Cooperation with the African Union

  • Last updated: 17 May. 2021 14:20

Since 2005, NATO has been cooperating with the African Union (AU) – a regional organisation with 55 members created in 2002. The NATO-AU relationship started modestly with AU requests for logistics and airlift support for its mission in Sudan. The cooperation has evolved over time and, although primarily based on ad-hoc military-technical cooperation, NATO Allies are committed to expanding cooperation with the AU to make it an integral part of NATO’s efforts to work more closely with partners in tackling security challenges emanating from the south.


  • NATO and the AU are currently reinforcing their relationship by increasing practical cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
  • Cooperation is being developed in three main areas: operational support; training support; and structural assistance.
  • Operational support includes strategic air- and sealift, as well as planning support for the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
  • Training support includes inviting AU officers to attend courses at NATO training and education facilities and delivering courses through NATO’s Mobile Education and Training Teams.
  • Structural assistance includes focused support to the African Stand-by Force and its associated projects including exercises, early warning and disaster preparedness.  
  • NATO has also established a liaison office at the AU’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is led by a Senior Military Liaison Officer and provides support from subject matter experts, at the AU’s request.
  • NATO coordinates its AU-related work with bilateral partners and other international organisations, including the European Union and the United Nations.


  • Context and principal areas of NATO-AU cooperation

    NATO-AU cooperation has mainly been pragmatic and driven by requests from the African Union for support in very specific areas. The principal areas of cooperation, as agreed in March 2020, are: operational support, training support and structural assistance.

    At the Warsaw Summit in 2016, NATO leaders committed to increasing political and practical cooperation with the African Union. At the same time, Allies also approved NATO’s Framework for the South, which aims to integrate and streamline NATO’s approach to tackle challenges by focusing on improved capabilities, enhanced anticipation and response, as well as boosting NATO’s regional partnership and capacity-building efforts. In November 2019, NATO and the AU signed an agreement to strengthen political and practical partnership and, in March 2020, Allies approved additional cooperation initiatives with the aim of progressively maturing the NATO-AU relationship from one of ad-hoc support to substantive practical partnership.  NATO’s subordinate commands, in particular Joint Force Command Naples and NATO Strategic Direction South, will play a key role in bringing forward these initiatives alongside their ongoing responsibilities to develop NATO’s regional understanding and situational awareness of the African continent.  Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, NATO and the AU have maintained strong operational ties. In February 2021, AU Commission Chairperson Faki was re-elected for a second term in office. Among his eight main priorities, the emphasis on developing multilateral partnerships is a natural match to NATO’s commitment to enhancing practical cooperation.  

    Operational support

    In January 2007, the AU made a general request to all partners, including NATO, for financial and logistical support to AMISOM. It later made a specific request to NATO in May 2007, requesting strategic airlift support for AU member states willing to deploy in Somalia under AMISOM. In June 2007, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) agreed, in principle, to support this request and NATO’s support was initially authorised until August 2007. Strategic sealift support was requested at a later stage and agreed in principle by the NAC in September 2009.

    The AU’s strategic airlift and sealift support requests for AMISOM have been renewed on an annual basis. The current NAC agreement to support the AU with strategic air- and sealift for AMISOM extends until January 2022.

    Training support

    Education and training

    NATO offers opportunities for AU personnel to attend courses at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany, and the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy. For instance, in April 2018, at a seminar hosted by the NATO Defense College, senior officials from both NATO and the AU identified counter-terrorism, countering improvised explosive devices and the Women, Peace and Security agenda as areas of potential cooperation.

    NATO has also opened up other NATO training facilities to the AU such as NATO-accredited Centres of Excellence in the respective sponsoring countries. The AU is being given access, in a step-by-step process matching AU interest with NATO expertise, to the skills and know-how available within these dedicated Centres of Excellence.

    These education and training opportunities are offered based upon AU requirements and the availability of NATO training venues. So far, on average, 20 AU students are sponsored at NATO training venues per year.

    Mobile training

    Since 2015 and in response to an AU request, NATO delivers dedicated training to African Union officers through Mobile Education and Training Teams (METT) that deliver tailored courses in Africa. NATO has progressively increased the number of courses delivered and is providing three or more METT courses annually. The METT format allows to reach a wider audience: participants are drawn from among AU staff, but also from the Regional Economic Communities, which form the backbone of the development of Africa’s continental force, the African Stand-by Force. On average, 30 AU students participate in each training session. The potential for collaboration with other international organisations on topics of mutual interest will also be further explored.

    Structural assistance

    NATO provides structural assistance to the AU through the secondment of NATO subject matter experts and through focused advice on AU flagship projects.

    For instance, NATO provides subject matter experts for the AU Peace Support Operations Division. These experts have made significant contributions to AU priority areas. Working side-by-side with AU counterparts, they have shared their knowledge and know-how in planning across various domains including maritime, finance, monitoring, procurement, air movement coordination, communications, information technology, logistics, human resources, military manpower management and contingencies. NATO experts provide support for periods of six to twelve months, renewable at the AU’s request. The AU makes these requests on an annual basis and they can vary from year to year depending on priorities; the most recent AU request calls for support in strategic planning, as well as planning for movements and exercises.

    NATO has also been providing expert and training support to the African Stand-by Force (ASF) at the AU’s request. The ASF is intended to be deployed in Africa in times of crisis and is part of the AU’s efforts to develop long-term peacekeeping capabilities; it represents the AU’s vision for a continental, on-call security apparatus, and shares similarities with the NATO Response Force. NATO has organised certification/evaluation and training programmes for AU staff, which support the ASF’s operational readiness. For instance, NATO has trained AU officials participating in military exercises and provided military experts to assist in the evaluation and lessons learned procedures of an exercise. NATO has also supported various ASF preparatory workshops designed to develop ASF-related concepts. Moreover, the Alliance is specifically engaged in providing support to bringing the ASF’s Continental Logistics base in Douala, Cameroon to full operational capacity.

    Another illustration of the Alliance’s support was when NATO experts were involved in supporting the preparation phases of Exercise Amani Africa II (October-November 2015) in South Africa, and played an active role in the execution phase. This was the first field training exercise for the ASF that brought together regional standby brigades from across the continent. African military, police and civilians participated in testing the ASF’s rapid deployment capability and the ASF’s level of readiness for full operational capability.

  • NATO representation in Addis Ababa

    NATO liaison office

    NATO has a liaison office at the headquarters of the AU. The liaison office is comprised of a Senior Military Liaison Officer, a Deputy and one support staff. The liaison office provides, at the AU’s request, subject matter experts, who work in the AU’s Political Affairs, Peace and Security Department alongside African counterparts. The NATO Senior Military Liaison Officer is the primary coordinator for the Alliance’s activities with the AU. The size of NATO’s presence on the ground in Addis Ababa is based upon the requests from the AU and the availability of resources from Allies.

    NATO Contact Point Embassy

    The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Addis Ababa provides diplomatic support as the official NATO Contact Point Embassy to the AU. The Ambassador regularly hosts other NATO Ambassadors and Defence Attachés based in Addis Ababa to share information on NATO activities with the AU. Norway has extended its offer to serve as the NATO Contact Point Embassy. 

    Other staff-level engagements in Addis Ababa

    For work with the AU, the NATO Senior Military Liaison Officer in Addis Ababa coordinates with Allied Defence Attachés, bilateral partners and other international organisations based in the capital, including the United Nations and the European Union.

  • Milestones in NATO support to the AU

    Starting in 2005 with the provision of NATO logistical support to the AU to expand its mission in Darfur, the NATO-AU relationship has developed over time.

    • 2005 – NATO provides strategic airlift to the AU Mission in Sudan.
    • 2007 – Allies agree to provide strategic airlift to support the AU’s involvement in Somalia (AMISOM) and in 2009, agree to provide strategic sealift.
    • 2011 – AU Commission Chairperson Jean Ping visits NATO twice in the context of Operation Unified Protector – the UN-mandated operation set up to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, in Libya, under threat of attack.
    • 2014 – AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ambassador Smail Chergui visits NATO and signs the technical agreement on NATO-AU cooperation.
    • 2015 - NATO opens its liaison office at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
    • 2015 – NATO and the AU begin a programme of annual military-to-military staff talks.
    • 2015 – NATO enhances the programme of mobile training solutions offered to AU officers.
    • 2016 – NATO leaders agree to further strengthen and expand the Alliance’s political and practical cooperation with the AU at the Warsaw Summit.
    • 2019 – A cooperation agreement is signed to strengthen partnership and bring NATO and the AU closer together.
    • 2020 - NATO and the AU agree to a new series of measures to further integrate their cooperation.