Partnerships: projecting security through cooperation

  • Last updated: 07 Oct. 2016 10:07

At the Warsaw Summit, Allies underlined that they seek to contribute more to the efforts of the international community in projecting stability and strengthening security outside NATO territory. One of the means to do so is through cooperation and partnerships. Over the past 25 years, the Alliance has developed a network of regional partnership frameworks with 41 partner countries from the Euro-Atlantic area, the Mediterranean and the Gulf region, as well as individual relationships with other partners across the globe. NATO pursues dialogue and practical cooperation with these nations on a wide range of political and security-related issues. NATO’s partnerships are beneficial to all involved and contribute to improved security for the broader international community.


  • Partners are part of many of NATO’s core activities, from shaping policy to building defence capacity, developing interoperability and managing crises.
  • NATO’s programmes also help partner nations to develop their own defence and security institutions and forces. 
  • In partnering with NATO, partners can:
    • share insights on areas of common interest or concern through political consultations and intelligence-sharing;
    • participate in a rich menu of education, training and consultation events (over 1,200 events a year are open to partners through a Partnership Cooperation Menu);
    • prepare together for future operations and missions by participating in exercises and training;
    • contribute to current NATO-led operations and missions;
    • share lessons learned from past operations and develop policy for the future;
    • work together with Allies on research and capability development.
  • Through partnership, NATO and partners also pursue a broad vision of security:
    • integrating gender perspectives into security and defence;
    • fighting against corruption in the defence sector;
    • enhancing efforts to control or destroy arms, ammunition and unexploded ordnance;
    • advancing joint scientific projects.
  • Partnership has evolved over the years, to encompass more nations, more flexible instruments, and new forms of cooperation and consultation


More background information

  • A flexible 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 Russia1, 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 regional partnership frameworks. Referred to as “partners across the globe”, they include Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand and Pakistan.

    NATO has also developed flexible means of cooperation with partners, across different regions. NATO can work with so-called “28+n” groups of partners, where partners are chosen based on a common interest or theme. At the 2014 Wales Summit, NATO introduced the possibility of “enhanced opportunities” for certain partners to build a deeper, more tailor-made bilateral relationship with NATO. At the same time, Allied leaders launched the “Interoperability Platform”, a permanent format for cooperation with partners on the interoperability needed for future crisis management and operations.

    1. In April 2014, NATO foreign ministers decided to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia but to maintain political contacts at the level of ambassadors and above.
  • Key objectives of NATO’s partnerships

    Under NATO’s partnership policies, 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.

    That said, each partner determines – with NATO – the pace, scope, intensity and focus of their partnership with NATO, as well as individual objectives. This is often captured in a document setting goals for the relationship, which can be regularly reviewed. However, many of NATO’s partnership activities involve more than one partner at a time.

  • Partnership in practice: how NATO works with partners

    In practice, NATO’s partnership objectives are taken forward through a broad variety of means. Broadly speaking, NATO opens up parts of its processes, procedures and structures to the participation of partners, allowing partners to make concrete contributions through these. In some cases, special programmes have been created to assist and engage partners on their specific needs. Key areas for cooperation are set out below:

    Consultation is key to the work of NATO as an alliance and is central to partnerships. Political consultations can help understand security developments, including regional issues, and shape common approaches to preventing crises or tackling a security challenge.  NATO’s many committees and bodies often meet in formations with partners to shape cooperation in specific areas.  NATO Allies meet with partners (individually or in groups) on a broad variety of subjects and at a variety of levels every day.

    Interoperability is the ability to operate together using harmonized standards, doctrines, procedures and equipment. It is essential to the work of an alliance of multiple countries with national defence forces, and is equally important for working together with partners that wish to contribute in supporting the Alliance in achieving its tactical, operational and strategic objectives. Much of day-to-day cooperation in NATO – including with partners – is focused on achieving this interoperability. In 2014, recognising the importance of maintaining interoperability with partners for future crisis management, NATO launched the Partnership Interoperability Initiative, which inter alia launched mechanisms for enhanced cooperation with nations that wished to maintain deeper interoperability with NATO.

    Partners contribute to NATO-led operations and missions, whether through supporting peace by training security forces in the Western Balkans and Afghanistan or monitoring maritime activity in the Mediterranean Sea or off the Horn of Africa. As contributors to those missions, partners are invited to shape policy and decisions that affect those missions, alongside Allies. A number of tools have been created to assist partners in developing their ability to participate in NATO-led operations, and be interoperable with Allies’ forces.

    For many years, NATO has worked with partners on defence reform, capability and capacity-building, including through education and training. Such work can go from strategic objective setting and joint reviews, to expert assistance and advice, as well as targeted education and training. In 2014, at the Wales Summit, NATO adopted the Defence and Related Security Capacity Building Initiative (see more below). The 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. 

    NATO also engages with partners in a broad variety of other areas where it has developed expertise and programmes. These include:

    • Counter-terrorism;
    • Counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery;
    • Emerging security challenges, such as those related to cyber defence, energy security and maritime security, including counter-piracy;
    • Civil emergency planning.