Environmental protection

  • Last updated: 11 Nov. 2011 12:22

Military activities often have an adverse effect on the environments in which they occur. Damage to the environment from these activities can threaten livelihoods and habitats, and thus breed instability. Part of NATO’s responsibility is to protect the physical and natural environments where operations and training take place.

Military training grounds can hold a wide range of biodiversity, from plant life, birds and insects on land, to marine life and mammals in the sea. Through research and implementation of new technology, alongside standardization of procedures and training, the Alliance has been working to improve its protection of the natural environments where it operates.
While fulfilling their military missions, NATO forces are committed to taking all reasonably achievable measures to protect the environment. These range from safeguarding hazardous materials (including fuel and oil), treating waste water, managing waste and reducing fossil fuel energy consumption, to putting environmental management systems in place during NATO-led activities.

To achieve this, commanders must know how NATO-led military activities affect and are affected by the environment. Strict ruleshave been adopted by many NATO countries, reflecting the growing awareness of protecting the environment. In line with these developments, NATO is facilitating the integration of environmental protection standards into all NATO-led military activities.

  • Components of the policy

    Policy and standards

    The ‘NATO Military Principles and Policies for Environmental Protection,’ adopted in June 2003, and revised and reinforced in October 2011, sets out the principles of environmental protection from a military point of view. It details the responsibilities of military commanders with regard to protecting the environment during the preparation and execution of military activities. The policy instructs NATO commanders to apply “best practicable and feasible environmental protection measures,” to areas including pollution prevention, waste management, conservation, heritage protection and protection of flora and fauna.

    The implementation of this policy is supported by a variety of NATO Standardization Agreements (STANAGs) and Allied publications, each addressing the various aspects of environmental protection. These policies are constantly updated. While some environmental damage may be an inevitable consequence of operations, standards can be put in place to reduce the effects without compromising operational or training requirements. Particular emphasis is placed identifying environmental issues that can be resolved during the planning process, rather than after the damage is done. Early consideration of potential environmental impacts can lead to commanders having a better understanding of the environmental effects of the mission. The clean-up of any environmental impacts resulting from NATO-led military activities is also a key aspect of the STANAG policies.

    Once ratified and promulgated, these agreements are implemented by Allied Command Operations (ACO) and Allied Command Transformation (ACT). Force contributing nations, however, must first transpose the STANAGs and guidelines into their national military directives before they become binding for their forces.


    Training of military personnel is a national responsibility. However, NATO has designated staff officers for the implementation of environmental protection on strategic, operational and tactical levels. In 2004, ACO established an environmental manager position at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). This officer is responsible for providing environmental advice and expertise to commanders and staff officers involved in NATO-led military activities, and advising the JEPMG on policy development.

    In addition to national training, the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany, provides common environmental protection training on an operational level, while the Military Engineering Centre of Excellence includes environmental protection in their courses on tactical level.

    Research and development

    The NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC) in La Spezia, Italy, conducts research into new technologies that impact the environment for naval operations. In particular, NURC scientists are working with the private sector to develop autonomous vehicles – small, unmanned submarines – to monitor the seabed. This new type of monitoring vehicle could help private companies prevent leaks from oil pipelines, and help militaries detect mines.

    The NURC is also conducting extensive studies to understand what affect acoustic transmissions have on marine mammals, following the use of high-powered sonar transmissions between naval, manned submarines in 2003. This research is ongoing, but it has already resulted in the adoption by the Military Committee of a ‘Code of Conduct for Use of Active Sonar to Ensure the Protection of Marine Mammals within the Framework of Alliance Maritime Activities’.

    NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Programme established its Defence and Environment Expert Group (DEEG) in 2008. This group is comprised of subject matter experts (nominated by nations) who promote and support the development of cooperative workshops and projects with partner nations. The DEEG also consolidates knowledge, practices and procedures in critical military environmental areas.

  • Mechanisms and evolution

    NATO started to develop its environmental protection policy in the late 1970s with the establishment of expert groups made up of governmental representatives. Over the next two decades, these groups developed guidelines, best practices and standard agreements on environmental protection.

    When NATO launched its first operation in Kosovo in 1994, these environmental protection guidelines were used within an international context, where each country has its own law, legislation and rules. A number of environmental protection lessons were learnt, which helped to shape an overarching NATO policy on environmental protection adopted by the Military Committee in June 2003.

    Two panels support the JEPMG: the Environmental Protection Technology (EPT) panel and the Operational Environmental Protection (OEP) panel. Both of these promote cooperation and standardization among NATO and partner countries, as well as among the various NATO bodies, and are comprised of national experts from NATO and partner nations.

    The EPT panel focuses on the technical aspects of environmental protection. It aims to integrate environmental protection criteria and regulations into the technical requirements and specifications for armaments, equipment and materials.

    The OEP focuses on the operational aspects of environmental protection. It aims to reduce the negative impact of military activities on the environment through standardization of doctrines, planning, procedures, training and environmental management.