NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Countering Terrorism

Terrorism poses a real and serious threat to the security and safety of the Alliance and its members. It is a global threat that knows no border, nationality or religion – a challenge that the international community must tackle together. NATO’s work on counter-terrorism focuses on improved threat awareness and preparedness, developing adequate capabilities and enhancing engagement with partner countries and other international actors.

Since the terrorist attacks on the United States of 11 September 2001, NATO has been actively engaged in the fight against terrorism. In response to those attacks, NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the Alliance’s collective defence clause, for the first time in its history.

The multifaceted nature of terrorism is such that NATO has engaged in a number of initiatives – political, operational, conceptual, military, technological and scientific – to address this issue. The creation of the Emerging Security Challenges Division within NATO Headquarters in August 2010 reflected NATO’s intent to deal with a growing range of non-traditional risks and challenges, including terrorism, in a cross-cutting manner. Enhancement of the intelligence process at NATO Headquarters in the same year led to the creation of the NATO Intelligence Liaison Unit (ILU), which has resulted in an improved flow of terrorism analysis to the North Atlantic Council. NATO has since agreed on new policy guidelines on counter-terrorism, which were endorsed at the Chicago Summit in May 2012.

The Alliance contributes to the international community’s fight against terrorism in several ways. First, NATO is a permanent transatlantic consultation forum, capable of transforming discussions into collective decisions and action. Second, NATO has at its disposal unique military and civilian capabilities that can contribute to fighting terrorism or managing the consequences of an attack. Third, NATO cooperates as part of a very large network of partnerships involving other states and international organisations.

  • NATO's joint efforts

    NATO conducts a number of operations that support the fight against terrorism. The Alliance can also provide assistance in securing major public events and in managing the consequences of attacks.


    Operation Active Endeavour (OAE) is a maritime surveillance operation led by NATO’s naval forces to detect, deter and protect against terrorist activity in the Mediterranean through monitoring, patrolling, escorting and compliant boarding. Launched in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks, it is currently NATO’s only counter-terrorism operation. Over the years, OAE has transitioned from a platform-based to a network-based operation, using a combination of on-call units and surge operations instead of deployed forces, and cooperation with non-NATO countries and international organisations to improve maritime situational awareness.

    The NATO-led operation in Afghanistan, while not a counter-terrorism operation as such,  is helping to prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a safe haven for international terrorism by assisting the government of Afghanistan in expanding its authority and implementing security. 

    Securing major public events

    NATO can provide assistance in promoting the security of major public events that might attract the interest of terrorists, at the request of the government concerned. It can deploy capabilities such as the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft or elements of the multinational Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defence Battalion. The Alliance has assisted high-visibility events such as NATO Summits and ministerial meetings, as well as sporting events like the Athens Olympic Games and the European Football Championship held in Poland and Ukraine in 2012.

    Managing the consequences of terrorist attacks

    Consequence management involves reactive measures to mitigate the destructive effects of terrorist attacks, incidents and natural disasters. Activities in this area, along with the protection of populations and critical infrastructure, are primarily a national responsibility. However, NATO supports countries in several ways, notably by serving as a forum where response-planning can be coordinated among countries, therefore improving crisis preparedness.

    Protecting populations and infrastructure

    A Civil Emergency Planning Action Plan for the protection of populations against the effects of weapons of mass destruction was adopted at the Prague Summit in 2002. Aimed at improving preparedness and interoperability between countries, this led to the development of non-binding guidelines and minimum standards for first responders regarding planning, training, procedures and equipment for incidents involving CBRN agents. Treatment protocols for casualties following a CBRN attack have been drawn up and, more generally, coordination mechanisms for medical evacuation capabilities and for transporting victims to facilities in other countries have been defined. Providing timely information to the public is also a key component of consequence management, so NATO has developed guidelines for use by countries in this field to ensure that coordinated warnings are given.

    The role of the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre

    Under the auspices of the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC), Allies have established an inventory of national civil and military capabilities that could be made available to assist stricken countries – both member and partner countries – following a CBRN terrorist attack. Originally created in 1998 to coordinate responses to natural and man-made disasters, the EADRCC has since 2001 been given an additional coordinating role for responses to potential terrorist acts involving CBRN agents. The Centre has a standing mandate to respond to a national request for assistance in the event of a terrorist attack using CBRN agents. It organises major international field exercises to practise responses to simulated disaster situations and consequence management.

    NATO Crisis Management System

    The NATO Crisis Management System provides a structured array of pre-identified political, military and civilian measures to be implemented by individual states and NATO in response to various crisis scenarios. This system provides the Alliance with a comprehensive set of options and measures to manage and respond to crises appropriately. Specific Civil Emergency Planning Crisis Management Arrangements define the roles of the Civil Emergency Planning Committee, the Planning Groups, the EADRCC and the use of civil experts during times of crisis.

    Network of civil experts

    To support NATO’s work, a network of 380 civil experts located across the Euro-Atlantic area has been built based on specific areas of expertise frequently required. Their expertise covers all civil aspects relevant to NATO planning and operations, including crisis management, consequence management and critical infrastructure protection. Drawn from government and industry, experts participate in training and exercises, and respond to requests for assistance.

  • NATO's capabilities

    NATO supports the development of capabilities and innovative technology that specifically address the threat of terrorism. The aim is to protect troops, civilians and critical infrastructure against attacks perpetrated by terrorists, such as suicide attacks with improvised explosive devices, rocket attacks against aircraft and helicopters and the potential use of weapons of mass destruction.

    The Defence Against Terrorism Programme of Work

    The Defence Against Terrorism Programme of Work (DAT POW), which was developed by the Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) in 2004, is an important part of measures taken to strengthen the Alliance’s fight against terrorism. The DAT POW has primarily focused on technological solutions to mitigate the effects of terrorist attacks. Most projects launched under the programme are focused on finding solutions that can be fielded in the short term. Individual NATO countries lead the projects with support and contributions from other member countries (and partner nations in some cases), NATO bodies and other stakeholders. The DAT POW uses new or adapted technologies or methods to detect, disrupt and defeat asymmetric threats under three capability umbrellas: incident management, force protection/survivability, and network engagement.

    Countering chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats

    The spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their means of delivery and the possibility that terrorists will acquire them are acknowledged as principal threats to the Alliance. Therefore, NATO places a high priority on preventing the proliferation of WMD and defending against CBRN threats and hazards. The 2009 Comprehensive, Strategic-Level Policy for Preventing the Proliferation of WMD and Defending against CBRN threats states that NATO will work actively to prevent the proliferation of WMD by state and non-state actors. The Alliance is determined to ensure that NATO has the full range of capabilities necessary to deter and defend against any threat to the safety and security of Allied populations, including the threat posed by CBRN weapons.

    Launched at the Prague Summit in 2002, the NATO multinational CBRN Defence Task Force (which consists of a CBRN Defence Battalion and a CBRN Joint Assessment Team) is designed to respond to and manage the consequences of the use of CBRN agents both within and beyond NATO’s area of responsibility. In addition, efforts are underway to identify capabilities to detect which chemical and biological agents have been used in an attack and to provide appropriate warning. NATO-certified Centres of Excellence on Joint CBRN Defence (in the Czech Republic) and on Defence against Terrorism (in Turkey) further enhance NATO’s capabilities to counter CBRN threats.

    Cyber defence

    Cyber attacks continue to pose a real threat to NATO and cyber defence will continue to be a core capability of the Alliance. The growing sophistication of cyber attacks makes the protection of the Alliance’s information and communications systems an urgent task for NATO, and one on which its security now depends. In 2011, NATO Defence Ministers approved a revised NATO Policy on Cyber Defence, which sets out a clear vision for efforts in cyber defence throughout the Alliance, and an associated Action Plan for its implementation. A NATO Computer Incident Response Capability (NCIRC), is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2013. A Cyber Threat Awareness Cell is also being set up to enhance intelligence-sharing and situational awareness. The establishment of the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA) in July 2012 has improved the Alliance’s cyber defences by bringing all NATO networks under centralised protection.

    Improved intelligence-sharing

    Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, NATO has sought to increase consultations on terrorism and terrorism-related issues among its members, as well as with non-member countries. Information-sharing and, more specifically, intelligence-sharing are key aspects of this exchange. Over the years, various steps have been taken to improve intelligence-sharing mechanisms and structures, based on decisions taken at the 2002 Prague Summit and the 2004 Istanbul Summit and, most recently, with the reform of intelligence structures in 2010-2011.

    Today, work in this area is being taken forward by an intelligence liaison cell at Allied Command Operations in Mons, Belgium, and an Intelligence Liaison Unit (ILU) at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. Analysis of intelligence at NATO Headquarters—including of terrorist issues—was enhanced in 2010 with the creation of the Intelligence Unit, which benefits from the increased sharing of intelligence between member services and the Alliance.  Via the Intelligence Unit, analytical approaches on terrorism and its links with other transnational threats have been enhanced, as has cooperation among the NATO civilian and military intelligence components, and intelligence-sharing with partners.

  • Strengthening cooperation with non-member countries

    The threat of terrorism does not affect NATO alone. As a result, the fight against terrorism has become an important element of NATO’s cooperation activities with partners around the world. The contributions by a number of partners to NATO’s operations, as well as their efforts to introduce defence reforms supported by NATO programmes, strengthen efforts to counter terrorism.

    The Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism (PAP-T), which was adopted at the Prague Summit in November 2002 following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, provides a framework for practical cooperation between NATO and partner countries. The Action Plan defines partnership roles as well as instruments to fight terrorism and manage its consequences. For instance, NATO and partner countries work together to improve the safety of air space, including through the exchange of data and coordination procedures related to the handling of possible terrorist threats. Originally developed under the auspices of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the PAP-T has since been opened to participation of all partner countries.

    Combating terrorism was among the main drivers behind the creation of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) in May 2002 and remains a key aspect of NATO’s dialogue and practical cooperation with Russia. An NRC Action Plan on Terrorism agreed in December 2004 and updated in April 2011, sets out areas of cooperation. It aims to enhance capabilities to act, individually and jointly, in three critical areas: preventing terrorism, combating terrorist activities and managing the consequences of terrorist acts (for more information, see NATO-Russia Action Plan on Terrorism). The NRC also launched the Cooperative Airspace Initiative (CAI) in 2003 to foster cooperation on airspace surveillance and air traffic coordination, with the underlying goal to enhance confidence-building and to strengthen capabilities required for the handling of situations in which aircraft are suspected of being used as weapons to perpetrate terrorist attacks. The CAI system became operational in 2011. Russia has also participated in Operation Active Endeavour in 2006 and 2007.

    Dialogue and cooperation in the field of counter-terrorism is also a priority in relations with many of NATO’s partners in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as with other partners across the globe.

  • Strengthening cooperation with other organisations

    NATO is cooperating with other international organisations – in particular the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – to ensure that information is shared and appropriate action can be taken more effectively in the fight against terrorism. The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, international conventions and protocols against terrorism, together with relevant UN resolutions provide a common framework for efforts to combat terrorism.

    In cooperating with the United Nations on counter-terrorism, NATO works closely with the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate as well as with the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and many of its relevant component organisations.  On broader issues NATO works closely with the UN agencies that play a leading role in responding to international disasters and in consequence management, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN 1540 Committee.

    NATO has also established close relations with the OSCE’s Transnational Threats Department’s Action against Terrorism Unit.

    The use of civilian aircraft as a weapon on 11 September 2001 led to efforts to enhance aviation security. NATO’s efforts in this field include improving civil-military coordination of air traffic control by working with EUROCONTROL, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the US Federal Aviation Authority, major national aviation and security authorities, airlines and pilot associations and the International Air Transport Association, so that information is shared and action taken more effectively.

  • Improving training, education and cooperation through science

    NATO offers a range of training and education opportunities in the field of counter-terrorism to both Allies and partner countries. It can draw on a wide network that includes the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany, the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy and the Centres of Excellence (COEs) that support the NATO command structure. Currently, there are 18 COEs fully accredited by NATO. Several of the COEs have a link to the fight against terrorism, in particular the Centre of Excellence for Defence Against Terrorism (COE-DAT) in Ankara, Turkey. The COE-DAT has served as both a location and a catalyst for international dialogue and discussion regarding defence against terrorism issues. It has established links with over 50 countries and 40 organisations to provide subject matter expertise on terrorism.

    Counter-terrorism is also an important priority of the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme, which is a longstanding platform for enhancing cooperation and dialogue with partners based on civil science and innovation. The SPS Programme has been successful in bringing together scientists and experts from NATO and partner countries in the field of counter-terrorism, thereby contributing to a better understanding of threats, the development of detection and response measures, as well as fostering an effective network of experts. Activities include workshops, training courses and multi-year research and development projects. The principal themes under the SPS programme for activities in the area of counter-terrorism include: exploring methods for the protection of critical infrastructure, supplies and personnel; human factors in defence against terrorism; detection technologies against the terrorist threat from explosive devices and illicit activities; and risk management, best practices, and technologies in response to terrorism.

  • Milestones in NATO’s work on counter-terrorism


    The Alliance's 1999 Strategic Concept identifies terrorism as one of the risks affecting NATO’s security.

    11 September 2001

    Four coordinated terrorist attacks are launched by the terrorist group al-Qaeda upon targets in the United States.

    12 September 2001

    Less than 24 hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks – NATO Allies and partner countries, in a meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, condemn the attacks, offering their support to the United States and pledging to “undertake all efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism”. Later that day, the Allies decide to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the Alliance’s collective defence clause for the first time in NATO's history, if it is determined that the attack had been directed from abroad against the United States.

    13-14 September 2001

    Declarations of solidarity and support are given by Russia and Ukraine.

    2 October 2001

    The North Atlantic Council is briefed by a high-level US official on the results of investigations into the 9/11 attacks -- the Council determines that the attacks would be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

    4 October 2001

    NATO agrees on eight measures to support the United States:

    • to enhance intelligence-sharing and cooperation, both bilaterally and in appropriate NATO bodies, relating to the threats posed by terrorism and the actions to be taken against it;
    • to provide, individually or collectively, as appropriate and according to their capabilities, assistance to Allies and other states which are or may be subject to increased terrorist threats as a result of their support for the campaign against terrorism;
    • to take necessary measures to provide increased security for facilities of the United States and other Allies on their territory;
    • to backfill selected Allied assets in NATO’s area of responsibility that are required to directly support operations against terrorism;
    • to provide blanket overflight clearances for the United States and other Allies’ aircraft, in accordance with the necessary air traffic arrangements and national procedures, for military flights related to operations against terrorism;
    • to provide access for the United States and other Allies to ports and airfields on the territory of NATO nations for operations against terrorism, including for refuelling, in accordance with national procedures;
    • that the Alliance is ready to deploy elements of its Standing Naval Forces to the Eastern Mediterranean in order to provide a NATO presence and demonstrate resolve; 
    • that the Alliance is similarly ready to deploy elements of its NATO Airborne Early Warning Force to support operations against terrorism.

    Mid-October 2001

    NATO launches its first-ever operation against terrorism – Operation Eagle Assist: at the request of the United States, seven NATO AWACS radar aircraft are sent to help patrol the skies over the United States (the operation runs through to mid-May 2002 during which time 830 crewmembers from 13 NATO countries fly over 360 sorties). It is the first time that NATO military assets have been deployed in support of an Article 5 operation.

    26 October 2001

    NATO launches its second counter-terrorism operation in response to the attacks on the United States, Operation Active Endeavour: elements of NATO's Standing Naval Forces are sent to patrol the eastern Mediterranean and monitor shipping to detect and deter terrorist activity, including illegal trafficking.

    May 2002

    At their Reykjavik meeting, NATO Foreign Ministers decide that the Alliance would operate when and where necessary to fight terrorism. This landmark declaration effectively ends the debate on what constituted NATO’s area of operations and paves the way for the Alliance’s future engagement with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

    November 2002

    At the Prague Summit, NATO Heads of State and Government express their determination to deter, defend and protect their populations, territory and forces from any armed attack from abroad, including by terrorists. To this end, they adopt a Prague package, aimed at adapting NATO to the challenge of terrorism. It comprises:

    • a Military Concept for Defence against Terrorism;
    • a Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism (PAP-T);
    • five nuclear, biological and chemical defence initiatives;
    • protection of civilian populations, including a Civil Emergency Planning Action Plan;
    • missile defence: Allies are examining options for addressing the increasing missile threat to Alliance populations, territory and forces in an effective and efficient way through an appropriate mix of political and defence efforts, along with deterrence;
    • cyber defence;
    • cooperation with other international organisations; and
    • improved intelligence-sharing.

    In addition, they decide to create the NATO Response Force, streamline the military command structure and launch the Prague Capabilities Commitment to better prepare NATO’s military forces to face new challenges, including terrorism.

    10 March 2003

    Operation Active Endeavour is expanded to include escorting civilian shipping through the Strait of Gibraltar.

    March 2004

    As a result of the success of Active Endeavour in the Eastern Mediterranean, NATO extends its remit to the whole of the Mediterranean.

    November 2006

    At the Riga Summit, NATO Heads of State and Government recognise that “terrorism, increasingly global in scope and lethal in results, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction are likely to be the principal threats to the Alliance over the next 10 to 15 years”.


    NATO’s Strategic Concept, adopted at the Lisbon Summit in November 2010, recognises that terrorism poses a direct threat to the security of the citizens of NATO countries, and to international stability and prosperity more broadly. It commits Allies to enhance the capacity to detect and defend against international terrorism, including through enhanced threat analysis, more consultations with NATO’s partners, and the development of appropriate military capabilities.

    May 2012

    At the Chicago Summit, NATO Heads of State and Government endorse new policy guidelines for Alliance work on counter-terrorism, which focus on improved threat awareness, adequate capabilities and enhanced engagement with partner countries and other international actors.

Last updated: 29-Oct-2013 14:59