The origins of SHAPE date back to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), which was organized by Eisenhower and began as a combined staff between the United States and Britain during the Allied liberation of Europe (1944–1945). Two keys issues, however, pointed toward a smaller, integrated headquarters that would be the genesis of SHAPE. SHAEF's American and British planners had often worked on divergent paths and were not always efficient. Second, Americans lacked understanding of the British conference system. Consequently, American officers often did not fully comprehend the ramifications of these meetings and wasted time and effort attempting to rectify misperceptions. Those studying these problems concluded that a supreme allied headquarters should employ one integrated staff cognizant of the need to avoid affronts to national pride.
The March 1948 Brussels Pact was crucial to the formation of SHAPE. This pact included a common defense arrangement among Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain. The Western European Union was the mechanism for planning its military operations. Following the creation of NATO on 4 April 1949, the Western European Union headquarters, or the military headquarters of those European nations that would become part of NATO and were already allied, became the basis for SHAPE.
The integrated, multinational nature of SHAPE is evident in its first senior leaders: Eisenhower as SACEUR, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery as deputy SACEUR, and British Air Chief Marshal Hugh Saunders as the air deputy to SACEUR.
SHAPE presided over NATO's Cold War collective defense against the Warsaw Pact and had to be ready to produce the strategies that would act as a deterrent and defend NATO's constituent nations. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, SHAPE continued its service by controlling such NATO operations as those in Bosnia (1995–present) and in Kosovo (1999–present). Thus, SHAPE's mission has changed from collective defense to cooperative security.
Jonathan P. Klug
Kay, Sean, Victor Papacosma, and Mark R. Rubin, eds. NATO: After Fifty Years. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2001.; Knowlton, William A. "Early Stages in the Organization of 'SHAPE.'" International Organization, 13(1) (Winter 1959): 1–18.; Wood, Robert J. "The First Year of SHAPE." International Organization 6(2) (May 1952): 175–191.