Countering terrorism

  • Last updated: 01 Sep. 2015 15:31

Terrorism poses a real and serious threat to the security and safety of the Alliance and its members. It is a global threat that knows no border, nationality or religion – a challenge that the international community must tackle together. NATO’s work on counter-terrorism focuses on improved threat awareness and preparedness, developing adequate capabilities and enhancing engagement with partner countries and other international actors.


  • NATO invoked its self-defence Article 5 for the first time in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on the United States.
  • As NATO’s immediate response operation, Active Endeavour has been established to deter, detect and, if necessary, disrupt the threat of terrorism in the Mediterranean Sea.
  • NATO can provide assistance in securing major public events that might attract the interest of terrorists.  
  • NATO develops new capabilities and technologies to tackle the terrorist threat and to manage the consequences of a terrorist attack.

More background information

  • NATO's joint efforts


    Since October 2001, Operation Active Endeavour has been established under Article 5 as NATO’s immediate response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 to deter, detect and, if necessary, disrupt the threat of terrorism in the Mediterranean Sea. NATO operations often have relevance to international counter-terrorism efforts, even if their mandate is not specifically tailored to the terrorist threat.  NATO maritime forces can play an important role inter alia in counter-terrorism, crisis management and humanitarian assistance.  The NATO-led operation in Afghanistan, while not a counter-terrorism operation as such, is helping to prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a safe haven for international terrorism by assisting the government of Afghanistan to expand its authority and implement security. 

    Securing major public events

    NATO can provide assistance in promoting the security of major public events that might attract the interest of terrorists.  At the request of the government concerned, it can deploy capabilities such as the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft or elements of the multinational Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defence Battalion. The Alliance has assisted high-visibility events such as NATO Summits and ministerial meetings, as well as events like the Athens Olympic Games, the European Football Championship held in Poland and Ukraine in 2012 and the 2013 Dutch royal handover.

    Protecting populations and critical infrastructure against the consequences of terrorist attacks

    National authorities are primarily responsible for protecting their population and critical infrastructure against the consequences of terrorist attacks, CBRN incidents and natural disasters. NATO serves as a forum to develop non-binding guidelines and minimum standards as well as to exchange best practices and lessons learned for such eventualities to improve preparedness and national resilience.  NATO has developed ‘Guidelines for first response to a CBRN incident’ and organises ‘International Courses for Trainers of First Responders to CBRN Incidents’ in six regional training centres. Providing timely information to the public is also a key component of consequence management, so NATO has developed guidelines to advise national authorities on warning the general public and alerting emergency responders.

    A network of 380 civil experts from across the Euro-Atlantic area exists to support these efforts. Their expertise covers all civil aspects relevant to NATO planning and operations, including crisis management, consequence management and critical infrastructure protection. Drawn from government and industry, experts participate in training and exercises, and respond to requests for assistance.

    The role of the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre

    Under the auspices of the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC), Allies have established an inventory of national civil and military capabilities that could be made available to assist stricken countries – both member and partner countries – following a CBRN terrorist attack. Originally created in 1998 to coordinate responses to natural and man-made disasters, since 2001 the EADRCC also coordinates responses to potential terrorist acts involving CBRN agents. The Centre has a standing mandate to respond to a national request for assistance in the event of a terrorist attack using CBRN agents. It organises major international field exercises to practise responses to simulated disaster situations and consequence management.

    NATO Crisis Management System

    The NATO Crisis Management System provides the Alliance with a comprehensive set of options and measures to manage and respond to the full range of crises that the Alliance may be required to face in a timely, coordinated and discriminate manner. Specific Civil Emergency Planning Crisis Management Arrangements define the roles of the Civil Emergency Planning Committee, the Planning Groups, the EADRCC and the use of civil experts during times of crisis.

  • NATO's capabilities

    NATO supports the development of capabilities and innovative technology that specifically address the threat of terrorism. The aim is to protect troops, civilians and critical infrastructure against attacks perpetrated by terrorists, such as suicide attacks with improvised explosive devices, rocket attacks against aircraft and helicopters and the potential use of weapons of mass destruction.

    The Defence Against Terrorism Programme of Work

    The Defence Against Terrorism Programme of Work (DAT POW), which was developed by the Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) in 2004, is an important part of measures taken to strengthen the Alliance’s fight against terrorism. The DAT POW primarily focused on technological solutions to mitigate the effects of terrorist attacks but has widened its scope to support comprehensive capability development. Most projects launched under the programme are focused on finding solutions that can be fielded in the short term. Individual NATO countries lead the projects with support and contributions from other member countries (and partner countries in some cases), NATO bodies and other stakeholders. The DAT POW uses new or adapted technologies or methods to detect, disrupt and defeat asymmetric threats under three capability umbrellas: incident management, force protection/survivability, and network engagement.

    Countering chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats

    The spread and potential use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery systems and the possibility that terrorists will acquire them are acknowledged as principal threats to the Alliance. Therefore, NATO places a high priority on preventing the proliferation of WMD and defending against CBRN threats and hazards. NATO’s Comprehensive, Strategic-Level Policy for Preventing the Proliferation of WMD and Defending against CBRN Threats states that NATO will work actively to prevent the proliferation of WMD by state and non-state actors. The Alliance is determined to ensure that NATO has the full range of capabilities necessary to deter and defend against any threat to the safety and security of Allied populations, including the threat posed by CBRN weapons.

    The Combined Joint CBRN Defence Task Force (which consists of a CBRN Defence Battalion and a CBRN Joint Assessment Team) is designed to respond to and manage the consequences of the use of CBRN agents both within and beyond NATO’s area of responsibility.  In addition, efforts are underway to establish a NATO CBRN Reach Back capability, providing coordinated, on-demand advice on CBRN threats, risks and hazards to support NATO’s response to WMD proliferation, protection and recovery. The NATO-certified Centre of Excellence on Joint CBRN Defence, in the Czech Republic, further enhances NATO’s capabilities to counter CBRN threats.

    Improved intelligence-sharing

    Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, NATO increased consultations on terrorism and terrorism-related issues among its members, as well as with non-member countries. Information-sharing and, more specifically, intelligence-sharing are key aspects of this exchange. Over the years, various steps have been taken to improve intelligence-sharing mechanisms and structures, based on decisions taken at the 2002 Prague Summit, the 2004 Istanbul Summit and with the reform of intelligence structures in 2010-2011.

    As a result of reform, analysis of intelligence at NATO Headquarters — including of terrorist issues — was enhanced with the creation of the Intelligence Unit, which benefits from the increased sharing of intelligence between member services and the Alliance.  Via the Intelligence Unit, analytical approaches to terrorism and its links with other transnational threats have been enhanced, as has cooperation among the NATO civilian and military intelligence components.

    Intelligence-sharing between specialised NATO international bodies and partner countries’ agencies has continued, through the Intelligence Liaison Unit at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, and an intelligence liaison cell at Allied Command Operations in Mons, Belgium.

  • Strengthening cooperation with partners

    The threat of terrorism does not affect NATO alone so counter-terrorism work has become an important element of NATO’s cooperation activities with partners around the world. The contributions by a number of partners to NATO’s operations, as well as their efforts to introduce defence reforms supported by NATO programmes, strengthen efforts to counter terrorism. Dialogue and cooperation in the field of counter-terrorism are priorities in relations with many of NATO’s partners. 

    Partners interested in engaging in bilateral cooperation with NATO in the area of counter-terrorism are encouraged to include the subject in all relevant documents, such as the Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme (IPCP), Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAPs) and Annual National Programmes (ANPs), according to their specific interests and needs. 

    On 1 April 2014, NATO Foreign Ministers condemned Russia’s illegal military intervention in Ukraine and Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ministers underlined that NATO does not recognise Russia’s illegal and illegitimate attempt to annex Crimea. As a result, NATO Foreign Ministers decided to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia, including in the area of counter-terrorism cooperation.

    Combating terrorism was among the main drivers behind the creation of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) in May 2002 and remained a key aspect of NATO’s dialogue and practical cooperation with Russia. An NRC Action Plan on Terrorism first agreed in December 2004 and subsequently updated, sets out areas of cooperation. It aims to enhance capabilities to act, individually and jointly, in three critical areas: preventing terrorism, combating terrorist activities and managing the consequences of terrorist acts (for more information, see NATO-Russia Council Action Plan on Terrorism).

    The NRC also launched the Cooperative Airspace Initiative (CAI) in 2003 to foster cooperation on airspace surveillance and air traffic coordination, with the underlying goal to enhance confidence-building and to strengthen capabilities required for the handling of situations in which aircraft are suspected of being used as weapons to perpetrate terrorist attacks. The CAI system became operational in 2011. Russia has also participated in Operation Active Endeavour in 2006 and 2007.

    To date, cooperation remains suspended.

  • Strengthening cooperation with other organisations

    NATO is cooperating with other international organisations – in particular the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – to ensure that information is shared and appropriate action can be taken more effectively in the fight against terrorism. The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, international conventions and protocols against terrorism, together with relevant UN resolutions provide a common framework for efforts to combat terrorism.

    In cooperating with the United Nations on counter-terrorism, NATO works closely with the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate as well as with the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and many of its relevant component organisations.  On broader issues NATO works closely with the UN agencies that play a leading role in responding to international disasters and in consequence management, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN 1540 Committee.

    NATO maintains close relations with the OSCE’s Transnational Threats Department’s Action against Terrorism Unit.

    The use of civilian aircraft as a weapon on 11 September 2001 led to efforts to enhance aviation security. NATO’s efforts in this field include improving civil-military coordination of air traffic control by working with EUROCONTROL, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the US Federal Aviation Authority, major national aviation and security authorities, airlines and pilot associations and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), so that information is shared and action taken more effectively.

  • Improving training, education and cooperation through science

    NATO offers a range of training and education opportunities in the field of counter-terrorism to both Allies and partner countries. It can draw on a wide network that includes the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany and the Centres of Excellence (COEs) that support the NATO command structure. Currently, there are 18 COEs fully accredited by NATO. Several of the COEs have a link to the fight against terrorism, in particular the Centre of Excellence for Defence Against Terrorism (COE-DAT) in Ankara, Turkey that serves as both a location and a catalyst for international dialogue and discussion regarding defence against terrorism issues. COE-DAT has established links with over 50 countries and 40 organisations to provide subject matter expertise on terrorism.

    Counter-terrorism is also an important priority of the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme, which is a longstanding platform for enhancing cooperation and dialogue with partners based on civil science and innovation. The SPS Programme has been successful in bringing together scientists and experts from NATO and partner countries in the field of counter-terrorism, thereby contributing to a better understanding of threats, the development of detection and response measures, as well as fostering an effective network of experts. Activities include workshops, training courses and multi-year research and development projects. The principal themes under the SPS Programme for activities in the area of counter-terrorism include: exploring methods for the protection of critical infrastructure, supplies and personnel; human factors in defence against terrorism; detection technologies against the terrorist threat from explosive devices and illicit activities; and risk management, best practices, and technologies in response to terrorism.

  • Milestones in NATO’s work on counter-terrorism


    The Alliance's 1999 Strategic Concept identifies terrorism as one of the risks affecting NATO’s security.

    11 September 2001

    Four coordinated terrorist attacks are launched by the terrorist group al-Qaeda upon targets in the United States.

    12 September 2001

    Less than 24 hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks – NATO Allies and partner countries, in a meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, condemn the attacks, offering their support to the United States and pledging to “undertake all efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism”. Later that day, the Allies decide to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the Alliance’s collective defence clause for the first time in NATO's history, if it is determined that the attack had been directed from abroad against the United States.

    13-14 September 2001

    Declarations of solidarity and support are given by Russia and Ukraine.

    2 October 2001

    The North Atlantic Council is briefed by a high-level US official on the results of investigations into the 9/11 attacks -- the Council determines that the attacks would be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

    4 October 2001

    NATO agrees on eight measures to support the United States:

    • to enhance intelligence-sharing and cooperation, both bilaterally and in appropriate NATO bodies, relating to the threats posed by terrorism and the actions to be taken against it;
    • to provide, individually or collectively, as appropriate and according to their capabilities, assistance to Allies and other countries which are or may be subject to increased terrorist threats as a result of their support for the campaign against terrorism;
    • to take necessary measures to provide increased security for facilities of the United States and other Allies on their territory;
    • to backfill selected Allied assets in NATO’s area of responsibility that are required to directly support operations against terrorism;
    • to provide blanket overflight clearances for the United States and other Allies’ aircraft, in accordance with the necessary air traffic arrangements and national procedures, for military flights related to operations against terrorism;
    • to provide access for the United States and other Allies to ports and airfields on the territory of NATO member countries for operations against terrorism, including for refuelling, in accordance with national procedures;
    • that the Alliance is ready to deploy elements of its Standing Naval Forces to the Eastern Mediterranean in order to provide a NATO presence and demonstrate resolve; 
    • that the Alliance is similarly ready to deploy elements of its NATO Airborne Early Warning Force to support operations against terrorism.

    Mid-October 2001

    NATO launches its first-ever operation against terrorism – Operation Eagle Assist: at the request of the United States, seven NATO AWACS radar aircraft are sent to help patrol the skies over the United States (the operation runs through to mid-May 2002 during which time 830 crewmembers from 13 NATO countries fly over 360 sorties). It is the first time that NATO military assets have been deployed in support of an Article 5 operation.

    26 October 2001

    NATO launches its second counter-terrorism operation in response to the attacks on the United States, Operation Active Endeavour: elements of NATO's Standing Naval Forces are sent to patrol the eastern Mediterranean and monitor shipping to detect and deter terrorist activity, including illegal trafficking.

    May 2002

    At their Reykjavik meeting, NATO Foreign Ministers decide that the Alliance would operate when and where necessary to fight terrorism. This landmark declaration effectively ends the debate on what constituted NATO’s area of operations and paves the way for the Alliance’s future engagement with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

    November 2002

    At the Prague Summit, NATO leaders express their determination to deter, defend and protect their populations, territory and forces from any armed attack from abroad, including by terrorists. To this end, they adopt a Prague package, aimed at adapting NATO to the challenge of terrorism. It comprises:

    • a Military Concept for Defence against Terrorism;
    • a Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism (PAP-T);
    • five nuclear, biological and chemical defence initiatives;
    • protection of civilian populations, including a Civil Emergency Planning Action Plan;
    • missile defence: Allies are examining options for addressing the increasing missile threat to Alliance populations, territory and forces in an effective and efficient way through an appropriate mix of political and defence efforts, along with deterrence;
    • cyber defence;
    • cooperation with other international organisations; and
    • improved intelligence-sharing.

    In addition, they decide to create the NATO Response Force, streamline the military command structure and launch the Prague Capabilities Commitment to better prepare NATO’s military forces to face new challenges, including terrorism.

    10 March 2003

    Operation Active Endeavour is expanded to include escorting civilian shipping through the Strait of Gibraltar.

    March 2004

    As a result of the success of Active Endeavour in the Eastern Mediterranean, NATO extends its remit to the whole of the Mediterranean.

    November 2006

    At the Riga Summit, NATO leaders recognise that “terrorism, increasingly global in scope and lethal in results, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction are likely to be the principal threats to the Alliance over the next 10 to 15 years”.


    NATO’s Strategic Concept, adopted at the Lisbon Summit in November 2010, recognises that terrorism poses a direct threat to the security of the citizens of NATO countries, and to international stability and prosperity more broadly. It commits Allies to enhance the capacity to detect and defend against international terrorism, including through enhanced threat analysis, more consultations with NATO’s partners, and the development of appropriate military capabilities.

    May 2012

    At the Chicago Summit, NATO leaders endorse new policy guidelines for Alliance work on counter-terrorism, which focus on improved threat awareness, adequate capabilities and enhanced engagement with partner countries and other international actors.