Crisis management is one of NATO's fundamental security tasks. It can involve military and non-military measures to respond to a threat, be it in a national or an international situation.
One of NATO’s strengths is to have the experience, facilities, capabilities and processes in place to be able to deal with different sorts of crises. Within the framework of the Alliance, members work together on a daily basis and have everything ready – planning, policies, processes, working practices and tools - to be able to launch a multinational crisis management operation at short notice. In this context, NATO is an enabler which helps members – and partners - train and operate together for joint operations, missions and programmes.
NATO’s role in crisis management goes beyond military operations to include issues such as the protection of populations against natural, technological or humanitarian disaster operations. A crisis can effectively be political, military or humanitarian and can be caused by political or armed conflict, technological incidents or natural disasters. Crisis management consists of the different means of dealing with these different forms of crises.
Many crisis management operations are often loosely referred to as peacekeeping operations, but there are different types of crisis management operations. They all have specific objectives and mandates, which are important to know in order to understand the impact, limitations and contours of an operation.
NATO decides whether to engage in a crisis management operation on a case-by-case basis. These decisions, as with all other Alliance decisions, are based on consensus between the member countries. Some operations may also include non-NATO countries and the majority involve cooperation and partnership with other international organizations, in a more global, comprehensive approach to crisis management.
NATO’s crisis management instruments have been adapted and consolidated over time and are key to what the Alliance is today. It has been actively leading crisis management operations since the 1990s and has since developed into a regional organization able to commit itself to operations beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, i.e., it has become a regional organization with a global reach.
With its 2010 Strategic Concept, NATO has adopted a holistic approach to crisis management, envisaging NATO involvement at all stages of a crisis and considering a broader range of tools to be more effective across the crisis management spectrum. The way of dealing with a crisis depends on its nature, scale and seriousness. In some cases, crises can be prevented through diplomacy or other measures while others may require more robust measures such as military action. Depending on the nature of the crisis, different types of crisis management operations may be required. It is useful to note in addition to normal consultations, that at any given time Article 4 of the Washington Treaty gives each Ally the right to consult and discuss any security issue brought to the table: “The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” Article 4 is critical to NATO’s crisis management process since consultation is at the basis of collective action. This Article 4 is also mirrored in the invitation to PFP partners and provides the basis for crisis consultations.
Collective defence crises
Referred to as "Article 5 operations", these carry the implication that the decision has been taken collectively by NATO members to consider an attack or act of aggression against one or more members as an attack against all. NATO invoked Article 5 for the first time in its history in September 2001 following the terrorist attacks against the United States.
Crisis response operations
Crisis response operations (CRO) cover all military operations conducted by NATO in a non-Article 5 situation. They support the peace process in a conflict area and are also called peace support operations. NATO's involvement in the Balkans and Afghanistan and its efforts in countering piracy off the Horn of Africa provide a good illustration of CROs..
Peace support operations include peacekeeping and peace enforcement, as well as conflict prevention, peacemaking, peace building and humanitarian operations.
- Peace support operations
These are multi-functional operations conducted in support of a UN/OSCE mandate or at the invitation of a sovereign government involving military forces and diplomatic and humanitarian agencies and are designed to achieve long-term political settlement or other conditions specified in the mandate. They include peacekeeping and peace enforcement as well as conflict prevention, peacemaking, peace building and humanitarian operations.
- Peacekeeping: peacekeeping operations are generally undertaken under Chapter VI of the UN Charter and are conducted with the consent of all Parties to a conflict to monitor and facilitate implementation of a peace agreement.
- Peace enforcement: peace enforcement operations are undertaken under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. They are coercive in nature and are conducted when the consent of all Parties to a conflict has not been achieved or might be uncertain. They are designed to maintain or re-establish peace or enforce the terms specified in the mandate.
- Conflict prevention: Activities aimed at conflict prevention are normally conducted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter. They range from diplomatic initiatives to preventive deployments of forces intended to prevent disputes from escalating to armed conflicts or from spreading. Conflict prevention can also include fact-finding missions, consultations, warnings, inspections and monitoring. NATO makes full use of partnership, co-operation and dialogue and its links to other organizations to contribute to preventing crises and, should they arise, defusing them at an early stage.
A preventive deployment within the framework of conflict prevention is the deployment of operational forces possessing sufficient deterrent capabilities to prevent an outbreak of hostilities.
- Peacemaking: Peacemaking covers diplomatic activities conducted after the commencement of a conflict aimed at establishing a cease-fire or a rapid peaceful settlement. They can include the provision of good offices, mediation, conciliation and such actions as diplomatic pressure, isolation or sanction.
- Peace building: Peace building covers actions which support political, economic, social and military measures and structures aiming to strengthen and solidify political settlements in order to redress the causes of a conflict. This includes mechanisms to identify and support structures which can play a role in consolidating peace, advance a sense of confidence and well-being and supporting economic reconstruction.
- Humanitarian operations: Humanitarian operations are conducted to alleviate human suffering. Humanitarian operations may precede or accompany humanitarian activities provided by specialized civilian organizations.
- Natural, technological or humanitarian disaster operations
These are operations to assist member and partner countries that are victims of disasters. For instance, NATO assisted Pakistan in 2005 when it was hit by earthquakes and has helped Ukraine, which has been frequently devastated by floods.
NATO is unique in that it is one of the only international organizations that has the experience as well as the variety of tools to conduct crisis management operations. Effectively, NATO has developed and continuously updated crisis management tools that are key to what the Organization is today.
- Standardization: States need to share a common set of standards, especially among military forces, to carry out multinational operations. By helping to achieve interoperability – the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together – among NATO’s forces, as well as with those of its partners, standardization allows for more efficient use of resources. It therefore greatly increases the effectiveness of the Alliance’s defence capabilities.
Through its standardization bodies, NATO develops and implements concepts, doctrines and procedures to achieve and maintain the required levels of compatibility, interchangeability or commonality needed to achieve interoperability. For instance, in the field, standard procedures allow for the transfer of supplies between ships at sea and interoperable material such as fuel connections at airfields. It permits the many NATO and partner countries to work together, preventing duplication and promoting better use of economic resources.
- Logistics: this is the bridge between the deployed forces and the industrial base that produces the material and weapons that forces need to accomplish their mission. It comprises the identification of requirements as well as both the building up of stocks and capabilities, and the sustainment of weapons and forces. As such, the scope of logistics is huge. Among the core functions conducted by NATO are: supply, maintenance, movement and transportation, petroleum support, infrastructure and medical support.
The Alliance’s overarching function is to coordinate national efforts and encourage the highest degree possible of multinational responses to operational needs, therefore reducing the number of individual supply chains. While NATO has this responsibility, each state is responsible for ensuring that - individually or through cooperative arrangements – their own forces receive the required logistic resources.
- Crisis Response procedures: NATO’s Crisis Response System (NCRS) is effectively a guide to aid decision-making. It aims to ensure unity of effort between NATO HQ (national representatives), Capitals, and the Strategic Commands by providing the Alliance with a comprehensive set of options and measures to prepare for, manage and respond to crises. It complements other processes (for instance, operations planning process, civil emergency planning and others) that exist within the Organization to address crises. It was first approved in 2005 and is revised annually.
One of its core components is the NATO Crisis Management Process (NCMP), which breaks down a crisis situation into six different phases, providing a structure against which military and non-military crisis response planning processes should be designed. It is flexible and adaptable to different crisis situations.
Co-ordinating with other international players
NATO decides on a case-by-case basis and by consensus whether to engage in a crisis response operation. The NAC takes these decisions on a sound legal basis,in conformity with Article 7 of the Washington Treaty
Increasingly, NATO contributes to efforts by the wider international community to preserve or restore peace, and prevent conflict. It is also committed to a comprehensive political, civilian and military approach to crisis management. As a consequence, it is building closer partnerships with civilian actors – including non-governmental organizations and local authorities - that work in areas such as institution building, development, governance, the judiciary and the police. In this context, NATO has offered to support on a case-by-case basis in accordance with its own procedures, peacekeeping and other operations under the authority of the United Nations (UN) Security Council or the responsibility of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The record of NATO’s sustained co-operation with the UN, the OSCE and the European Union (EU) in the Balkans stands as a precedent.
NATO’s strategic partnership with the EU, including through NATO support to EU-led operations using NATO assets and capabilities, is also significant, as is the Alliance’s expanding co-operation with non-NATO countries which are members of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.
Broadly speaking, NATO has had the capacity to deal with collective defence and disaster relief operations for a long time. Only at a later stage, during the 1990s, did it become involved in non-Article 5 operations, i.e., those that are mainly conducted in non-NATO member countries to prevent a conflict from spreading and destabilizing member or partner countries.
Prepared for Article 5 operations
Since its creation in 1949, NATO stands ready to react to an Article 5 crisis situation. Although mutual guarantees under Article 5 of the Treaty are reciprocal and implicate all member countries, the primary purpose of Article 5 in the post Second World War environment was to enable the United States to come to the aid of its Allies in the event of aggression against them.
Up to 1991, the strategic environment in the North Atlantic region was dominated by two superpowers that were each supported by military structures. During this period, NATO's principal concern was the perceived threat from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Deterrence worked with the result that the East-West confrontation of the Cold War ended without NATO's Article 5 having to be invoked. This was a shared success.
Invocation of Article 5
It was not until the turn of the century that Article 5 was invoked for the very first time in NATO's history. Contrary to expectations when Article 5 was drawn up, it was European Allies and Canada who came to the aid of the United States, which had been violently attacked by the Al-Quaida terrorist group on September 11, 2001. Several measures were put into place by NATO to help prevent further attacks, including Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean, which was launched in October 2001 to help detect, deter and protect against terrorist activity in the area.
Engaging in non-Article 5 operations
As soon as the Soviet Union collapsed and satellite countries regained independence, past tensions resurfaced and violent conflicts started among ethnic groups, whose rights had been suppressed for half a century.
The former Yugoslavia
The first major ethnic conflict broke out in the former Yugoslavia in 1992. NATO gradually became involved in support of the United Nations through various air and sea-based support operations - enforcing economic sanctions, an arms embargo and a no-flight zone in Bosnia and Herzegovina - and by providing the UN with detailed military contingency planning concerning safe areas and the implementation of a peace plan.
The measures proved inadequate to bring an end to the war. In the summer of 1995, after violations of exclusion zones, the shelling of UN-designated safe areas and the taking of UN hostages, NATO member countries took several decisions resulting in military intervention in support of UN efforts to bring the war in Bosnia to an end. A two-week air campaign against Bosnian Serb forces was launched by NATO and in the following months a number of further military actions were taken at the request of the UN force commanders. These actions paved the way for the signing of the Dayton Peace Accord on 14 December 1995. The Alliance immediately proceeded to deploy peacekeeping forces to the country in accordance with the terms of a UN mandate, giving NATO responsibility for the implementation of the military aspects of the peace accord.
This was the first time NATO was involved in a non-Article 5 crisis management operation in its entire history. Other non-Article 5 crisis management operations were to follow - in Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 1, Afghanistan, the Mediterranean, off the Horn of Africa and in support of the African Union.
NATO’s Strategic Concepts
Provision for crisis management measures had already been made in the Alliance's 1991 Strategic Concept for "the management of crises affecting the security of its members". It was reiterated in the 1999 Strategic Concept, which states that NATO stands ready to contribute to effective conflict prevention and to engage actively in crisis management. In addition, the 1999 document states that these crisis management operations would include non-Article 5 operations, i.e., operations affecting countries other than NATO member countries.
The 2010 Strategic Concept broadens NATO thinking on crisis management, envisaging NATO’s involvement at all stages of a crisis: “NATO will therefore engage, where possible and when necessary, to prevent crises, manage crises, stabilize post-conflict situations and support reconstruction.” It also encourages a greater number of actors to participate and coordinate their efforts and considers a broader range of tools to be used. More generally, it adopts a comprehensive, all-encompassing approach to crisis management that goes hand-in-hand with greater emphasis on training, developing local forces and enhancing civil-military planning and interaction.
Developing disaster relief operations
Crisis management is a broad concept that goes beyond military operations to include issues such as the protection of populations. NATO began developing civil protection measures in the event of a nuclear attack as early as the 1950s. NATO member countries soon realized that these capabilities could be used effectively against the effects of disasters induced by floods, earthquakes or technological incidents, and against humanitarian disasters.
In 1953, the first disaster assistance scheme was implemented following devastating flooding in Northern Europe and in 1958 NATO established detailed procedures for the co-ordination of assistance between NATO member countries in case of disasters. These procedures remained in place and provided the basis for civil emergency planning work within NATO in subsequent years. They were comprehensively reviewed in 1995 when they became applicable to partner countries in addition to NATO member countries.
In 1998, the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Co-ordination Centre was established to co-ordinate aid provided by different member and partner countries to a disaster-stricken area in a member or partner country. NATO also established a Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Unit, which is a non-standing, multinational mix of national civil and military elements that have been volunteered by member or partner countries for deployment to the area of concern.
Civil emergency planning has become a key facet of NATO involvement in crisis management. In recent years, NATO has provided support for many countries. It has assisted flood-devastated Albania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine; supported the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kosovo; sent aid to earthquake-stricken Turkey and Pakistan; helped to fight fires in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 1 and in Portugal; and supported Ukraine and Moldova after extreme weather conditions had destroyed power transmission capabilities. NATO also conducts civil emergency planning exercises on a regular basis.
When a crisis occurs, no decisions on planning, deployment or employment of military forces are taken without political authorization. Decisions are taken by the governments of each NATO member country collectively and may include political or military measures, as well as measures to deal with civil emergencies, depending on the nature of the crisis.
NATO has different mechanisms in place to deal with crises: the principal political decision-making body - the North Atlantic Council - exchanges intelligence, information and other data, compares different perceptions and approaches, and harmonizes its views. The Council is supported by a number of specialized committees, including the Operations Policy Committee, the Political and Partnerships Committee, the Military Committee and the Civil Emergency Planning Committee. NATO communication systems, including a "Situation Centre", receive, exchange and disseminate political, economic and military intelligence and information around the clock, every single day of the year.
The NATO Crisis Management Process (NCMP), the NATO Intelligence and Warning System (NIWS), NATO’s Operational Planning Process and NATO Civil Emergency Planning Crisis Management Arrangements are designed to underpin the Alliance’s crisis management role and response capability in a complementary and synergistic fashion, as part of an overall NATO Crisis Response System (NCRS).