NATO recognizes that dealing with today's complex new threats requires wide international cooperation and collective effort. That is why NATO has developed, and continues to develop, a network of partnerships in the security field.
The Initiative was preceeded by a series of high level consultations conducted by the then Deputy Secretary General of NATO, Ambassador Minuto Rizzo, with six countries of the region in May, September and December 2004.
These were: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. During these consultations all of the countries expressed their interest in the Initiative.
ICI was launched at the Summit meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government in Istanbul, 28 June 2004. Following the Summit, from September to December 2004, the Deputy Secretary General of NATO paid a second round of visits to the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to discuss the way ahead.
In the first three months of 2005, three countries: Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar formally joined the ICI. In June 2005, the United Arab Emirates joined the Initiative.
The ICI has since developed both in the political and in the practical dimensions. While the political dialogue has evolved to include high-level meetings, the practical dimension was progressively enhanced through the opening of new partnership tools and activities as well as through the contribution of these countries to NATO-led operations. The multilateral dimension of the partnership also developed, with the first NAC+4 meeting held in November 2008, followed by two other such meetings in 2009 and 2010.
Since the Istanbul Summit in 2004, an annual Menu of Practical Activities focusing on agreed priority areas has been opened to ICI countries and has been gradually enhanced. Whereas in 2007, the offer of cooperation to ICI countries included 328 activities/events, the 2011 Menu of Practical Activities now contains about 500 activities.
The NATO Training Cooperation Initiative (NTCI), launched at the 2007 Riga Summit, aims at complementing existing cooperation activities developed in the ICI framework through the establishment of a “NATO Regional Cooperation Course” at the NATO Defence College (NDC) in Rome, which consists in a ten-week strategic level course also focusing on current security challenges in the Middle East. ICI partners, as well as Saudi Arabia, actively participate in these courses.
The importance of public diplomacy has been underlined by ICI nations. High visibility events gave way to informal discussions on security related issues of common interest. The ICI Ambassadorial Conferences in Kuwait (2006), Bahrain (2008) and the United Arab Emirates (2009), which were attended by the Secretary General, the Deputy Secretary General and the 28 NATO Permament Representatives, as well as by high-ranking officials, policymakers and opinion leaders from ICI countries, focused on discussing and addressing the perception of NATO in the Gulf, as well as ways to develop NATO-ICI partnership in its two dimensions. The fourth ICI Ambassadorial Conference took place in Qatar in February 2011 and focused on deepening NATO-ICI partnership.
The new Strategic Concept, adopted at the Lisbon Summit in November 2010, identifies cooperative security as one of three core tasks for the Alliance. It refers specifically to the ICI, and states: “We attach great importance to peace and stability in the Gulf region, and we intend to strengthen our cooperation in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. We will aim to develop a deeper security partnership with our Gulf partners and remain ready to welcome new partners in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.”
With the approval of the new partnership policy at the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin in April 2011, all NATO partners will have access in principle to the same range and number of activities. This will dramatically expand the number of activities accessible to ICI countries.
ICI partners have also increasingly demonstrated their readiness to participate in NATO-led operations, acting as security providers. Today, several ICI partners actively contribute to the NATO ISAF operation in Afghanistan. Following the launch of Operation Unified Protector (OUP) in Libya, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates promptly provided air assets to the operation and were recognised as contributing nations, playing a key role in the success of the operation.