A ''comprehensive approach'' to crises

  • Last updated: 21 Jun. 2016 14:44

Lessons learned from NATO operations show that addressing crisis situations calls for a comprehensive approach combining political, civilian and military instruments. Building on its unique capabilities and operational experience, NATO can contribute to the efforts of the international community for maintaining peace, security and stability, in full coordination with other actors. Military means, although essential, are not enough on their own to meet the many complex challenges to our security. The effective implementation of a comprehensive approach to crisis situations requires nations, international organisations and non-governmental organisations to contribute in a concerted effort.


  • Different actors contribute to a comprehensive approach based on a shared sense of responsibility, openness and determination, taking into account their respective strengths, mandates and roles, as well as their decision-making autonomy.
  • In March 2011, NATO updated the list of tasks of its Comprehensive Approach Action Plan.
  • These tasks are being implemented by a dedicated civilian-military task force that involves all relevant NATO bodies and commands.
  • This implementation is a permanent mindset of the Alliance’s internal and external strands of work.
  • Four key areas: planning and conduct of operations; lessons learned, training, education and exercises; cooperation with external actors; and strategic communication.

More background information

  • Planning and conduct of operations

    NATO takes full account of all military and non-military aspects of crisis management, and is working to improve practical cooperation at all levels with all relevant organisations and actors in the planning and conduct of operations. The Alliance promotes the clear definition of strategies and objectives among all relevant actors before launching an operation, as well as enhanced cooperative planning.

    The Allies agree that, as a general rule, elements of stabilisation and reconstruction are best undertaken by those actors and organisations that have the relevant expertise, mandate and competence. However, there can be circumstances which may hamper other actors from undertaking these tasks, or undertaking them without support from NATO.

    To improve NATO’s contribution to a comprehensive approach and its ability to contribute, when required, to stabilisation and reconstruction, Allies agreed to form an appropriate but modest civilian capability to interact more effectively with other actors and conduct appropriate planning in crisis management. Moreover, a Comprehensive Approach Specialist Support (COMPASS) programme was set up in 2009 to build up a database of national civil experts in three main fields – political, stabilisation and reconstruction, and media – to be drawn upon for advice at the strategic, operational and theatre levels.

  • Lessons learned, training, education and exercises

    Applying a comprehensive approach means a change of mindset. The Alliance is therefore emphasising joint training of civilian and military personnel. This promotes the sharing of lessons learned and also helps build trust and confidence between NATO, its partners and other international and local actors, which in turn encourages better coordination. In some cases, lessons learned are being developed at staff level with the United Nations (UN), for example, related to Libya and Kosovo.

    NATO also regularly invites international organisations to participate in NATO exercises to share knowledge about Alliance procedures for crisis response, as well as share views and perspectives.

  • Enhancing cooperation with external actors

    NATO is actively building closer links with other organisations and actors on a regular basis while respecting the autonomy of decision-making of each organisation.

    Cooperation has become well established with the UN, UN agencies, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, in particular, as well as with the World Bank, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration, the African Union, INTERPOL and the League of Arab States. This takes the form of staff talks, staff-to-staff contacts at various levels, high-level exchanges, ‘NATO education days’ and workshops. At the Wales Summit in September 2014, for instance, NATO foreign ministers held for the first time a meeting with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to discuss closer cooperation and issues of common concern.

  • Strategic communication

    To be effective, a comprehensive approach to crisis management must be complemented by sustained and coherent public messages. NATO’s information campaigns are substantiated by systematic and updated information, documenting progress in relevant areas. Efforts are also being made to share communication strategies with international actors and to coordinate communications in theatre.