Human Security

Approach and Guiding Principles

  • 14 Oct. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 20 Oct. 2022 16:01


  1. NATO’s commitment to safeguarding the freedom and security of its members has guided the Alliance for over 70 years. During these decades, challenges to Allies’ shared security – and the contexts in which NATO addresses these challenges – have evolved. It is increasingly the case that challenges to security occur and must be addressed in spaces inseparable from civilian populations. In the current security environment, civilians are being deliberately targeted in conflict, and their safety and security is being leveraged to serve military objectives; this has become once more apparent with Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
  2. Heads of State and Government at the 2016 Warsaw Summit endorsed the NATO policy on protection of civilians, and at the 2019 London Leaders’ Meeting and the 2021 Brussels Summit stressed the importance of human security. On that latter occasion, the policy on preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence was endorsed. Subsequently, for the first time the 2022 Strategic Concept has emphasised the high importance of human security.
  3. The notion of human security directly links NATO’s common values of individual liberty, human rights, democracy and the rule of law to NATO practice. A human security approach provides a heightened understanding of conflict and crisis. This allows NATO to develop a more comprehensive view of the human environment, consequently enhancing operational effectiveness and contributing to lasting peace and security.
  4. Allies reaffirm their commitment to an ambitious human security agenda, and to ensuring that NATO integrates human security principles into all of the Alliance’s core tasks. This is an essential tool to make the Alliance modern, agile and equipped to address the challenges of today and tomorrow.


  1. The aim of this document is to provide a coherent and consistent understanding of human security for NATO.

Definition and Scope

  1. NATO’s human security approach is drawn from that of the United Nations. The United Nations conceptualised human security as a multi-sectoral approach to security that identifies and addresses widespread and cross-cutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of the people.1
  2. For NATO, taking such an approach means embedding considerations for the comprehensive safety and security of the populations into all stages and levels of Alliance operations, missions and activities, wherever NATO operates, with the objective of preventing and responding to risks and threats to all people, especially in conflict or crisis situations.
  3. NATO’s human security work currently focuses on five areas where the Alliance can be most effective: protection of civilians; preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence; combating trafficking in human beings; children and armed conflict; and cultural property protection.
  4. NATO’s human security approach and its Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda complement and reinforce each other, across all core tasks. NATO will, especially in conflict and crisis contexts, continue to integrate gender perspectives 2, across all stages of Alliance operations, missions and activities.

Guiding Principles

  1. NATO will continue to take a human security approach in accordance with the following principles:
    1. Be people-centred, actively integrate gender perspectives 3, and address the differentiated impacts of conflict and crisis on different people in the population, especially individuals in situations of vulnerability or marginalisation;
    2. Be prevention and protection oriented;
    3. Take into account local customs and social norms in the communities coming into contact with NATO in Alliance operations, missions and activities, while respecting the common values and principles of the Alliance;
    4. Be consistent with international law;
    5. Respect and provide space for the neutral, independent and impartial work of humanitarian actors, whose operational viability and safety is essential during armed conflict and other situations of violence;
    6. Be in full respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States;
    7. Pursue, two-way staff level engagement on human security related issues with relevant actors, such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the African Union, host nations, partners and civil society, as appropriate.
  2. The ambitious human security agenda is one of the cross-cutting tasks for advancing our solidarity, cohesion and common values. As such, it is among the particular priorities for additional targeted funding.
  3. NATO will implement coherent, consistent and regular messaging, including strategic communications, and in coordination with relevant actors, as appropriate, to ensure that the Alliance’s efforts on human security are understood both internally and externally, including, crucially, by the local population and regional actors where NATO is engaged. NATO will duly take into account the public diplomacy dimension of everything it does.

1 UNGAR A/RES/66/290, 25 October 20129

2 In line with the NATO EAPC Women Peace and Security Policy (EAPC(C)D(2018)0008) and Action Plan (PO(2021)0336)

3 In line with the NATO EAPC Women Peace and Security Policy (EAPC(C)D(2018)0008) and Action Plan (PO(2021)0336)