Education and training

  • Last updated: 25 May. 2016 13:25

NATO conducts education and training to increase the effectiveness of multinational forces and their ability to work together. NATO also uses its expertise and resources in education and training to assist partner countries in their reform efforts and help bring peace and stability to crisis-hit areas.


  • NATO’s education and training programmes help to improve “interoperability” – the ability of multinational forces to work together at all levels.
  • These programmes assist NATO partners in security-related areas of activity such as reforming professional military education for officers or building capacity to meet emerging security challenges.
  • Education and training programmes for the police or armed forces in post-conflict areas can also serve as tools to promote peace and stability.
  • Since its inception in 1949, NATO started to engage in education and training activities, which have expanded geographically and institutionally over time.
  • In 2002, NATO demonstrated its resolve to boost education and training by creating Allied Command Transformation (ACT), entirely dedicated to leading the ongoing transformation of NATO’s military structure, forces, capabilities and doctrine.
  • ACT has a holistic approach to education and training: it provides unity of effort and helps identify gaps and avoid duplication, while ensuring greater effectiveness and efficiency through global programming. These efforts are complementary to national programmes.
  • Transformation through education and training

    Troops for NATO operations are drawn from many different countries. Ensuring that these multinational forces can work together effectively is one of the main objectives of NATO’s education and training programmes. The latter are also used to assist NATO partner countries in their reform efforts, as well as to help bring peace and stability to crisis-hit areas.

    Education focuses on institution building through the development of concepts, doctrines and practices. Individual training focuses on practising and applying that knowledge, which helps to assimilate the subject matter completely. Collective training aims to improve and maintain the collective performance of a headquarters and/or a formation. Exercises take training a step further by testing acquired knowledge during live or computer-assisted simulations based on a scenario and may involve a large number of participants from a broad range of countries.

    Together, education and training are key agents for transformation.

    Ensuring effectiveness

    Ensuring that multinational forces can work together effectively despite differences in tactics, doctrine, training, structures and language is a priority for NATO. This capacity to work together as one is reinforced by global programming – global understood as comprehensive, not worldwide: from tactical to strategic level, individual and collective training, and encompassing all education and training facilities that are willing to work with NATO.

    The concentration of responsibility for education and training at Allied Command Transformation (ACT) since 1 December 2002 has created the opportunity to align education and individual training with collective training and exercises, while improving readiness and interoperability. ACT has a process in place to ensure that appropriate education and training is developed: starting from the requirements, consequent analyses identify and develop the most appropriate education and training solution for every discipline. Annual conferences then keep the disciplines aligned with the ever-evolving requirements, and guarantee responsive and flexible education and training cycles. Once the solutions are defined, delivery of courses, training and exercises is synchronised with all stakeholders.

    The drivers for all education and training efforts come from the operational requirements defined in NATO’s strategic documents, and global programming instigated by ACT aims to ensure cohesiveness throughout all education and training activities.

    Working with partners on defence reform

    NATO members have reduced levels of military personnel, equipment and bases from Cold War levels and transformed their forces to meet different needs. Many partner countries are still going through this process, often with scarce resources and limited expertise.

    NATO is using education to support institutional reform in partner countries.  Its education and training programmes initially focused on increasing interoperability between NATO and partner forces; they have since been expanded to provide a means for members and partners to collaborate on how to build, develop and reform educational institutions in the security, defence and military domain.

    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. The main frameworks for cooperation are the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

    • Tailor-made defence education

      Through the Defence Education Enhancement Programme (DEEP), the Alliance advises partners on how to build, develop and reform educational institutions in the defence and military domain. DEEP provides a platform to connect experts to defence education institutions in countries that seek to become intellectually interoperable with NATO and to contribute to capacity building. Although the programme was set up to meet the requirements of partners, Allies can benefit from it too.

      NATO is helping to develop teaching curricula (”what to teach”) for Allies and partners in areas such as defence institution building or professional military education for officers, in collaboration with the Partnership for Peace (PfP) Consortium. It also focuses on faculty development (“how to teach”) and, to this end, maintains an international professional network of defence and military educators from Allied and partner countries to exchange experience in teaching methodologies and help those interested in advice and assistance. This vast network of institutions and individuals support these projects on a voluntary basis. Among the institutions are : the US Army War College, the Canadian Defence Academy, the National Defence University of Poland, the National Defence University of Romania, the Czech University of Defence, the Slovak Armed Forces Academy, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany to name just a few. The NATO Defense College and the NATO School Oberammergau also support the programme.

      The PfP Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes is instrumental in helping NATO to manage the network and the DEEP projects. The functional Educational Clearing House, led by the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and the United States, also plays a critical role in coordinating NATO and national efforts in support of DEEP projects. The clearing house is supported by the PfP Consortium and ACT.

      The Alliance is also the hub for a growing network of Partnership Training and Education Centres (PTECs), which brings together civilian and military institutions from Allied and partner countries. The PTECs, while being national institutions, conduct education and training activities related to NATO partnership programmes and policies.

    • Courses, seminars and workshops

      NATO partner countries which work with NATO are able to participate in an array of NATO education activities – courses, roundtables, seminars and workshops.

    • Advice and expertise

      NATO shares its expertise in the field of defence capabilities with partner countries. It does this through the PfP Planning and Review Process (PARP), a mechanism that also helps to identify partner forces and capabilities that could be available to the Alliance for multinational training, exercises and operations.

      Countries with special relationships with NATO can have additional mechanisms for exchanging advice and expertise. For instance, the NATO-Ukraine Joint Working Group on Defence Reform provides a forum through which consultation can take place on initiatives as diverse as civil-military relations, defence planning, policy, strategy and national security concepts. Moreover, NATO-led multinational teams of experts can visit partner countries to address the education and training requirements listed in the Individual Partnership Action Plans of the countries concerned.

      An initiative for the Mediterranean and the Middle East

      A dedicated Middle East faculty has been established at the NATO Defense College in Rome as part of the NATO Regional Cooperation Course.

      Education and training in NATO-led operations

      NATO’s efforts to bring stability to crisis areas go beyond deploying troops to include education and training programmes that can help partners develop security institutions and provide for their own security.

    • Afghanistan

      NATO is currently leading Resolute Support, a non-combat mission which provides training, advice and assistance to Afghan security forces and institutions. Resolute Support was launched on 1 January 2015 and its key functions include: supporting planning, programming and budgeting; assuring transparency, accountability and oversight; supporting the adherence to the principles of rule of law and good governance; supporting the establishment and sustainment of processes such as force generation, recruiting, training, managing and development of personnel.

      An important aspect of NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan is assisting the country in developing its security structures and forces. In November 2009, the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) was established to train and mentor Afghan National Security Forces, support the Afghan National Army’s institutional training base, and reform the Afghan National Police at the district level and below. The Alliance also deployed Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams to Afghan National Army units at various levels of command. These gradually evolved into Military Advisory Teams and Police Advisory Teams, more generally known as Security Force Assistance Teams.

      In 2006, NATO signed a declaration with Afghanistan, establishing a substantial programme of long-term cooperation. This Afghan Cooperation Programme provides for further training assistance, including opening NATO courses and partnership activities to Afghan participation, providing advice and expertise on defence reform and the development of security institutions, as well as specific assistance such as language training.

      Subsequently, on 20 November 2010, NATO and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan signed a Declaration on an Enduring Partnership. This Enduring Partnership is intended to provide long-term political and practical support to Afghanistan as it rebuilds its security institutions and assumes full responsibility for its own security. It includes a series of agreed programmes and activities undertaken as part of the ongoing cooperation between NATO and Afghanistan. This includes the Professional Military Education Programme for Afghanistan, which aims to further develop Afghan institutions, as well as other initiatives such as a counter-narcotics training pilot project.
    • African Union

      At the request of the African Union (AU), NATO has been providing subject-matter experts to the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) since 2007, offering expertise in areas such as maritime planning, air movement coordination and logistics. NATO also provides expert and training support to the African Standby Force (ASF), at the AU’s request. The ASF is part of the AU’s efforts to develop long-term peacekeeping capabilities.

      Previously, NATO helped strengthen the AU’s peacekeeping force in Darfur (June 2005-end December 2007) in a bid to halt the continuing violence. Initially, NATO’s support consisted in training AU troops in strategic-level planning and operational procedures. It provided training assistance in other areas such as pre-deployment certification and “lessons learned”, as well as information management.
    • Iraq

      On 24 September 2012, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow and Iraqi National Security Adviser Faleh Al-Fayyadh signed the NATO-Iraq cooperation programme, marking the formal accession of Iraq to NATO’s “partnership family”. The main areas of cooperation include education and training, response to terrorism, countering improvised explosive devices, explosive ordnance disposal, defence institution building and communications strategy.

      Beforehand – from 2004 to end 2011 – NATO helped Iraq provide for its own security by training Iraqi personnel and supporting the development of the country’s security institutions. NATO trained and mentored middle- and senior-level personnel from the Iraqi security forces in Iraq and outside of Iraq, at NATO schools and training centres. The Alliance also played a role in coordinating offers of equipment and training from individual NATO member and partner countries.
  • Training bodies and institutions

    There are a number of organisations through which NATO education and training is organised and run. Some operate under the direction of the Alliance and others are external, but complementary to Alliance structures.

    Allied Command Transformation

    Allied Command Transformation (ACT) was created as part of the reorganisation of NATO’s Command Structure in 2002. This strategic command in Norfolk, United States holds lead responsibility for directing NATO schools as well as for NATO and Partnership for Peace (PfP) joint education, individual training, and associated policy and doctrine development. Since July 2012, ACT has also been given the responsibility of managing collective training and exercises based on Allied Command Operations’ requirements.

    NATO education and training facilities

    There are seven facilities of which the last three are under direct control of HQ SACT:

    1. The NATO Defense College (NDC) in Rome, Italy is NATO’s primary strategic-level educational facility and includes areas of study such as trends in the international security environment and their potential effects on NATO countries. It provides training for senior commanders.
    2. The NATO School in Oberammergau (NSO), Germany is the primary operational-level training centre for students. Operational-level training focuses on joint planning of NATO operations, logistics, communications, civil emergency planning, or civil-military cooperation.  
    3. The NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre (NMIOTC) in Souda Bay, Greece conducts training for NATO forces in surface, sub-surface, aerial surveillance and special operations activities. It does this through theoretical and practical training programmes, as well as through simulations.
    4. The NATO Communications and Information Systems School (NCISS) in Latina, Italy provides cost-effective highly developed formal training to personnel (military and civilian) from NATO as well as non-NATO countries for the efficient operation and maintenance of those NATO communications and information systems.
    5. The Joint Warfare Centre (JWC) in Stavanger, Norway provides NATO's training focal point for full-spectrum joint operational-level warfare.
    6. The Joint Force Training Centre (JFTC) in Bydgoszcz, Poland supports training for NATO and partner forces to improve joint and combined tactical interoperability. The JFTC conducts joint training for tactical-level command posts and staffs in support of tactical-level commanders.
    7. The Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre (JALLC) in Lisbon, Portugal is NATO’s lead agency for the analysis of operations, training and experiments, and for the collection and dissemination of lessons learned. The JALLC deploys project teams worldwide, delivering analysis support to NATO at the strategic and operational levels.

    NATO-related education and training institutions

    These are entities that have a relationship with NATO, but are typically administered by sponsor countries, national authorities or civil organisations. They are open to participation by personnel from member and partner countries and may sometimes welcome individuals coming from other organisations.

    Centres of Excellence

    The principal role of these centres is to provide high-quality education and training to the Euro-Atlantic community. They complement the Alliance’s resources and cover a wide variety of areas, each one focusing on a specific field of expertise to enhance NATO capabilities.

    These Centres of Excellence (COEs) are accredited by NATO and, although not part of the NATO Command Structure, are part of a wider framework supporting NATO. They are funded nationally or multinationally and their relationship with NATO is formalised through memoranda of understanding.

    Courses are being offered through these COEs in an increasing number of locations to ensure all available expertise is being utilised. Courses vary in duration (from one day to several months) and are open to personnel from NATO member countries and some to personnel from partner countries. Some are also open to civilian participants.

    Partnership Training and Education Centres

    Partnership Training and Education Centres (PTECs) focus on the operational and tactical levels of a military operation. Each one has a different area of expertise and provides enhanced training and facilities for personnel from all partner countries. In April 2011, NATO adopted a concept for PTECs to support interested partners in developing their defence education and training capacities even further. It is based on the “Policy for a More Efficient and Flexible Partnership”, which states that, “all partners will be offered deeper political and practical engagement with the Alliance, including through support for defence education, training and capacity building, within existing resources”. With this initiative, NATO has committed itself to supporting interested partners in developing their defence education and training capacities even further.

    Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes

    The PfP Consortium - an Austrian-German-Swiss-US initiative - was established in 1999 to help promote education in security-related topics. It does this by facilitating cooperation between both civilian and military institutions in NATO and PfP countries in support of NATO priorities such as defence institution building and defence reform.

    In addition to developing reference curricula, the PfP Consortium is also running an Educators’ Programme to familiarise partners with modern teaching methodologies, and supporting partners in education-related aspects of their cooperation programmes with NATO.

    The PfP Consortium establishes working groups where experts, policy-makers, and defence and security practitioners pool information and develop products such as educational tools or scholarly publications.  Participating organisations include universities, research institutions and training centres. The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Germany forms the Secretariat.

    Other education and training facilities

    Organisations that are not directly related to NATO may support the Alliance in its education and training activities. These facilities can come from national, multinational and non-governmental organisations, such as military schools and universities.

  • Education and training: a key activity since 1949

    Collective education and training has been ongoing since the inception of the Alliance in 1949. Over time, it has expanded to become an integral part of NATO’s ability to provide security. It has expanded geographically, with NATO working with a larger number of countries, and institutionally, with the creation of ACT, a strategic command entirely dedicated to leading transformation throughout the Alliance.


    In the early years of the Alliance, NATO forces conducted joint training to strengthen their ability to practise collective defence. In other words, education and training was conducted to ensure that forces were prepared in the case of an attack.

    An integrated force under centralised command

    An integrated force under centralised command was called for as early as September 1950, following the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. The first Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was appointed in December 1950. Following this appointment, national forces were put under centralised command.

    The Alliance’s first exercises

    The Alliance’s first exercises were held in the autumn of 1951. During 1953, there were approximately 100 exercises of various kinds conducted by NATO. From this point on, NATO forces began to gain cohesion.

    Education for individuals

    Individual education soon followed. The need for a specialised setting to explore issues unique to the Alliance was first recognised by General Eisenhower in April 1951. The NATO Defense College was inaugurated later that year, on 19 November, and was transferred from Paris, France to Rome, Italy in 1966, where it is still located.

    The NATO Communications and Information Systems School was established in 1959, when a civil contractor began to train a small number of NATO personnel on what would become NATO's “ACE HIGH Communications System”. On 2 May of the same year, the NATO Undersea Research Centre in La Spezia, Italy was commissioned.  During the 2002 reform process, this centre was moved to the agency structure of the Alliance as an organisational element linked to research. In 1971, the Military Committee established the NATO Training Group. The NATO Training Group met for many years in joint session with the Euro-training sub-group, which was set up to improve multinational training arrangements between European countries (its responsibilities were passed on to NATO in 1993). The NATO Training Group was formally transferred from the Military Committee to ACT in 2004. Its principal aim is to improve interoperability among Allies and, additionally, between the forces of partner countries.
    In 1975, the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany received its charter and present name. For almost 25 years, its principal focus was on issues relating to collective defence.

    More recently in 2003, the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre was established in Souda Bay, Greece to conduct training for NATO forces in surface, sub-surface, aerial surveillance and special operations activities.

    NATO training opens to partners

    Partnership for Peace countries

    When NATO invited former Warsaw Pact countries, former Soviet Republics and non-member western European countries to join the PfP programme in 1994, participating countries committed themselves to increasing interoperability with NATO forces. This opened the way for joint training and marked the beginning of NATO’s support for defence reform.

    NATO training institutions soon followed suit. The first officers’ course for partner countries was conducted in October 1994 at the NATO Communications and Information Systems School. Similarly, the NATO Defense College integrated PfP issues into its Senior Course.

    Mediterranean Dialogue countries

    The Mediterranean Dialogue was likewise created in 1994, initially as a forum for political dialogue. In 1997, at a meeting in Sintra, Portugal, the Alliance decided to open selected military training activities to countries participating in this initiative (currently seven countries: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia).

    Increasing cooperation with all partners

    In 1998, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council approved the creation of the Partnership for Peace Consortium and at the 1999 Washington Summit NATO leaders approved plans for an “Enhanced and More Operational Partnership”. In addition, with the revision of the NATO Strategic Concept in 1999, the role of the NATO School was fundamentally altered to include cooperation and dialogue with civilian personnel from non-NATO countries. 

    In May 2002, the Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre in Monsanto (Lisbon), Portugal was established. This facility’s mission is to perform joint analysis and experimentation of operations, training and exercises – also with partners.

    In February 2005, the North Atlantic Council started developing the Education and Training for Defence Reform (EfR) initiative. EfR helps educators incorporate principles linked to defence institution building into their curricula. Since the courses are aimed at civil servants and other persons participating in defence institution building, they contribute indirectly to improving defence reform.

    Education and training as transformation tools

    With the creation of the two new strategic commands in 2002 and the introduction of global programming, the coordination and coherence of NATO education and training activities has been greatly increased.  From 2002, ACT was able to look holistically at education and training.

    New training centres

    A Joint Warfare Centre in Stavanger, Norway was inaugurated on 23 October 2003. The Joint Force Training Centre in Bydgoszcz, Poland, inaugurated on 31 March 2004, supports training for both NATO and partner forces to improve joint and combined tactical interoperability.

    Stepping up training and partnerships

    At the 2004 Istanbul Summit, Alliance leaders elevated the Mediterranean Dialogue initiative to a genuine partnership to include increased participation in exercises and individual training at NATO institutions. At the same time, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) was introduced, which paved the way for cooperation between NATO and countries from the broader Middle East (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates) in areas such as education and training.

    This Summit also made provision for partners to engage in joint training to combat terrorism and to train jointly with the NATO Response Force, NATO’s rapid-reaction force.

    The Connected Forces Initiative

    At the Chicago Summit in 2012, NATO leaders stressed the importance of expanding education and training, especially within the context of the Connected Forces Initiative (CFI). CFI seeks to make greater use of education, training and exercises to reinforce links between the forces of NATO member countries and maintain the level of interoperability needed for future operations. At the most basic level, this implies individuals understanding each other and, at a higher level, the use of common doctrines, concepts and procedures, as well as interoperable equipment. Forces also need to increasingly practise working together through joint and combined training and exercising, after which they need to standardize skills and make better use of technology.1

    Joint training means forces from two or more military departments working under a single command and combined forces are forces from different countries working under a single command.