Reserve forces

  • Last updated: 26 Mar. 2015 11:20

As threats to global security have evolved, so too has the role of reserve forces in NATO. Reservists play a crucial role in building bridges between military and non-military personnel across the Alliance and are recognized as indispensable to the Alliance’s defence at the earliest stages of a conflict.


  • NATO does not have or control its own reserve forces.
  • It works on reservist issues through the NATO Reserve Forces Committee (NRFC), which is an advisory body for the Military Committee on these questions.
  • NATO also works with both the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers and the Interallied Confederation of Medical Reserve Officers on reservist issues.
  • Together, these entities seek to complement efforts and harmonise their respective programmes and projects.

Although the Alliance does not have or control its own Reserve Forces, through the National Reserve Forces Committee (NRFC) it works with the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers, known by its French acronym CIOR, and the Interallied Confederation of Medical Reserve Officers (CIOMR) to tackle reservist issues.

Whenever possible the CIOR, the CIOMR and the NRFC convene at the same time and place. The three bodies also work to harmonize their respective programmes and projects. The NRFC and CIOR work is complementary, particularly where requirements converge. NRFC focuses more on the military policy level, while CIOR provides input from a civilian point of view. Both mainly serve as a place for the exchange of views of national best practices. The Military Committee is briefed once a year on the activities of these organizations.

  • The National Reserve Forces Committee (NRFC)

    Reserve Forces and policy matters relating to them were considered, until the early 1980s, to be a national issue only and therefore not within the remit of NATO. The NRFC was established in 1981 as the central forum of the Alliance for reservist matters. However, it wasn’t until 1987 that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the NRFC and the CIOR formally establishing areas of work.

    Objectives and responsibilities

    The NRFC has the task of preparing conceptual proposals and developing approaches as an advisory body for the Military Committee and member countries in this area. Its objectives and responsibilities were approved by the Military Committee (MC 392) on 18 November 1996 and amended on 1 April 1998.

    These are defined as:

    1. Strengthen the readiness of the Alliance Reserves by providing a forum for informal and candid exchanges of information.
    2. Providing policy advice on Reserve issues to the Military Committee.
    3. Providing advice and support to the CIOR to assist their activities in support of Alliance goals and advise the Military Committee on its relationship with CIOR.

    Since 1996, the NRFC has focused on strengthening the operational readiness of NATO reserve forces by broadening the exchange of information and deploying reserve forces jointly with active forces. The Committee does not address strategic, tactical or operational issues. This is the prerogative of the member nations or the NATO military command structure.

    Functioning of the committee

    Currently 23 NATO nations are members while Australia has been granted permanent observer status. The NRFC holds plenary conferences at least twice a year and almost all NATO countries are members – the exceptions being Albania, Iceland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Croatia. It consists of a chairman and a secretariat, national delegations and observers. The International Military Staff, Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation are represented by liaison officers. Committee delegations are appointed by their respective national ministries of defence, and the national heads of delegations are mostly heads of reserve or commissioners of reserve allied forces.

    Chairmanship is held for a period of two years by one of the member countries. Meetings are organised and conducted by the Chairman, who also coordinates with the Committee. The Secretariat of the NRFC is of the same country as the Chairman. The Committee retains the authority to establish its own procedures.

  • The Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR)

    The Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers is an independent body that was founded in 1948. It represents the reserve officers from 28 NATO members and eight associated countries. It was officially recognized by NATO in 1976 (MC 248/1) with the objectives of providing advice on the best utilization of reservists, continuing to improve the knowledge of NATO authorities about national Reserve Forces, and exchange information between member nations. It is a non-political, non-governmental, non-profit-making organisation which cooperates with the Alliance on reservists’ issues.

    The members of the CIOR associations are active as civilians and professionals in addition to their role as reserve officers. This dual role allows them to contribute to a better understanding of security and defence issues within their national populations, as well as bringing civilian expertise and experiences to the challenges facing reserve forces at NATO.

    Delegates to the CIOR are elected by their national reserve officer associations. The head of each delegation is a CIOR vice-president. The Confederation is structured around a constitution that provides for a rotating presidency, an executive council comprised of vice-presidents, key committees and several annual events that promote training, education and professional development of reserve forces.

    CIOR main roles:

    • Improving “NATO understanding of CIOR goals and activities, by informing NATO Authorities, periodically briefing the Military Committee”.
    • To increase cooperation between NATO and CIOR “by providing advice from CIOR’s perspective on the best utilization of reservists in the defence of NATO and in non Art. 5 operations.”
    • “To contribute to improving the knowledge of NATO authorities about national Reserve Forces and the role of the Reserve Forces in common NATO defence and new missions, particularly from the CIOR perspective.”
    • “To utilise CIOR knowledge of reserve affairs within each member nation in order to inspire developments in the organization, administration and social aspects, where appropriate, of Reserve Forces and in particular of Reserve Officers.”

    CIOR Committees:

      • Defence Attitudes & Security Issues Committee
      • Civil Military Cooperation Committee
      • Military Competitions Committee
      • Legal Committee
      • Partnership for Peace & Outreach Committee
      • Language Academy Committee
      • Seminar Committee
      • Young Reserve Officers Committee

    The main meetings of the CIOR are held on an annual basis in the summer, with locations alternating among member countries. It also organises a winter conference each year in Brussels, Belgium, for the CIOR Council and Committees. The Organisation is financed by annual subscriptions from its component national associations. The CIOR has a permanent representative at NATO HQ in the IMS Plans and Policy Division.


    The Confédération interallié des officiers médicaux de réserve (Interallied Confederation of Medical Reserve Officers, or CIOMR) is an associated member of the CIOR.

    Established in 1947, the CIOMR is the official organisation of medical officers within Reserve Forces from countries which were to become NATO members. Originally founded by Belgium, France and the Netherlands, the Organisation now includes all CIOR member countries. It works to establish close professional relations with the medical doctors and services of NATO countries and promotes effective collaboration with the active forces of the Alliance.