Comprehensive Political Guidance

Endorsed by NATO Heads of State and Government on 29 November 2006

  • 29 Nov. 2006 -
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  • Last updated: 13 Jul. 2009 10:36


1. This Comprehensive Political Guidance provides a framework and political direction for NATOs continuing transformation, setting out, for the next 10 to 15 years, the priorities for all Alliance capability issues, planning disciplines and intelligence. This guidance, to be reviewed periodically, also aims to increase their coherence through an effective management mechanism.

Part 1 - The Strategic Context

2. NATOs 1999 Strategic Concept described the evolving security environment in terms that remain valid. This environment continues to change; it is and will be complex and global, and subject to unforeseeable developments. International security developments have an increasing impact on the lives of the citizens of Allied and other countries. Terrorism, increasingly global in scope and lethal in results, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction are likely to be the principal threats to the Alliance over the next 10 to 15 years. Instability due to failed or failing states, regional crises and conflicts, and their causes and effects; the growing availability of sophisticated conventional weaponry; the misuse of emerging technologies; and the disruption of the flow of vital resources are likely to be the main risks or challenges for the Alliance in that period. All of these factors can be inter-related or combined, most dangerously in the case of terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction.

3. Peace, security and development are more interconnected than ever. This places a premium on close cooperation and coordination among international organisations playing their respective, interconnected roles in crisis prevention and management. Of particular importance because of their wide range of means and responsibilities are the United Nations and the European Union. The United Nations Security Council will continue to have the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. The European Union, which is able to mobilise a wide range of military and civilian instruments, is assuming a growing role in support of international stability. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe also continues to have important responsibilities in this field.

Part 2 - Implications for the Alliance

4. The Alliance will continue to follow the broad approach to security of the 1999 Strategic Concept and perform the fundamental security tasks it set out, namely security, consultation, deterrence and defence, crisis management, and partnership.

5. Collective defence will remain the core purpose of the Alliance . The character of potential Article 5 challenges is continuing to evolve. Large scale conventional aggression against the Alliance will continue to be highly unlikely; however, as shown by the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 following which NATO invoked Article 5 for the first time, future attacks may originate from outside the Euro-Atlantic area and involve unconventional forms of armed assault. Future attacks could also entail an increased risk of the use of asymmetric means, and could involve the use of weapons of mass destruction. Defence against terrorism and the ability to respond to challenges from wherever they may come have assumed and will retain an increased importance.

6. The Alliance will remain ready, on a case-by-case basis and by consensus, to contribute to effective conflict prevention and to engage actively in crisis management, including through non-Article 5 crisis response operations, as set out in the Strategic Concept. The Alliance has undertaken a range of operations of this kind since the end of the Cold War. Experience has shown the increasing significance of stabilisation operations and of military support to post-conflict reconstruction efforts. The role of the UN and EU, and other organisations, including as appropriate non-governmental organisations, in ongoing operations and future crises will put a premium on practical close cooperation and coordination among all elements of the international response.

7. Against this background, NATO must retain the ability to conduct the full range of its missions, from high to low intensity, placing special focus on the most likely operations,being responsive to current and future operational requirements, and still able to conduct the most demanding operations. There will continue to be a requirement for a mix of conventional and nuclear forces in accordance with extant guidance. In particular, the Alliance needs to focus on:

  1. strengthening its ability to meet the challenges, from wherever they may come, to the security of its populations, territory and forces;
  2. enhancing its ability to anticipate and assess the threats, risks, and challenges it faces, with special attention to the threats posed by terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
  3. providing forces able to conduct the full range of military operations and missions;
  4. being able to respond quickly to unforeseen circumstances;
  5. ensuring that NATO’s own crisis management instruments are effectively drawn together. While NATO has no requirement to develop capabilities strictly for civilian purposes, it needs to improve its practical cooperation, taking into account existing arrangements, with partners, relevant international organisations and, as appropriate, non-governmental organisations in order to collaborate more effectively in planning and conducting operations;
  6. continuing to adapt planning processes to meet the new demands.

8. The evolving security environment requires that commitments from nations, recognising the primacy of national political decisions, to NATO operations be translated into concrete terms by the development and fielding of flexible and sustainable contributions, and also by a fair sharing of the burden. It is also important to have an early indication of the likely military demands and potential availability of forces and resources when making an Alliance decision to launch an operation.

9. All of this requires Allies to continue the process of transformation, including conceptual and organisational agility and the development of robust capabilities that are deployable, sustainable, interoperable, and usable.

Part 3 – Guidelines for Alliance Capability Requirements

10. Given the likely nature of the future security environment and the demands it will impose, the Alliance will require the agility and flexibility to respond to complex and unpredictable challenges, which may emanate far from member states’ borders and arise at short notice. The Alliance will also require effective arrangements for intelligence and information sharing. As in the past, intelligence and lessons learned from operations will also inform capability development.

11. In order to undertake the full range of missions, the Alliance must have the capability to launch and sustain concurrent major joint operations and smaller operations for collective defence and crisis response on and beyond Alliance territory, on its periphery, and at strategic distance; it is likely that NATO will need to carry out a greater number of smaller demanding and different operations, and the Alliance must retain the capability to conduct large-scale high-intensity operations.

12. Regardless of its overall size, each operation is likely to require a command and control structure able to plan and execute a campaign to accomplish a strategic or operational objective, employing the appropriate mix of air, land and maritime components. It also requires forces that are structured, equipped, manned and trained for expeditionary operations in order to respond rapidly to emerging crises, for which the NATO Response Force would be a key element, effectively reinforce initial entry forces, and sustain the Alliance ’s commitment for the duration of the operation.

13. On this basis, the Alliance requires sufficient fully deployable and sustainable land forces, and appropriate air and maritime components. This requirement is supported by political targets as set out by Defence Ministers for the proportion of their nation’s land forces which are structured, prepared and equipped for deployed operations (40%) as well as the proportion undertaking or planned for sustained operations at any one time (8%), and by the Allies undertaking to intensify their efforts, taking into account national priorities and obligations, to this end.

14. NATO and the EU and their respective members states have already agreed procedures to ensure coherent, transparent and mutually reinforcing development of the capability requirements common to both organisations. NATO’s planning disciplines should continue to take full account of these principles, objectives and procedures.

15. The development of capabilities will not be possible without the commitment of sufficient resources. Furthermore, it will remain critically important that resources that Allies make available for defence, whether nationally, through multi-national projects, or through NATO mechanisms, are used as effectively as possible and are focused on priority areas for investment. Increased investment in key capabilities will require nations to consider reprioritisation, and the more effective use of resources, including through pooling and other forms of bilateral or multilateral cooperation. NATO’s defence planning should support these activities.

16. Over the next 10 to 15 years, the evolving security environment and the need to deal with conventional and especially asymmetric threats and risks, wherever they arise, will put a premium on improvements in meeting the following capability requirements:

  1. the ability to conduct and support multinational joint expeditionary operations far from home territory with little or no host nation support and to sustain them for extended periods. This requires forces that are fully deployable, sustainable and interoperable and the means to deploy them. It also requires a fully coordinated and, where appropriate, multinational approach to logistic support;
  2. the ability to adapt force postures and military responses rapidly and effectively to unforeseen circumstances. This requires, inter alia, an effective capability to analyse the environment and anticipate potential requirements, a high level of readiness for our forces, and the necessary flexibility to respond to any sudden shifts in requirements;
  3. the ability to deter, disrupt, defend and protect against terrorism, and more particularly to contribute to the protection of the Alliance’s populations, territory, critical infrastructure and forces, and to support consequence management;
  4. the ability to protect information systems of critical importance to the Alliance against cyber attacks;
  5. the ability to conduct operations taking account of the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear hazards, including the ability to defend deployed NATO forces against theatre missile threats;
  6. the ability to conduct operations in demanding geographical and climatic environments;
  7. the ability, through appropriate equipment and procedures, to identify hostile elements, including in urban areas, in order to conduct operations in a way that minimises unintended damage as well as the risk to our own forces;
  8. the ability and flexibility to conduct operations in circumstances where the various efforts of several authorities, institutions and nations need to be coordinated in a comprehensive manner to achieve the desired results, and where these various actors may be undertaking combat, stabilisation, reconstruction, reconciliation and humanitarian activities simultaneously;
  9. the ability to bring military support to stabilisation operations and reconstruction efforts across all phases of a crisis, including to establish a safe and secure environment, within the full range of missions; military support to reconstruction efforts will be provided to the extent to which conditions in the theatre of operations prevent other actors with primary responsibilities in this field from carrying out their tasks. This should embrace the ability to support security sector reform, including demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration, and to bring military support, within available means and capabilities, to humanitarian relief operations;
  10. the ability to field forces with the greatest practicable interoperability and standardisationamongst Allies, and the flexibility also to cooperate with the forces of partners, including, to the extent possible, through the release of appropriate standards.

17. Delivering these capabilities requires an openness to new technologies, concepts, doctrines and procedures supporting, in particular, an approach to operations which, bearing in mind the provisions of paragraph 7e above, aims at the coherent and comprehensive application of the various instruments of the Alliance to create overall effects that will achieve the desired outcome. Such an effects based approach should be developed further and might include enhancing situational awareness, timely operational planning and decisionmaking, improving links between commanders, sensors and weapons, and deploying and employing joint expeditionary forces coherently and to greatest effect.

18. Among these qualitative requirements, the following constitute NATO’s top priorities: joint expeditionary forces and the capability to deploy and sustain them; high-readiness forces; the ability to deal with asymmetric threats; information superiority; and the ability to draw together the various instruments of the Alliance brought to bear in a crisis and its resolution to the best effect, as well as the ability to coordinate with other actors. The NATO Response Force is a fundamental military tool in support of the Alliance and a catalyst for further transformation and has top priority together with operational requirements.

Part 4 - Principles for a Management Mechanism

19. The NATO committees and bodies responsible for the relevant planning disciplines, including operational planning and intelligence, are to implement the Comprehensive Political Guidance in their work through the development, as necessary, of detailed policies, directives and guidance which they in turn provide for their respective disciplines.

20. An effective Management Mechanism is an integral part of the implementation of the Comprehensive Political Guidance. The Management Mechanism will be established by the NATO Council in Permanent Session to provide for the development of further detailed guidance, and for monitoring and ensuring compliance of these planning disciplines with the provisions of the Comprehensive Political Guidance and ensuring coherence and harmonisation among them*. The Management Mechanism will comprise a system of effective arrangements, including, as required, formal direction, with the aim of achieving aligned planning processes, consistent guidance and harmonised requirements and supporting structures.

21. Implementation of this Comprehensive Political Guidance should lead to the development of more usable capabilities for future operations and missions.


(*)The Management Mechanism was established in February 2006.