The College also provides senior NATO officials with fresh perspectives on issues relevant to the Alliance by drawing on the ideas of top academics, experts and practitioners, and through reports from conferences and workshops that focus on the major issues challenging the Alliance.
Virtually all of the College’s activities are open to participants from the Partnership for Peace and Mediterranean Dialogue countries, and they may also include participants from countries in the broader Middle East region in the framework of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.
The College was established in Paris in 1951 and was transferred to Rome in 1966.
The College’s mission is to contribute to the effectiveness and cohesion of the Alliance by developing its role as a major centre of education, study and research on transatlantic security issues.
The main educational activity of the College is the Senior Course, which is attended by up to 90 course members selected by their own governments on a national quota basis. These members are either military officers holding the rank of colonel or lieutenant colonel, or civilian officials of equivalent status from relevant government departments or national institutions.
In line with guidance issued to the College by the North Atlantic Council and NATOs Military Committee in 2002, the College focuses its efforts on three core areas: education, outreach and research.
Most course members go on to staff appointments in NATO commands or national NATO-related posts in their own countries.
Great importance is attached to the achievement of consensus among the course members during their preparatory work and discussions, reflecting the importance of the principle of consensus throughout NATO structures.
Also, the College has a non-attribution rule that allows students to speak their minds freely, knowing that their views will not be repeated outside the confines of the College “family”.
Parts of the Senior Course are designed to be taken as modular short courses which allow selected officers and officials from NATO Headquarters and from the strategic commands to join the Senior Course for one week to study a particular strategic theme. In addtion to the courses, daily lectures are given by visiting academics, politicians, high-ranking military and civil servants.
In 1991, the College introduced a two-week course for senior officers and civilians from the members of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, now the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The following year, the course became an Integrated Partnership for Peace (PfP)/OSCE Course within the framework of the Senior Course. As an integral part of NATO’s PfP programme, this two-week course aims to develop a common perception of the Euro-Atlantic region among the college’s regular Senior Course members and representatives from PfP/OSCE and NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue countries.
The College has significantly upgraded its work in the field of research. It aims to provide senior NATO officials with fresh perspectives, drawing on the ideas of top academics, experts and practitioners, through reports based on conferences and workshops that focus on the major issues challenging the Alliance. In addition, the College organizes an International Research Seminar on Euro-Atlantic Security every year, in cooperation with an academic institution from one of the PfP countries. A similar International Research Seminar with Mediterranean Dialogue Countries also takes place annually.
Each year the College offers research fellowships in the field of security studies to two nationals from PfP countries and two from Mediterranean Dialogue countries. This programme aims to promote individual scholarly research on topics relating to Euro-Atlantic, Eurasian and Mediterranean security issues.
The College comes under the direction of the Military Committee, which appoints the commandant of the College for a period of three years. The commandant is an officer of at least lieutenant general rank or equivalent. He is assisted by a civilian dean and a military director of management provided by the host country. The Chairman of the Military Committee chairs the College’s Academic Advisory Board. The College faculty is composed of military officers and civilian officials, normally from the foreign and defence ministries of NATO member countries.
In 1951, US General Dwight D. Eisenhower, NATO’s first Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), first perceived the need to identify officers and officials in the then embryonic NATO who were capable of adapting themselves to the new security environment in Europe.
On 25 April 1951, he wrote:
"...There is a high priority requirement to develop individuals, both on the military and civilian side, who will have a thorough grasp of the many complicated factors which are involved in the problem of creating an adequate defense posture for the North Atlantic Treaty area. The venture upon which we are now embarked is so new to all of us, and the problems which it raises are on such a different scale from those which have hitherto confronted the member nations, that we are continually faced with a necessity for exploring new approaches and for broadening our points of view. This means we must constantly be on the lookout for individuals who are capable of adapting themselves to this new environment and who find it possible, in a reasonably short time, to broaden their outlook and to grasp the essentials of this challenging problem sufficiently to shoulder the responsibilities inherent in this new field."
His vision was translated into the founding of the NATO Defense College in Paris, and Course Number 1 was inaugurated on 19 November 1951.
The College quickly made a name for itself as an establishment where NATO's senior officials learnt how to operate effectively in high-level, multinational staffs.
Move to Rome
The College continued in Paris until 1966, when President Charles de Gaulle decided that France would withdraw from NATO's integrated military structure and the College was required to move.
Italy offered temporary accommodation in an office block in the EUR area of Rome. These premises served the College for more than 30 years.
In the 1990s it became increasingly clear that a new building was required: one that would be in keeping with the standing the College had acquired within NATO and the international academic world.
Italy offered to provide such premises and work began on the construction of a purpose-built College in the Military City of Cecchignola. The College moved in during the summer of 1999 and the inauguration of the new facilities took place on 10 September.
Over the years, some 7,000 senior officers, diplomats, and officials have passed through the College in preparation for working on Alliance-related issues.