditional Offices of the Staff Judge Advocate (OSJAs) is imperative, so spending time fostering those relationships and participating in their professional development activities is essential.

You may also have time to write. Whether it’s a short, practical-application-focused piece in Operational Law Quarterly or academic-focused contributions to the Military Law Review, Army Lawyer, or NATO Legal Gazette, sharing your experiences and what you’ve learned is important. In writing what you (now) know, you solidify that knowledge in your own mind, and you serve a helpful role for your successors: teaching future JAs about a likely little-known area of law. Of course, you also increase both your versatility and, possibly, head in the direction of mastery of the area of law you write about. Working toward—even becoming—a recognized subject-matter expert in NATO legal functions and other national security law areas simply cannot be a bad thing. Inviting OSJA members to participate in NATO functions and exercises, as well as team-writing articles after such events, would also be a positive contribution to the military legal community.

(Credit: Public Affairs Office, 1GNC)

How Do I Apply?

This section header is—again, just as the “free time” header above—written a bit tongue-in-cheek. Your PPTO career coach can talk to you about NATO LEGAD assignments; these conversations are especially helpful in determining the timing of such a broadening assignment in your career. Because certain military threats still loom large and can seem to cast a shadow over Europe at times, the United States’ membership in NATO will likely continue far into the future (and, thus, the NATO LEGAD billets will likely be around for a while).13 You probably won’t get there in time for Defender-Europe 20,14 but you can certainly prepare for the next exercise. Before taking on a NATO LEGAD assignment, consider garnering as much operational experience as possible. It is likely to help you be prepared to serve in NATO—where that experience and knowledge will enhance partnerships with our allies, serve to engage the international legal community in a manner that advances positions consistent with U.S. policy, and forge professional relationships and personal friendships as a result of that service in a multinational coalition. TAL


LTC McDonald is currently assigned as the Staff Judge Advocate at the Presidio in Monterey, California.

LTC Kennedy is currently assigned as the Chair of the Administrative and Civil Law Department at TJAGLCS.


1. Mike Glenn, U.S., NATO allies prepare for massive military exercise as Russia watches, Wash. Post (Feb. 4, 2020), https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/feb/4/us-nato-allies-prepare-for-defender-europe-20-as-r/.

2. Hudson Institute, NATO and the New Decade: Assessing the Transatlantic Alliance, Hudson.org (describing the address by National Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Deputy Secretary General Mircea Genoa’s discussion at the Hudson Institute Headquarters in Washington, D.C., on February 7, 2020), https://www.hudson.org/events/1773-nato-and-the-new-decade-assessing-the-transatlantic-alliance22020.

3. Colonel Brian H. Brady, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization Legal Advisor: A Primer, Army Law. (Oct. 2013), https://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/10-2013.pdf. “United States judge advocates perform duty as [legal advisors (LEGADs)] and occupy key NATO crisis establishment posts, advising clients who execute NATO-led operations . . . . Additionally, judge advocates serve in NATO permanent establishment posts where they supervise other NATO legal personnel.” Id. at 4. See also Major Phillip C. Maxwell, Reflections on Multi-National Interoperability from the IHHL, Army Law., Iss. 2 (2019) (explaining the importance of training for judge advocates advising commanders in a multi-national mission, especially emphasizing courses offered at the Institute for Humanitarian Law in San Remo, Italy).

4. See id. Colonel Brady’s article truly is the gold standard and required reading for anyone working in, with, or around NATO to better understand a JA’s role as a LEGAD.

5. TJAG and DJAG Special Announcement 40-04, Announcement of Decisions on Strategic Initiatives, JAGCNet (20 Apr. 2018) (on file with JAGCnet); see also Memorandum from The Judge Advocate General, subject: Guidance for Strategic Legal Engagements (8 Sept. 2016) (on file with authors).

6. Introduction, 1GNC.org, http://www.1gnc.org/introduction (last visited Feb. 10, 2020).

7. Id. See also Headquarters, 1 (German/Netherlands) Corps – 1GNC, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/pg/1GNC.org/about/?ref=page_internal (last visited Feb. 10, 2020) (“1 (GE/NL) Corps is an interagency capable, multinational, rapidly deployable High Readiness Force Headquarters to deliver success on operations worldwide.”).

8. LTC Keirsten Kennedy, NATO Exercises and the LEGAD, NATO Legal Gazette, Iss. 37 (Oct. 2016), https://www.act.nato.int/images/stories/media/doclibrary/legal_gazette_37a.pdf (explaining the role of the NATO Legal Advisor (LEGAD) during exercises, both in the scenario as well as an operator/staff member working in the joint operations center area).

9. This includes the opportunity to participate in numerous non-mission-related events staged by member nations. For example, each country puts on celebrations for particular national holidays. Of note, the Dutch celebration in May for the King’s Birthday includes a ball of royal proportions, and is an event not to be missed. But if physical fitness is more your style, each year you will be given the opportunity to earn the Norwegian Marching Badge with the Norwegian contingent. See generally Headquarters, 1 (German/Netherlands) Corps – 1GNC, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/pg/1GNC.org/about/?ref=page_internal (last visited Feb. 10, 2020).

10. NATO School Oberammergau, NATOSchool.NATO.int (last visited Feb. 10, 2020) (“The NATO School Oberammergau (NSO) conducts education and training in support of current and developing NATO operations, strategy, policy, doctrine, and procedures.”).

11. Famous for its Passion Play (performed every ten years since the 17th century—in years ending in “0”), Oberammergau is minutes away from Linderhof, one of the many castles built by King Ludwig II and a few hours from Neuschwanstein Castle, also built by Ludwig II, and sometimes called the Disney Castle. Things to Do in Oberammergau, Tripadvisor, https://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g187301-Oberammergau_Upper_Bavaria_Bavaria-Vacations.html?fid=546bdde6-ef58-474a-b963-79e5f8237478 (last visited Feb. 10, 2020).

12. There are also a large number of teaching opportunities connected to 1GNC’s Professional Training Platform (PTP) role. As exercises approach, the PTP model includes “Corps Academics” where the U.S. LEGAD is called upon to provide classes on the Law of Armed Conflict, Rules of Engagement, National Caveats, Article 5 versus Non-Article 5 conflicts, and theater- and mission-specific issues.

13. See Section 1241 “Sense of Congress on Support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization” of the FY 20 NDAA, which includes the declaration that “the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is critical to achieving United States national security interests and defense objectives around the world” and as such “the United States must remain ironclad in its commitment to uphold its obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty, including Article 5 of such Treaty.” Nat’l Def. Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, Pub. L. No. 116-92, Stat. 1790 (2019), https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/1790.

14. Or for the Passion Play 2020 in Oberammergau, Germany. PassionPlayOberammergau.com, https://www.passionplayoberammergau.com/?source=google&nlp=f&cn=tours&ag=oberammergau&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI5pDK06LI5wIVzJyzCh3Rxg7zEAAYASAAEgLhHvD_BwE (last visited Feb. 10, 2020) (noting the nearly 400-year-old Passion Play runs from May 16 to October 4, 2020, for this decade).