The NAC meets at least every week and often more frequently, at the level of permanent representatives; it meets twice a year at the level of ministers of foreign affairs, three times a year at the level of ministers of defence, and occasionally at the summit level with the participation of prime ministers and heads of state and government.
Permanent representatives act on instruction from their capitals, informing and explaining the views and the policy decisions of their governments to their colleagues around the table. Conversely they report back to their national authorities on the views expressed and positions taken by other governments, informing them of new developments and keeping them abreast of movement toward consensus on important issues or areas where national positions diverge.
Each country represented at the Council table or on any of its subordinate committees retains complete sovereignty and responsibility for its own decisions.
Preparing the Council's work
The work of the Council is prepared by subordinate committees with responsibility for specific areas of policy. Much of this work involves the Deputies Committee, consisting of Deputy Permanent Representatives.
The Council has an important public profile and issues declarations and communiqués explaining the Alliance's policies and decisions. These documents are normally published after ministerial or summit meetings. The Deputies Committee has particular responsibility for preparing such documents and meets in advance of ministerial meetings to draft the texts for Council approval. A similar role is played by the Nuclear Planning Staff Group on behalf of the Nuclear Planning Group.
Other aspects of political work may be handled by the Political and Partnerships Committee. Depending on the topic under discussion, the respective senior committee with responsibility for the subject assumes the leading role in preparing Council meetings and following up Council decisions.
When the Council meets at the level of defence ministers, or is dealing with defence matters and questions relating to defence strategy, senior committees such as the Defence Policy and Planning Committee may be involved as principal advisory bodies. If financial matters are on the Council's agenda, the Resource Policy and Planning Board will be responsible to the Council for preparing relevant aspects of its work.
Supporting the Council
Direct support to the Council is provided by the Secretary of the Council, who ensures that Council mandates are executed and its decisions recorded and circulated. A small Council Secretariat ensures the bureaucratic and logistical aspects of the NAC's work, while the relevant divisions of the International Staff support the work of committees reporting to the NAC.
Generally speaking, the entire International Staff at NATO HQ supports the work of the Council, either directly or indirectly, and helps to ensure that Council decisions are implemented.