in: IMI/DFG-VK: Kein Frieden mit der NATO

Waging War from the Provinces

The headquarters of the German-Netherlands Corps

von: Michael Schulze von Glaßer | Veröffentlicht am: 9. Januar 2009


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The headquarters of the German-Netherlands Corps are based at Münster, making it an important cog in NATO’s policy of war.

Visitors to the Westphalian city of Münster will find a large white building with a black roof at Hindenburgplatz 71. In front of it are numerous poles, from which flutter the national flags of various states – the German and Dutch flags stand in the foreground alongside those of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. This unassuming building next door to the historic Residence of the city’s prince-bishops is the headquarters of the 1st German-Netherlands Corps[1] and, at the same time, an important command and control facility for NATO.

Chronology of a war command

The idea of a binational military formation was put forward in 1991. The ceremonial inauguration of the newly formed unit made up of the 1st German Corps and the 1st Netherlands Corps took place on 30 August 1995 in the presence of Helmut Kohl, the then German Federal Chancellor, and Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok.[2] From the beginning, the defence of NATO territory was the principle function of the 1st German-Netherlands Corps, which was incorporated into NATO’s Main Defence Forces just a short while later. In 1999, the unit was selected to become a NATO High Readiness Force Headquarters (HRF HQ). With the achievement of Full Operational Capability (FOC) in November 2002, the 1st (German-Netherlands) Corps became part of the NATO Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) and was therefore capable of being deployed for NATO military missions within 20-30 days. Starting in February 2003, the Münster-based Corps coordinated military operations in Afghanistan for six months as ISAF HQ. The next step came when the German and Dutch armies sought to have it made a Land Component Command Headquarters (LCC HQ) for the NATO Response Force (NRF). At the latest when this happened, territorial defence became a secondary concern and the unit based in Münster was restructured to manage offensive wars. To this end, the Corps was subordinated to the NATO Joint Forces Command in Naples (Italy) for one year from 2004. In January 2005, the Corps took on the role of NATO Response Force Land Component Command. Responsibility for leading NATO’s rapid response force is rotated every six months between six NATO bases. The Corps was designated NRF-4 – which indicated that this was the fourth time in its history that a new unit had taken command of the NATO rapid intervention force. The German-Netherlands Corps spent 2006 conducting a number of smaller military exercises. A further six exercise deployments were undertaken in 2007 as the Corps prepared to take command of the NATO Response Force once again, which it did in the first half of 2008 (NRF-10). On 2 July 2008, the Münster-based Corps handed over the function of NATO Response Force Command to France. Under the current cycle of rotation, the 1st (German-Netherlands) Corps should next take charge of the NATO Response Force in 2011. In January 2009, the commander of the Corps announced that 400 soldiers would be posted to Afghanistan for six months as of August in order to support the ISAF mission there. 170 Corps members will reinforce ISAF Headquarters in Kabul, which means the German-Netherlands Corps will once again be assuming a leading role in the Afghanistan War. Twelve nations now operate under the umbrella of the Münster-based Corps: Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Norway, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the USA.

Command and control centre for global wars

There are two units permanently subordinated to the 1st German-Netherlands Corps: the Staff Support Battalion in Münster and the Communications and Information Systems Battalion at the Dutch bases in Eibergen and Garderen. The Corps itself is therefore relatively small – although this is compensated for by the large number of NATO units placed under it while it is in command of the Response Force.

NRF-4’s manpower was approximately 8,500, including soldiers from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, France, Turkey, Denmark and Norway. In May and June 2005, the 1st (German-Netherlands) Corps demonstrated its ability to operate as part of the Response Force for the first time during NATO’s Exercise IRON SWORD: More than 6,000 soldiers and 2,500 vehicles provided by five nations were transported from Central Europe to a military training area in Norway.[3] The scenario involved a conflict between three fictive nations – criminal and terrorist groups in the fictive states were also simulated. The NATO troops were supposed to mount an invasion in order to impose peace. The main objective of the exercise was to practice the rapid movement of NATO armed forces. Despite two minor accidents on the more than 300-kilometre-long overland route to the training area north east of Oslo, the invasion scenario was implement to plan.

The NATO Response Force commanded for some of the time from Münster is designed to be deployable anywhere in the world within just five days.[4] According to its own information materials, in a genuine emergency the Münster-based headquarters could command up to 60,000 soldiers[5] – an enormous capacity.

Waging war from the provinces

Just a small section of the population has any idea that there have been times when ISAF’s military operations in the Hindu Kush were being controlled from Münster. The headquarters’ significance for NATO is also relatively unknown. The military behave peacefully as far as the (local) public are concerned – as, for example, when they planted new trees along the Promenade, a circular park around the centre of Münster that had previously been devastated by storm Kyrill.[6] The warriors from the provinces showed their true face during the simulated invasion undertaken during NATO’s Exercise IRON SWORD. The Alliance’s focus on offensive warfare was displayed under German-Dutch leadership. As a command facility for the NATO Response Force, the 1st (German-Netherlands) Corps in the Westphalian city of Münster is integrated into NATO’s strategy of global aggression – military operations can be launched all over the world from Münster within five days. Nevertheless, even just an exercise like IRON SWORD appears to have been incompatible with the German Basic Law.[7]

By building up NATO’s rapid response force, the military are, over the long term, also pushing for powers to be removed from parliaments and transferred to the North Atlantic Council[8] – today, operations can often be carried out before parliaments are able to deliberate and decide on them. The 1st (German-Netherlands) Corps is an important cog in NATO’s policy of war, but one of which the public is hardly aware.


[2] Fact sheet published by the 1 German-Netherlands Corps.
[4] Claudia Haydt, ‘IMI Standpunkt 2003/111: NATO Response Force – die ultimative Koalition der Willigen’,
[5] Brochure about Exercise IRON SWORD published by the 1 German-Netherlands Corps.
[7] Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany: ‘Article 26 [Securing international peace] (1): Acts tending to and undertaken with intent to disturb the peaceful relations between nations, especially to prepare for a war of aggression, shall be unconstitutional. They shall be made a criminal offence.’
[8] Representatives of all the NATO member states sit on the North Atlantic Council.