Partnerships: a cooperative approach to security

  • Last updated: 16 Oct. 2014 13:56

Over the past two decades, the Alliance has developed a network of structured partnerships with countries from the Euro-Atlantic area, the Mediterranean and the Gulf region, as well as individual relationships with other partners across the globe. Today, NATO pursues dialogue and practical cooperation with 41 partner countries and engages actively with other international actors and organisations on a wide range of political and security-related issues.

NATO’s Strategic Concept identifies “cooperative security” as one of NATO’s three essential core tasks. It states that the promotion of Euro-Atlantic security is best assured through a wide network of partner relationships with countries and organisations around the globe. These partnerships make a concrete and valued contribution to the success of NATO’s fundamental tasks. Many of NATO’s formal partners as well as other non-member countries offer substantial capabilities and political support for Alliance operations and missions. A focused effort to reform NATO’s partnerships policy was launched at the Lisbon Summit to make dialogue and cooperation more inclusive, flexible, meaningful and strategically oriented. This resulted in a new partnership policy, which was endorsed by NATO Foreign Ministers at their meeting in Berlin in April 2011.

Recognising the essential role that partners play in addressing security threats, at the Wales Summit in 2014, the Allies launched two initiatives to deepen NATO’s security cooperation with partners. The Partnership Interoperability Initiative aims to maintain and deepen the ability of partner forces to work alongside Allied forces.

The Defence and related Security Capacity Building Initiative builds on NATO’s extensive track record and expertise in supporting, advising, assisting, training and mentoring countries requiring capacity-building support of the Alliance.  It is aimed at reinforcing NATO’s commitment to partner nations and helping the Alliance to project stability without deploying large combat forces, as part of the Alliance’s overall contribution to international security, stability and conflict prevention. 

The new policy concerns not only partnerships with non-member countries but also NATO’s cooperation with other international actors and organisations. The complexity of today’s peace-support and stabilisation operations and the multifaceted nature of 21st century security challenges call for a comprehensive approach that effectively combines political, civilian and military instruments.


  • NATO works with partners from Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Mediterranean rim, the Gulf region and individual countries from across the globe.
  • NATO’s partners also comprise other international organisations, including the UN and the EU, as well as other actors such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
  • Partners cooperate with NATO in a very broad range of security-related areas and, when taking part in a NATO cooperation programme, can participate in over 1,000 activities offered in the Partnership Cooperation Menu.
  • Partners contribute in many ways to shaping discussions and debates in the Alliance.

  • A network of partnerships with non-member countries

    Dialogue and cooperation with partners can make a concrete contribution to enhance international security, to defend the values on which the Alliance is based, to NATO’s operations, and to prepare interested nations for membership.

    In both regional frameworks and on a bilateral level, NATO develops relations based on common values, reciprocity, mutual benefit and mutual respect.

    In the Euro-Atlantic area, the 28 Allies engage in relations with 22 partner countries through the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace – a major programme of bilateral cooperation with individual Euro-Atlantic partners. Among these partners, NATO has developed specific structures for its relationships with Russia, Ukraine and Georgia.

    NATO is developing relations with the seven countries on the southern Mediterranean rim through the Mediterranean Dialogue, as well as with four countries from the Gulf region through the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

    NATO also cooperates with a range of countries which are not part of these partnership frameworks. Referred to as “partners across the globe”, they include Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand and Pakistan.

  • Active engagement with other international organisations

    Since the 1990s, NATO has developed close working relations with the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). This is an integral part of the Alliance’s ongoing transformation to address effectively the complex challenges of crisis management, as well as terrorism and emerging security challenges.

    The Alliance is also developing cooperation in specific areas with a number of other international and non-governmental organisations, including the African Union, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration, the World Bank, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

    The Alliance seeks to enhance its relations with other relevant international organisations. Key objectives guiding this cooperation are, as appropriate:

    • To play complementary and mutually reinforcing roles in supporting international peace and security; 
    • To engage actively before, during and after crises to encourage collaborative analysis, planning and conduct of activities on the ground, in order to maximise the coherence and effectiveness of the overall international effort;
    • To increase support for training and regional capacity-building.
  • Strategic objectives for partnership

    Under the new partnership policy, the strategic objectives of NATO's partner relations are to:

    • Enhance Euro-Atlantic and international security, peace and stability;
    • Promote regional security and cooperation;
    • Facilitate mutually beneficial cooperation on issues of common interest, including international efforts to meet emerging security challenges;
    • Prepare interested eligible nations for NATO membership;
    • Promote democratic values and reforms;
    • Enhance support for NATO-led operations and missions;
    • Enhance awareness of security developments including through early warning, with a view to preventing crises;
    • Build confidence and achieve better mutual understanding, including about NATO's role and activities, in particular through enhanced public diplomacy.
  • Priority areas for dialogue, consultation and cooperation

    Within these strategic objectives for partnership, dialogue, consultation and cooperation will be prioritised in the following areas, as appropriate:

    • Political consultations on security developments, as appropriate, including regional issues, in particular with a view to preventing crises and contributing to their management;
    • Cooperation in NATO-led operations and missions;
    • Interoperability, so that partners can support the Alliance in achieving its tactical, operational and strategic objectives;
    • Defence reform, capability- and capacity-building, education and training;
    • Counter-terrorism;
    • Counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery;
    • Emerging security challenges, including those related to cyber defence, energy security and maritime security, including counter-piracy;
    • Civil emergency planning.
  • Towards a more efficient and flexible partnership

    NATO’s new partnership policy, which was endorsed in April 2011 aims to reinforce existing partnerships by strengthening consultation mechanisms and by facilitating more substance-driven cooperation. In addition, the new policy outlines a “toolbox” of mechanisms and activities, simplifying the way that NATO develops cooperation offers to partners.

    In line with the new Strategic Concept, NATO is offering its partners “more political engagement with the Alliance, and a substantial role in shaping strategy and decisions on NATO-led operations to which they contribute.” At their meeting in Berlin in 2011, NATO Foreign Ministers endorsed proposals for the establishment of a more structured role for NATO's operational partners in shaping the strategy of NATO-led operations to which they contribute. The Political-Military Framework, which governs the way NATO involves partners in political consultation and the decision-making process for operations and missions to which they contribute, was reviewed in 2011, without however giving partners the same decision-making authority as member countries.

    Existing partnership frameworks will preserve their specificity and be further developed. However, the new partnership policy offers all partners more cooperation and more dialogue. All partners which have an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme (IPCP) or other programme agreed with NATO have access to the same Partnership Cooperation Menu, comprising more than a thousand activities. IPCPs are programmes that form the basis of a partner’s cooperation with NATO. A myriad of other tools are available to partners, according to the specific areas of cooperation they wish to develop with the Alliance, including the initiatives launched at the Wales Summit in September 2014 focused on interoperability and capacity-building.

    NATO is also seeking to develop political dialogue and practical cooperation with key global actors and other new interlocutors across the globe which share the Allies’ interest in peaceful international relations but have no individual programme of cooperation with NATO. Contacts will be developed based on a decision of the North Atlantic Council and in a flexible and pragmatic manner. In the run-up to the Wales Summit in 2014, the Allies agreed to create a new, permanent forum – the Interoperability Platform, which includes partners interested in developing interoperability with NATO. Through this Platform, Allies and partners will discuss and develop plans for deepening their interoperability.

    NATO will further develop more flexible formats for meetings and, as appropriate, activities which will bring NATO Allies and partners together, across and beyond existing frameworks, using the so-called “28 Allies + n” formula. Such meetings are thematic or event-driven and are used, on a case-by-case basis, to enhance consultation on security issues of common concern and cooperation in priority policy areas, such as counter-piracy, counter-narcotics in Afghanistan, and cyber defence.