Knowledge Development vs. Intelligence in NATO

A Problematic Delineation and its Ramifications

By Lieutenant Colonel

By Lt Col



, GE


Joint Air Power Competence Centre (2014-2018)

 June 2016


For too long, NATO and its member nations perceived Military Intelligence as the staff discipline providing information and assessments exclusively about weather, terrain, and most importantly, ‘the enemy’. Typical defence planning and exercises during the Cold War decades restrained Intelligence staff organizations, procedures, leadership, and personnel to this very limited interpretation of what Intelligence should all be about. In 2010, US Army Lieutenant General (ret.) Michael T. Flynn tellingly stated how this residual paradigm was negatively impacting modern age operations such as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan: ‘Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the US intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.’1

While Coalition Forces in Afghanistan struggled with such deficiencies in their intelligence branch, the underlying problem in dealing with modern operations was not new to NATO. The emergence of new concepts such as the Effects-Based Approach to Operations (EBAO) as well as the Comprehensive Approach revealed the necessity of a more holistic understanding about the operational environment for both the military and its civilian partners. Contemporary Alliance operations require cooperation of the military with host nations, security organizations and agencies as well as International and Non-Governmental Organisations. These operations usually occur in operational environments in which adversary elements, networks and threats are complex, multidimensional, and difficult to detect or analyse.2 Furthermore, the complex nature of contemporary security environments presents a range of potential risks and threats to Alliance interests that cannot be resolved by military means alone. NATO’s Comprehensive Approach recognizes a holistic appreciation of the operational environment is necessary to deal effectively with such complex security problems and doing so will likely require the integrated use of political, economic and civil instruments in concert with military means.

Emergence of the Knowledge Development Concept in NATO

Therefore, for roughly twelve years, the NATO Command Structure (NCS) has been developing and partly implementing the concept of ‘Knowledge Development’ (KD), which is intended to support operational planning, execution, and assessment by providing a holistic view of the engagement space.

Originally, KD developed as a research field within the business sciences. While general Information Management (IM) or Knowledge Management (KM) were the main academic focus, particular research looked for better models of decision making in complex environments under uncertain conditions, i.e. with incomplete information. The central idea was to describe the environment in terms of a system (of systems) by analysing relevant relationships between identified actors as well as evaluating probable influence mechanisms between those system elements. This developed knowledge would then be used to identify suitable leverage points as well as appropriate measures or actions that could achieve desired outcomes.3

NATO started to further develop this scientific KD approach for military purposes during the Multinational Experimentation (MNE) series4, which included a Live Field Experiment on KD conducted at HQ KFOR in 2007.5 In 2010, the Alliance abandoned EBAO as a future doctrine, but decided to stay aligned with the Comprehensive Approach and continue developing the KD Concept.6 The two Strategic Commands (SCs) jointly developed an initial version and subsequently published multiple updates of the Bi-SC Pre-doctrinal KD Handbook (latest update in 2011)7, which is designed to assist NATO’s understanding and future integration of KD into its approach to operations. This formed the basis for a draft Military Committee policy document on KD (MC 0600)8 as well as Chapter 2 of the Comprehensive Operational Planning Directive (COPD)9.

In essence, these concepts and directives describe how KD shall support civil-military planning at the strategic and operational levels as well as providing commanders and their staff with a deeper situational understanding. According to the COPD, the KD process covers the acquisition, integration, analysis, and sharing of information and knowledge from relevant military and non-military sources. It includes analysis of the relationships and interactions between systems and actors taking into account the different Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure, and Information (PMESII) as well as environmental factors.10

Well-developed, capable IT solutions are currently available and applied within the NATO Command Structure (NCS) to facilitate KD, particularly the very sophisticated Systems Analysis Tool (SAT), which is part of the Tools for Operational Planning Functional Area Systems (TOPFAS) software suite. The SAT supports graphical depiction, analysis and ultimately simulation of complex relation and influence diagrams, allowing the user to identify Centres of Gravity, achievable effects, and methods for their measurement.

KD and Intelligence – Truly Different?

With regard to the above purpose and scope of KD, as described in applicable NATO policy and concepts, common sense may demand the question: Why would KD be a different function than Intelligence, rather than its necessary evolution, or add-on? The 2011 (Pre-doctrinal) KD Handbook attempts to answer the question by delineating KD and Intelligence. However it is based on two obsolete assumptions: First it postulates that ‘NATO and national intelligence activities are focused primarily on actual or potential adversaries within a specific country or region’. Second, it states ‘KD encompasses the deliberate use of non-military sources beyond the scope of military intelligence activities’.11 Conversely, the KD Handbook weakens its own argument by admitting ‘today’s Intelligence also addresses non-military sources and domains, and operational practice will demonstrate how the delineation between KD and Intelligence can be better defined’.12 This last statement discovers the major flaw incorporated in the concept: Restricting Intelligence to information about ‘red’ forces contradicts its own fundamental paradigm about complex environments, since it is required to observe the complete PMESII spectrum in order to understand the origin, nature, and probable further development of an adversary threat.

The KD Handbook assumption that Intelligence and KD should be separate also neglects that earlier versions of NATO Intelligence doctrine13 (published well before the development of the KD Concept) stated the relevance of non-military factors in the operational environment, and they did not exclude the use of external non-military sources. Updated Intelligence doctrine, meanwhile, omits any enemy-centric notion. Allied Joint Publication (AJP)-2, promulgated in September 2014, states ‘Intelligence develops knowledge about the environment and actors’14. It furthermore stresses ‘the complexity of modern operations produces a greater need for all-encompassing intelligence […] in order to enable comprehensive understanding about the environment’15 in an approach that ‘should be sufficiently inclusive, flexible and adaptive to accommodate a wide range of experts, both within and external to the formal NATO structure’16. In the same tone, the AJP-2 is permeated by the Comprehensive Approach methodology. Nonetheless, the doctrine still draws a line, stating that ‘KD is not an Intelligence function’ whilst admitting in the same sentence that ‘the Intelligence staffs make a significant contribution to KD’.17

Establishment of KD in the NATO Command Structure

At Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the Comprehensive Approach concept is established through the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre (CCOMC), of which the Crises Identification Group (CIG) is a subordinate staff element. The CIG consists of the two core elements Civil-Military Analysis (CMA) Branch and the J2 (Intelligence) Operations Branch, whose Chief is the CIG lead. The applicable Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Process (CCOMP) Handbook18 tasks the CIG to provide ‘fused intelligence and information’, not mentioning the term ‘KD’ at all in that regard. Having said this, it is important to note that while SHAPE has not established any formal KD organization, the KD methodology (development of fused intelligence) is inherently implemented and applied by the CIG staff, which includes both military and civil analysts.

Also the two NATO Joint Force Commands (JFCs), Brunssum and Naples, have no formal KD organization. After the NCS reorganization in 2012 – 13, KD related tasks were placed back under J2, where the J2 Intelligence & Knowledge Assessment & Production (IKAP) Branch leads comprehensive systems analysis in collaboration with other staff divisions. Moreover, a small J2 Knowledge Management (KM) Branch remained, perhaps as a residual element resulting from past ideas that interpreted KD as a centralized staff function with intrinsic KM responsibilities. The continued existence of this branch has led to problems fully integrating the KD and Intelligence functions within the JFCs.

KD / Intelligence Delineation – Ramifications at the JFCs

While the J2 IKAP Branch at the JFCs had been established as the core KD / Intelligence capability with the comprehensive mind-set communicated to all its analysts and Subject Matter Experts, the J2 still struggles to demarcate the roles of the J2 KM Branch as opposed to J2 Information Acquisition (IAQ) Branch, the latter being traditionally responsible for Intelligence Requirements Management (IRM) and Collection Management (CM). Falling back to the idea of KD / Intelligence delineation, an internal directive was issued in 2012 that J2 IAQ shall collect intelligence about ‘red’, i.e. the adversary only, while information acquisition about other factors would be a task for the J2 KM Branch. Respective parallel procedures to answer formal Requests for Information (RFIs) and fill information gaps were subsequently established in order to manifest this directive:

RFI management. This doctrinally well-established and accepted intelligence procedure has been split into categories such as ‘Red RFIs’ (about opponents or potential opponents) and ‘Green RFIs’ (about neutral, independent, international or other actors)19, which along that line are to be forwarded through different channels as opposed to the past.20 Many examples demonstrated the logic pitfall built into this procedure, often to the effect that the distinct addressees requested to answer the RFI denied responsibility for answering the identical RFI, since neither side would accept the single issues of requested information as clearly RED or GREEN by their nature.

Identify knowledge / information gaps (as opposed intelligence requirements). While the traditional IRM&CM functions at J2 IAQ are doctrinally robust and best suited to identify, validate, prioritize, and manage the satisfaction of intelligence requirements, the KM Branch is persistently occupied with defining ‘knowledge requirements’ or ‘gaps’ as well as developing a ‘Knowledge Acquisition Plan’ to include the conduct of its own Working Groups and Boards.

Although the additional procedures established by J2 KM appear to be practically accepted, the challenge remains as to how to utilize them with meaningful substance because of the all-too-blurry border between ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Intelligence’. In both cases, many opportunities to collect relevant information remain unexploited while analysts’ articulated information requirements remain unsatisfied. The overall impression is one of unnecessary redundancy of processes and complexity maintained for the sake of justifying the existence of two different Branches, while the overall coherence of CM regarding intelligence, information, and knowledge requirements is at stake.


Past deficiencies, failure and irrelevance of Intelligence to cope with contemporary operational environments have paved the way for KD as a promising new concept. Its emergence has indeed brought many fresh and valuable ideas to NATO that have helped improve the organization in this regard. The application of systems analysis, staff-wide internal expert collaboration as well as cooperation and information exchange with external non-military experts (based on a cultural shift in information sharing from the ‘need-to-know’ principle towards the ‘responsibility to share’ tenet) are among the most valuable components of the concept.

KD and Intelligence are today obviously more aligned than delineated. Although the few arguments for a segregation of the two functions persist as a resilient mantra, they are weak and nearly obsolete. An explicit delineation, as advocated in the KD Handbook, creates practical difficulties and risks, particularly with regard to information acquisition functions and processes. Rather than developing separate doctrine as well as establishing additional staff elements and processes, the better solution is a simple relief of Intelligence staffs from traditional dogmatic barriers that have kept them enemy-focussed and compartmentalized in exaggerated secrecy. This would allow them to rely on well-established, robust intelligence procedures while integrating the beneficial ideas that the KD concept has brought.

Maj Gen Michal T. Flynn et alias, ‘Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan’, Center for a New American Security, 4 Jan. 2010, available at
Bi-Strategic Command, 1400/SHIPB/004 / 2011-271740 ‘Knowledge Development (Pre-doctrinal Handbook)’, 9 Feb. 2011.
Allied Command Transformation, ‘Final Analysis Report: The German Knowledge Development (KD) Life Field Experiment (LFE) at HQ KFOR’, 17 Aug. 2007.
The Multinational Experiment (MNE) series is designed to develop and introduce new capabilities to enhance the coalition force’s operational effectiveness in joint, interagency, multinational, and coalition operations. Initiated by the United States Joint Forces Command in 2001, it has been, since then, joined and supported by many Alliance Nations.
Allied Command Transformation, ‘Final Analysis Report: The German Knowledge Development (KD) Life Field Experiment (LFE) at HQ KFOR’, 17 Aug. 2007.
NATO International Military Staff, MCM-0041-2010 ’MC Position on the Use of Effects in Operations’, 20 Jul. 2010.
Ibid. 2.
NATO International Military Staff, IMSWM-0228-2011(SD1) ‘2nd Draft Military Committee Policy on Knowledge Development (MC-0600)’, 18 Oct. 2011.
Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, ‘Allied Command Operations Comprehensive Operations Planning Directive (COPD) interim V2.0’, 4 Oct. 2013.
Ibid., Par. 2 – 5.a.
Ibid. 2, Par. 1 – 12 and 1 – 13.
Ibid. 2, Par. 1 – 14.
NATO, ‘AJP-2 Allied Joint Doctrine for Intelligence, Counter-Intelligence and Security’, Jul. 2003.
NATO, ‘AJP-2 Allied Joint Doctrine for Intelligence, Counter-Intelligence and Security (Edition A Version 1)’, Sep. 2014, Par. 3.2.2.a.
Ibid., Par. 2.2.3.
Ibid., Par. 2.5.2.
Ibid., Par. 2.4.3.
Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, ‘Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Process Handbook’, 14 Jul. 2015.
Not to mention the ‘Blue RFI’ about capabilities and situation of own forces or NATO Nations supporting the mission.
JTF HQ SOI 208.02 ‘RFI Management System’, Apr. 2014.
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Lieutenant Colonel
Joint Air Power Competence Centre (2014-2018)

Lieutenant Colonel MBA Martin Menzel began his military carrier in 1985, spending several years in the German Army Engineer branch, including positions as Company Commander and as Chief Instructor at the German Army NCO School. In 1999, he stepped over into the Military Intelligence branch. With a broad range of intelligence positions and functions held at Headquarters 1st German/Netherlands Corps, Joint Force Command Brunssum, SFOR, and ISAF, he became a highly experienced staff officer with regard to the conduct of military intelligence at the operational level in NATO or multinational staff environments. From May 2014 to September 2018, Lieutenant Colonel Menzel served as the JAPCC’s Subject Matter Expert for Research, Analysis and Intelligence Support, and he also was the Assistant Editor of this journal.

Information provided is current as of December 2018

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