NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

The NATO Defence Planning Process

b060623al 15-28 June 2006 NATO Response Force (NRF) Exercise “Steadfast Jaguar” in the Cape Verde Islands - Amphibious landing operation

Defence planning in the Alliance is a crucial tool which enables member countries to benefit from the political, military and resource advantages of working together. Within the defence planning process, Allies contribute to enhancing security and stability, and share the burden of developing and delivering the necessary forces and capabilities needed to achieve the Organization’s objectives. The defence planning process prevents the renationalisation of defence policies, while at the same time recognizing national sovereignty.

The aim of NATO defence planning is to provide a framework within which national and Alliance defence planning activities can be harmonized to meet agreed targets in the most effective way. It aims to facilitate the timely identification, development and delivery of the necessary range of forces - forces that are interoperable and adequately prepared, equipped, trained and supported - as well as the associated military and non-military capabilities to undertake the Alliance’s full spectrum of missions.

The NDPP has a coherent and comprehensive defence planning process. It applies a specific approach and mechanism through which NATO is bringing its civilian and military side, including the Strategic Commands, closer together by engaging them in a common, functionally integrated approach to the issue of defence planning alongside national planners. Work is done in a functionally integrated manner while at the same time ensuring that products are fully coordinated, coherent, persuasive, clear, result-oriented and delivered on a timely basis.

Defence planning encompasses several planning domains: force, resource, armaments, logistics, nuclear, C3 (consultation, command and control), civil emergency planning, air defence, air traffic management, standardization, intelligence, medical support and research and technology. The NDPP has introduced a new approach to defence planning and operates within the new NATO committee structure. The Defence Policy and Planning Committee (DPPC) is the central body that oversees the work of NATO bodies and committees responsible for the planning domains.

  • The NATO Defence Planning Process – NDPP

    The NDPP consists of five steps. Although the process is sequential and cyclical in nature (four year cycle with bi-annual elements), some elements occur at different frequencies and Step 4 is a continuous activity.

    Step 1 - Establish political guidance

    The intent is to develop a single, unified political guidance for defence planning which sets out the overall aims and objectives to be met by the Alliance. It translates guidance from higher strategic policy documents (i.e., the Strategic Concept and subsequent political guidance) in sufficient detail to direct the defence planning efforts of the various planning domains, both in member countries and in NATO, towards the determination of the required capabilities. This will obviate the requirement for other political guidance documents for defence planning.

    Political guidance should reflect the political, military, economic, legal, civil and technological factors which could impact on the development of the required capabilities. It will, inter alia, aim at defining the number, scale and nature of the operations the Alliance should be able to conduct in the future (commonly referred to as NATO’s Level of Ambition). It will also define the requisite qualitative capability requirements to support this overall ambition. By doing so, it will steer the capability development efforts of Allies and within NATO. Furthermore, it will clearly define associated priorities and timelines, as appropriate, for use by the various planning domains.

    Any political guidance needs to be written against the background that the majority of capabilities sought by the Alliance are and will be provided by individual member countries.

    Political guidance will be reviewed at least every four years.

    Step 2 - Determine requirements

    There is one single consolidated list of Minimum Capability Requirements, including eventual shortfalls. These requirements are identified by the Defence Planning Staff Team, with the Strategic Commands, notably Allied Command Transformation in the lead. The team take into account all NDPP-related guidance and ensure that all requirements considered necessary to meet quantitative and qualitative ambitions set out in the political guidance are covered. The process is structured, comprehensive, transparent and traceable and uses analytical supporting tools coupled with relevant NATO expert analysis.

    Planning domains are fully engaged throughout the analysis, assisting the Strategic Commands in providing a sound framework for further work which, ultimately, needs to be usable by each planning domain.

    Strategic Commands must be transparent, while ensuring that political considerations do not prematurely qualify the process during which requirements are identified. This is achieved by seeking expert advice and feedback from member countries, inviting the latter to observe key milestones and decision points, together with regular briefings to Allies.

    Step 3 - Apportion requirements and set targets

    Target setting initially apportions the overall set of Minimum Capability Requirements to individual countries and NATO entities in the form of target packages, respecting the principles of fair burden-sharing and reasonable challenge.

    Initially led by the Strategic Commands, the Defence Planning Staff Team will develop targets for existing and planned capabilities against the Minimum Capability Requirements and cover them in the draft target packages, together with their associated priorities and timelines. Targets should be expressed in capability terms and be flexible enough to allow national, multinational as well as collective implementation.

    Each individual Ally has the opportunity to seek clarification on the content of targets and present its national views on their acceptance during a meeting between the relevant national authorities and representatives from the Defence Planning Staff Team. Subsequently, the Defence Planning Staff Team will consider the member country’s perspective and priorities with the aim of refining the NATO target packages and providing advice on what constitutes a reasonable challenge.

    Following discussions with member countries, leadership of the Defence Planning Staff Team will transition from the Strategic Commands to the International Staff. At this point, the Defence Planning Staff Team will continue to refine and tailor individual draft target packages in line with the principle of reasonable challenge. To ensure transparency and promote Alliance cohesion, packages will be forwarded to Allies with a recommendation of which targets should be retained or removed to respect this principle. Allies will review these packages during a series of multilateral examinations.

    Agreed packages are accompanied by a summary report, which is prepared by the Defence Policy and Planning Committee (Reinforced), on the targets as a whole. This will subsequently be forwarded to permanent representatives for submission to defence ministers for adoption. The summary will include an assessment of the potential risk and possible impact caused by the removal of planning targets from packages on the delivery of the Alliance’s Level of Ambition.

    Step 4 - Facilitate Implementation

    This step assists national efforts and facilitates multinational and collective efforts to satisfy agreed targets and priorities in a coherent and timely manner.

    The aim is to focus on addressing the most important capability shortfalls. This is done by encouraging national implementation, facilitating and supporting multinational implementation and proceeding with the collective (multinational, joint or common-funded) acquisition of the capabilities required by the Alliance. This step also facilitates national implementation of standardization products (STANAGs/Allied Publications) developed to improve interoperability.

    The detailed work needed to develop and implement a capability improvement or action plan is carried out by multidisciplinary task forces. These task forces are composed of representatives from all stakeholders, under the lead of a dedicated entity. Each task force is supported by a “Capability Monitor” who keep themselves abreast of progress in the implementation phase and report to all relevant bodies and committees, providing feedback and additional guidance to the task force leader.

    Unlike other steps in the process, this step – or function - is continuous in nature.

    Step 5 - Review results

    This step seeks to examine the degree to which NATO’s political objectives, ambitions and associated targets have been met and to offer feedback and direction for the next cycle of the defence planning process.

    The Defence Planning Capability Review (DPCR) scrutinises and assesses Allies’ defence and financial plans as well as collective efforts so as to provide an overall assessment of the degree to which the combined Alliance forces and capabilities are able to meet the political guidance, including the NATO Level of Ambition. The DPCR provides a key mechanism for generating feedback and input for the next cycle. Capability reviews will be carried out every two years.

    The review process begins with the development of the Defence Planning Capability Survey. It seeks data on national plans and policies, including Allies’ efforts (national, multinational and collective) to address their planning targets. It also seeks information on the national inventory of military forces and associated capabilities, any relevant non-military capabilities potentially available for Alliance operations and national financial plans.

    The Defence Planning Staff Team conduct a preliminary analysis and produces draft assessments for each Ally. These assessments constitute a comprehensive analysis of national plans and capabilities, including on force structures, specific circumstances and priorities. The assessments also include a statement by the Strategic Commands regarding the impact each country’s plans have on the ability of Allied Command Operations to conduct missions. They may also include recommendations including, as appropriate, on the redirection of resources from surplus areas to the identified Alliance deficiencies areas.

    Once a draft assessment has been developed, it will be circulated to the country concerned for discussion between the national authorities and the Defence Planning Staff Team to ensure information in the draft assessment is correct. The draft assessments are then revised accordingly and submitted to the Defence Policy and Planning Committee (Reinforced) for review and approval during a series of multilateral examinations. During these examinations, the working practice of consensus-minus-one will be continued.

    In parallel with the examination of country assessments, the Military Committee, based on the Strategic Commands’ Suitability and Risk Assessment, will develop a risk assessment on the military suitability of the plans and the degree of military risk associated with them in relation to political guidance for defence planning, including the Level of Ambition.

    On the basis of the individual country assessments and Military Committee Suitability and Risk Assessment, the Defence Policy and Planning Committee (Reinforced) prepares a NATO Capabilities Report, highlighting individual and collective progress on capability development as it relates to NATO’s Level of Ambition.

    The Report will also provide an assessment of any associated risks, including a brief summary of the Military Committee’s Suitability and Risk Assessment. It will also include an indication of whether the risks identified could be mitigated by capabilities developed by member countries outside the NATO defence planning process or by contracting civil assets. This would not relieve Allies from the obligation of trying to meet NATO’s Level of Ambition from within Alliance inventories, nor would it diminish the need to develop the capabilities sought. However, it will assist defence planners in prioritising their efforts to overcome the most critical shortfalls first.

    The report will also contain further direction to steer capability development.

  • Current support structures

    Although a more integrated and comprehensive process has been agreed comprising a coordinating framework with more flexible working arrangements, the committee and staff structures to support the process remain unchanged.

    • The senior committee for defence planning

      The Defence Policy and Planning Committee is the senior committee for defence planning. It is responsible for the development of defence planning-related policy and the overall coordination and direction of NDPP activities. Effectively, the DPPC is the central body that oversees the work of the NATO bodies and committees responsible for the planning domains on behalf of the North Atlantic Council. It can provide feedback and, as required, defence planning process-related direction to them. On appropriate occasions and as required by the subject matter being reviewed and discussed, the DPPC will meet with appropriate subject matter experts invited to “reinforce” the regular representatives. When meeting in this format the DPPC is referred to as the DPPC “Reinforced” or DPPC(R).

    • Capability Development Executive Board (CEDB)

      The CDEB is a senior staff-level board providing unity of oversight, policy, direction and guidance, and enforce authority and accountability throughout NATO capability development, bringing together the senior leadership of the relevant civil and military capability development stakeholders in the NATO staffs. The CDEB acts as a steering board to direct staff efforts associated with NATO capability development in accordance with the guidance provided by nations through the relevant committees. This executive body brings all relevant stakeholders together at a senior level to take authoritative decisions with regard to staff efforts associated with capability development which would be implemented, via their representative, by the relevant staff entities.

    • Defence Planning Staff Team

      The work of the DPPC and CDEB is supported by the NATO Defence Planning Staff Team. Conceptually, the Defence Planning Staff Team is a virtual pool of all civil and military expertise resident within the various NATO HQ staffs and Strategic Commands. This entity supports the entire defence planning process throughout the five steps. In practice, the Defence Planning Staff Team provides the staff officers required to undertake the majority of the staff work to support the NDPP.

  • The planning domains and related committees

    In concrete terms, defence planning at NATO encompasses many different domains: force, resource, armaments, logistics, nuclear, C3 (consultation, command and control), civil emergency, air defence, air traffic management, standardization, intelligence, medical support and research and technology.

    Force planning

    Force planning aims to promote the availability of national forces and capabilities for the full range of Alliance missions. In practical terms, it seeks to ensure that Allies develop modern, deployable, sustainable and interoperable forces and capabilities, which can undertake demanding operations wherever required, including being able to operate abroad with limited or no support from the country of destination. However, force planning should not be understood to refer primarily to “forces”; the focus is on “capabilities” and, how best nations should organise their priorities to optimise these. Therefore force planning also addresses capability areas that are also covered by single-area specific planning domains.

    The term “force planning” has often been used interchangeably with “defence planning” and “operational planning”. Defence planning is a much broader term and operational planning is conducted for specific, NATO-agreed operations.

    The Defence Policy and Planning Committee

    The Defence Policy and Planning Committee (DPPC) oversees the force planning process. It is the senior decision-making body on matters relating to the integrated military structure of the Alliance. It reports directly to the North Atlantic Council (NAC), provides guidance to NATO's military authorities and, in its reinforced format, oversees the defence planning process, of which force planning is a constituent activity.

    Resource planning

    The large majority of NATO resources are national. NATO resource planning aims to provide the Alliance with the capabilities it needs, but focuses on the elements that are jointly or commonly funded, that is to say where members pool resources within a NATO framework. In this regard, resource planning is closely linked to operational planning, which aims to ensure that the Alliance can fulfill its present and future operational commitments and fight new threats such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

    There is a distinction to be made between joint funding and common funding: joint funding covers activities managed by NATO agencies, such as the NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and NATO pipelines; common funding involves three different budgets: the civil budget, the military budget, and the NATO Security Investment Programme.

    Relatively speaking, these budgets represent a small amount of money, but they are key for the cohesion of the Alliance and the integration of capabilities.

    The Resource Policy and Planning Board

    The Resource Policy and Planning Board (RPPB) is the senior advisory body to the North Atlantic Council on the management of all NATO resources. It has responsibility for the overall management of NATO’s civil and military budgets, as well as the NATO Security Investment Programme (NSIP) and manpower.

    Armaments planning

    Armaments planning focuses on the development of multinational (but not common-funded) armaments programmes. It promotes cost-effective acquisition, co-operative development and the production of armaments. It also encourages interoperability, and technological and industrial co-operation among Allies and Partners.

    The Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD)

    The Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) is the senior NATO committee responsible for Alliance armaments cooperation, material standardization and defence procurement. It brings together the top officials responsible for defence procurement in NATO member and Partner countries to consider the political, economic and technical aspects of the development and procurement of equipment for NATO forces, with the aim of arriving at common solutions.

    Logistics planning

    Logistics planning in NATO aims at ensuring responsive and usable logistics support to NATO operations. This is achieved by promoting the development of military and civil logistics capabilities and multinational cooperation in logistics.

    The Logistics Committee

    The Logistics Committee is the senior advisory body on logistics at NATO. Its overall mandate is two-fold: to address consumer logistics matters with a view to enhancing the performance, efficiency, sustainability and combat effectiveness of Alliance forces; and to exercise, on behalf of the North Atlantic Council, an overarching coordinating authority across the whole spectrum of logistics functions within NATO.

    Nuclear planning

    The aim of nuclear policy and planning is to promote the maintenance of a credible nuclear deterrent and force posture, which meets the requirements of the current and foreseeable security environment.

    Nuclear planning must ensure that the Alliance's nuclear posture is perceived as a credible and effective element of NATO's strategy of war prevention. As such, its overall goal is to ensure security and stability at the lowest possible level of forces.

    NATO has developed an adaptive nuclear planning capability. Accordingly, nuclear forces are not directed towards a specific threat nor do they target or hold at risk any country. In addition, the formulation of the Alliance’s nuclear policy involves all NATO countries (except France), including non-nuclear Allies.

    The Nuclear Planning Group

    The Nuclear Planning Group takes decisions on the Alliance’s nuclear policy, which is kept under constant review and modified or adapted in light of new developments.

    C3 planning

    The effective performance of NATO's political and military functions requires the widespread utilization of both NATO and national Consultation, Command and Control (C3) systems, services and facilities, supported by appropriate personnel and NATO-agreed doctrine, organizations and procedures.

    C3 systems include communications, information, navigation and identification systems as well as sensor and warning installation systems, designed and operated in a networked and integrated form to meet the needs of NATO. Individual C3 systems may be provided by NATO via common funded programmes or by members via national, multi-national or joint-funded co-operative programmes.

    C3 planning is responsive to requirements, as and when they appear, so there is no established C3 planning cycle. However, activities are harmonized with the cycles of the other associated planning disciplines where they exist.

    The Consultation, Command and Control (C3) Board

    The Consultation, Command and Control Board is a senior multinational body acting on behalf of and responsible to the NAC on all matters relating to C3 issues throughout the Organization. This includes interoperability of NATO and national C3 systems, as well as advising the CNAD on C3 cooperative programmes.

    Civil emergency planning

    Civil emergency planning in NATO aims to collect, analyse and share information on national planning activity to ensure the most effective use of civil resources for use during emergency situations, in accordance with Alliance objectives. It enables Allies and Partners to assist each other in preparing for and dealing with the consequences of crisis, disaster or conflict.

    The Civil Emergency Planning Committee

    The Civil Emergency Planning Committee is the top advisory body for the protection of civilian populations and the use of civil resources in support of NATO objectives.

    Air defence planning

    Air defence planning enables members to harmonize national efforts with international planning related to air command and control and air defence weapons. NATO integrated air defence (NATINAD) is a network of interconnected systems and measures designed to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of hostile air action. A NATO Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) programme has been initiated to enhance the existing NATINAD system, particularly against theatre ballistic missiles.

    The Air Defence Committee (ADC)

    The Air Defence Committee advises the North Atlantic Council and the relevant Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council bodies on all elements of air defence, including missile defence and relevant air power aspects. It promotes harmonization of national efforts with international planning related to air command and control and air defence weapons.

    Air Traffic management

    NATO's role in civil-military air traffic management is to ensure, in cooperation with other international organizations, safe access to airspace, effective delivery of services and civil-military interoperability for air operations conducted in support of the Alliance's security tasks and missions while minimizing disruption to civil aviation, already constrained by the limited capacity of systems and airports, and mitigating the cost implications of new civil technologies on defence budgets.

    The Air Traffic Management Committee (ATMC)

    The ATMC is the senior civil-military advisory body to the NAC for airspace use and air traffic management. The committee’s mission is to develop, represent and promote NATO’s view on matters related to safe and expeditious air operations in the airspace of NATO areas of responsibility and interest.


    At NATO, standardization is the process of developing shared concepts, doctrines, procedures and designs to achieve and maintain the most effective levels of “compatibility, interchangeability and commonality” in operations, procedures, materials, technology and administration. The primary products of this process are Standardization Agreements (STANAGS) between member countries.

    The Committee for Standardization

    The Committee for Standardization is the senior authority of the Alliance responsible for providing coordinated advice to the NAC on overall standardization issues.


    Intelligence plays an important role in the defence planning process, in particular with the emergence of multidirectional and multidimensional security challenges such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

    Improved intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as well as strategic warning and assessment capacity for NATO are essential to ensure maximum warning and preparation time to counter military and terrorist attacks. Intelligence sets out the requirements for the improved provision, exchange and analysis of all-source political, economic, security and military intelligence, and closer coordination of the intelligence producers within the Alliance.

    The Intelligence Steering Board

    The Intelligence Steering Board acts as an inter-service coordination body responsible for steering intelligence activities involving the International Staff and the International Military Staff and for providing effective support to the decision-making process at NATO Headquarters. It is tasked, among others, with developing the Strategic Intelligence Requirements from which any capability requirements are derived.

    The Military Intelligence Committee

    It is responsible for developing a work plan in particular in the areas of NATO Intelligence Support to Operations and oversight of policy guidance on military intelligence.

    Medical support

    Medical support is normally a national responsibility, however planning needs to be flexible to consider multinational approaches. The degree of multinationality varies according to the circumstances of the mission and the willingness of countries to participate.

    The Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services in NATO (COMEDS)

    COMEDS is composed of the senior military medical authorities of member countries. It acts as the central point for the development and coordination of military medical matters and for providing medical advice to the Military Committee.

    Research and Technology

    NATO promotes and conducts cooperative research and information exchange to support the effective use of national defence research and technology and further the military needs of the Alliance.

    The Research and Technology Board (RTB)

    The RTB is an integrated NATO body responsible for defence research and technological development. It provides advice and assistance to the CNAD, as well as to the Military Committee. It coordinates research and technology policy in different NATO bodies and is supported by a specialized NATO Research and Technology Agency.

  • Evolution of defence planning within NATO

    Article 5 operations and automaticity

    In essence, defence planning existed during the Cold War but "operational planning", in the sense that we now know it, did not. This was because it was the task of force (and nuclear) planning to identify all the forces required to implement the collective defence war plans and members were expected to assign and employ the requested forces virtually without question. These war plans were, in effect, the only "operational plans" of the era.

    Non-article 5 operations and force generation

    When, after the Cold War, the Alliance started to get involved in non-Article 5 operations, the situation had to change. Since these missions are, by agreement, case-by-case and the provision of national forces is discretionary, the automaticity of availability associated with force planning during the Cold War period was lost. This led to the requirement for "force generation conferences" to solicit the necessary forces and "operational planning" to develop the plans.

    Existing processes were adjusted so that "defence planning" disciplines no longer focused exclusively on meeting collective defence requirements and the needs of a largely “fixed” operational concept. Forces, assets, capabilities and facilities had to be capable of facing threats posed by failed states, ethnic rivalry, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism among others. In fact, acknowledging the ever-changing situation and recognizing the benefits of harmonization and coordination, the existing procedures were reviewed on a regular basis and adjusted as appropriate.

    In practical terms, there was no standard defence planning process or defence planning cycle per se. Each one of the then seven principal disciplines was managed by a different NATO body and applied special procedures. They also contributed differently to the overall aim of providing the Alliance with the forces and capabilities to undertake the full range of its missions.

    Introducing greater integration and harmonization

    With the differences between the various components of the defence planning process and interrelated disciplines, the need for harmonization and coordination was essential.

    While force planning had provided, to a certain extent, a basis for this harmonization and coordination, at the Istanbul Summit NATO leaders concluded that more was required. They directed the Council in Permanent Session to produce comprehensive political guidance in support of the Strategic Concept for all Alliance capabilities issues, planning disciplines and intelligence, responsive to the Alliance's requirements. They also directed that the interfaces between the respective Alliance planning disciplines, including operational planning, should be further analyzed.

    A new process and working methodology were introduced in 2009: the NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP). It aimed to improve the harmonization of the planning domains, including their related committee structure and staffs, and encourages member countries to harmonize and integrate their national defence planning activities so as to complement NATO efforts. In his introductory remarks to defence ministers in June 2009, the then NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, underlined: “If successfully implemented, the NDPP will mark the most profound change to defence planning in decades and has a very high potential to deliver tangible practical results”.
    Work on the comprehensive political guidance and a suitable management mechanism to ensure its implementation was completed mid-2009.

    Efforts to enhance and coordinate defence planning are not limited to the remit of the Alliance. NATO and the European Union discuss this topic in the EU-NATO Capability Group, which aims to develop the capability requirements common to both organizations. These initiatives build on the “EU and NATO: Coherent and Mutually Reinforcing Capability Requirements” document.

    The introduction of NDPP is currently in its first “transitional” cycle and much has been learned which will influence subsequent cycles in a continuous improvement approach which is expected to lead to increasing integration, efficiency and effectiveness.

Last updated: 18-May-2012 17:17