Education and training

  • Last updated: 26 Mar. 2015 11:33

NATO conducts education and training for three main purposes: to increase the effectiveness of NATO-led multinational forces and their ability to work together, assist partner countries in their reform efforts, and help bring peace and stability to crisis-hit areas.


  • NATO’s education and training programmes are complementary activities which help to improve ‘interoperability’ or the ability of NATO-led, multinational forces to work together at all levels.
  • They also assist 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.
  • NATO started to engage in education and training activities as soon as it was created in 1949.
  • Within NATO, Allied Command Transformation is in the lead for these activities.

Education and training are key agents for transformation. They are complementary activities which reinforce each other. Education focuses on the function of explaining concepts, doctrines and practices and teaching procedures, for instance English language classes and history. Training focuses on practising and applying that knowledge, which helps to assimilate the subject matter completely. Exercises take training a step further by testing acquired knowledge during real-life or computer-assisted exercises with a scenario involving large numbers of participants from a broad range of countries.

Historically, NATO education and training has been focused on ensuring that military forces from member countries can work together effectively in operations and missions. Today, NATO education and training functions have expanded significantly both geographically and institutionally. Geographically, NATO is working with a larger number of countries through its cooperation with partner countries and through the creation of NATO training missions as far away as Afghanistan and Africa. Institutionally, education and training have been reinforced through the creation in 2002 of Allied Command Transformation, entirely dedicated to leading the ongoing transformation of NATO’s military structure, forces, capabilities and doctrine. Subsequently, the introduction of new bodies and initiatives has also demonstrated the resolve to reinforce education and training activities for the Organization.

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 aims to ensure the ability of forces to communicate and work with each other. 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

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.

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.

  • Purpose and practical implementation

    As explained above, NATO’s education and training programmes have three main purposes which are explained below.

    Enhancing interoperability

    Troops for NATO operations are drawn from many different countries: NATO member and partner countries, as well as from countries which are neither members nor partners. Ensuring that these multinational forces can work together effectively despite differences in tactics, doctrine, training, structures, and language is a priority for NATO. This “interoperability” is built in a number of ways.

    • Courses and seminars

    NATO’s network of educational institutions offers a broad range of courses on both strategic and operational issues. While courses differ, they tend to focus on knowledge and skills required by individuals who will occupy senior or specialised positions within the structure of the Alliance, or who hold NATO-related posts in their own countries.

    The NATO Defense College 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. The NATO School in Oberammergau, 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.  

    Courses are being offered in an increasing number of locations to ensure all available expertise is being utilised, for instance, civil-military training at the Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) Centre of Excellence, the Netherlands. Courses vary in duration (from a day to several months) and are open to personnel from NATO member countries and some to personnel from countries participating in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, as well as selected “partners across the globe” (countries which are neither NATO members nor partner countries). Some are also open to civilian participants.

    • Experimentation and development

    NATO is constantly trying to improve the way its forces operate. In line with its transformation agenda, the Alliance is continuing to focus on the development of new concepts and capabilities to ensure future NATO forces are trained and equipped to the highest possible standard.

    NATO countries conduct their own experimentation. The Alliance provides a forum for members to engage in knowledge-sharing regarding concepts and capabilities. It does this through Allied Command Transformation (ACT), which leads the transformation of NATO’s military structure, forces, capabilities and doctrine. ACT enhances training, particularly of commanders and staff, conducts experiments to assess new concepts and promotes interoperability throughout the Alliance.

    • Exercises

    Exercises provide opportunities to test and validate all aspects of NATO operations, including procedures, concepts, systems and tactics. Exercises also build and reinforce interoperability by focusing on practical training for personnel from NATO countries and partners with which the Alliance cooperates.

    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.

    • 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. This effort is embedded in partners' individual programmes (Individual Partnership Action Plans, Annual National Programmes and Individual Partnership Cooperation Programmes), and is a key part of the Enduring Partnership with Afghanistan. Although the programme was set up to meet the requirements of partners, Allies can benefit from it too.

    There are currently 12 individual country DEEP programmes, with different focuses and at different stages of development, engaging Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Georgia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Republic of Moldova, Mongolia, Serbia and Ukraine. Each country participating in defence reform agrees on an individualised programme with NATO that varies in depth and breadth, depending on its interests and level of commitment and cooperation. This can include tailor-made education programmes such as on-the-job training, language training, and the resettlement and retraining of redundant military personnel.

    Aside from helping individual countries to develop their educational institutions, NATO is also helping develop teaching curricula (”what to teach”)   for all Allies and partners.  So far, the reference curricula on defence institution building, on the professional military education for officers and on professional military education for non-commissioned officers have been developed, in collaboration with the PfP Consortium.

    Work continues on reference curricula on the Comprehensive Approach, cyber defence and counter insurgency.

    Faculty development (“how to teach”) is one of the other pillars of DEEP. NATO helps maintain an international professional network which brings together 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, 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 currently brings together 29 civilian and military institutions from Allied and partner countries. While originally developed in the framework of PfP, the network already includes Egyptian, Jordanian and Mongolian centres. The PTECs, while being national institutions, conduct education and training activities related to NATO partnership programmes and policies.

    • Courses, seminars and workshops

    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, democratic oversight and civilian management of the armed forces and other security sector agencies, 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 action plans of the countries concerned. This has been the case, for instance, for the South Caucasus countries, the Republic of Moldova and Mauritania.

    • 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

    An important aspect of NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan is assisting the country in developing its security structures and forces. NATO’s Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) was established in November 2009 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 at the NATO Summit in Lisbon. The 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.

    • The African Union

    At the request of the African Union (AU), NATO assisted the AU (June 2005-end December 2007) in strengthening its peacekeeping force in Darfur 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.

    Additionally, 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.

    • Iraq

    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.

  • The training bodies and institutions

    Allied Command Transformation

    All of the entities attached to Allied Command Transformation (ACT) fulfil an education and training function. ACT was created as part of the reorganisation of NATO’s Command Structure in 2002. It holds lead responsibility for NATO and PfP joint education, individual training, and associated policy and doctrine development as well as for directing NATO schools. Since July 2012, ACT has also been given the responsibility of managing collective training and exercises based on Allied Command Operations’ requirements.

    Additional training institutions and organisations

    These are entities that have a relationship with NATO, but are typically administered by sponsor countries, national authorities or civil organisations. They are complementary to Alliance structures and open to participation by personnel from member and partner countries.

    Centres of Excellence

    The principal role of these centres is to provide high-quality education and training to the Euro-Atlantic community.

    They are funded nationally or multinationally and their relationship with NATO is formalised through memoranda of understanding. The first Centres of Excellence to be fully accredited by NATO were the Joint Air Power Competence Centre in Germany and the Defence Against Terrorism Centre of Excellence in Turkey. Many more have been established since then.

    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. The NATO School in Oberammergau and ACT co-chair the annual conference of the Commandants of the PTECs. This community has been opened to the Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) and to the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI).

    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”.

    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 Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAPs).

    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.

  • 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.


    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 to Rome, Italy in 1966, where it is still located.

    The NATO Communications and Information Systems School in Latina, Italy 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. It is now known as the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation.

    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 at Souda Bay, Greece to conduct 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.

    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

    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 parallel, the PfP Consortium was created and in May 2002, the Joint Analysis & Lessons Learned Centre in Monsanto, 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 EAPC 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.

    Transformation through training

    With the creation of the two new strategic commands in 2002, the coordination and coherence of NATO education and training activities was greatly increased. This led to the creation of additional training institutions and initiatives.

    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. Provision was also made for cooperation on defence reform. 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.

    Since the introduction of the 2010 Strategic Concept and the new partnership policy, NATO exercises have been open to all partners. The Chicago Summit in 2012 reiterated the importance of education and training for the future of the Alliance, a statement which was reinforced by the introduction of the Connected Forces Initiative.  More recently, at the Wales Summit in 2014, NATO boosted its exercise programme and adopted a Partnership Interoperability Initiative to enhance NATO’s ability to tackle security challenges with its partners.