Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI)

Reaching out to the broader Middle East

  • Last updated: 05 Dec. 2019 16:34

NATO's Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, launched at the Alliance's Summit in the Turkish city in June 2004, aims to contribute to long-term global and regional security by offering countries of the broader Middle East region practical bilateral security cooperation with NATO.

North Atlantic Council marks 10th Anniversary of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Bilateral meeting between NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of the State of Qatar, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Naser Bin Khalifa Al-Thani

ICI focuses on practical cooperation in areas where NATO can add value, notably in the security field. Six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council were initially invited to participate. To date, four of these -- Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates -- have joined. Saudia Arabia and Oman have also shown an interest in the Initiative.

Based on the principle of inclusiveness, the Initiative is, however, open to all interested countries of the broader Middle East region who subscribe to its aims and content, including the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Each interested country will be considered by the North Atlantic Council on a case-by-case basis and on its own merit. Participation of countries in the region in the Initiative as well as the pace and extent of their cooperation with NATO will depend in large measure on their individual response and level of interest.

  • What key principles is the Initiative based on?

    The ICI is based on a number of important principles, including:

    • Non discrimination: all ICI partners are offered the same basis for their cooperation with NATO.
    • Self-differentiation: a tailored approach to the specific needs of each of our ICI partner countries. Particularly Individual Partnership Cooperation Programmes (IPCP), allow interested ICI countries and NATO to frame their practical cooperation in a more prospective and focused way, enabling interested countries to outline the main short and long-term objectives of their cooperation with the Alliance, in accordance with NATO's objectives and policies for the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.
    • Inclusiveness: all ICI countries should see themselves as stakeholders of the same cooperative effort.
    • Two-way engagement: the ICI is a "two-way” partnership, in which NATO seeks partners' contribution for its success, through a regular consultation process; special emphasis is placed on practical cooperation.
    • Non imposition: ICI partners are free to choose the pace and extent of their cooperation with the Alliance; NATO has no wish to impose anything upon them
    • Complementarity and mutual reinforcement: efforts of the ICI and other international institutions for the region are complementary and mutually reinforcing in nature.
    • Diversity: the ICI respects and takes into account the specific regional, cultural and political contexts of the respective partners.
  • What does this mean in practice?

    The Initiative offers a 'menu' of bilateral activities that countries can choose from, which comprises a range of cooperation areas, including:

    1. tailored advice on defence transformation, defence budgeting, defence planning and civil-military relations;
    2. military-to-military cooperation to contribute to interoperability through participation in selected military exercises and related education and training activities that could improve the ability of participating countries' forces to operate with those of the Alliance; and through participation in selected NATO and PfP exercises and in NATO-led operation on a case-by-case basis;
    3. cooperation in the fight against terrorism, including through intelligence-sharing;
    4. cooperation in the Alliance's work on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery;
    5. cooperation regarding border security in connection with terrorism, small arms and light weapons and the fight against illegal trafficking;
    6. civil emergency planning, including participating in training courses and exercises on disaster assistance.

    Individual and Partnership Cooperation Programme (IPCP) allow interested ICI countries and NATO to frame their practical cooperation in a more prospective and focused way, enabling interested countries to outline the main short and long-term objectives of their cooperation with the Alliance.

  • How did the Initiative evolve?

    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.

  • Which NATO bodies have a central role?

    Following the launch of the ICI, NATO countries decided to establish the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Group, composed of political counsellors from the 29 delegations of member countries to NATO, which was replaced in 2011 by the Political and Partnerships Committee, which responsible for all partnerships.

    The Committee is in charge of defining the procedures for the development of a menu of practical activities with interested countries and ensuring its successful implementation. It also reports to the Council or to NATO's Senior Political Committee and prepares the ground for the decisions to be adopted by the North Atlantic Council on ICI.

    In addition, the Committee engages countries participating in the Initiative on a '29+1' basis for the development of individual work plans and follows up on their implementation.