Resilience and Article 3

  • Last updated: 11 Jun. 2021 15:06

Each NATO member country needs to be resilient to resist and recover from a major shock such as a natural disaster, failure of critical infrastructure, or a hybrid or armed attack. Resilience is a society’s ability to resist and recover from such shocks and combines both civil preparedness and military capacity. Civil preparedness is a central pillar of Allies’ resilience and a critical enabler for the Alliance’s collective defence, and NATO supports Allies in assessing and enhancing their civil preparedness.

25-30 September 2000 Exercise Trans-Carpathia 2000 in Ukraine. - elimination of consequences of a transport accident with chemical spill.


  • The principle of resilience is anchored in Article 3 of the Alliance’s founding treaty: “In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”
  • Article 3 helps to give NATO the means to fulfil its core tasks, in particular, that of collective defence.
  • The individual commitment of each and every Ally to maintaining and strengthening its resilience reduces the vulnerability of NATO as a whole.
  • Resilience is first and foremost a national responsibility. Each Ally needs to be sufficiently robust and adaptable to deal with and address the entire spectrum of crises envisaged by the Alliance.
  • NATO has agreed seven baseline requirements for national resilience against which Allies can measure their level of preparedness; these requirements reflect the core functions of continuity of government, essential services to the population and civil support to the military.
  • Military efforts to defend Alliance territory and populations need to be complemented by robust civil preparedness to reduce potential vulnerabilities and the risk of attack in peacetime and during war.
  • Military forces, especially those deployed during crises and war, heavily depend on the civilian and commercial sectors for transport, communications and even basic supplies such as food and water, to fulfil their missions.

Vulnerabilities in a changing security environment

Today’s security environment is unpredictable. Threats can come from state and non-state actors in the form of terrorist attacks but also cyberattacks and hybrid warfare, which can blur the lines between conventional and unconventional forms of conflict. They can also come from climate change and natural disasters such as floods, fires and earthquakes, and from biohazards such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge of adapting and responding to these different types of threats is compounded by trends that have radically transformed the security environment.

Falling defence budgets since the end of the Cold War have gradually increased the overall reliance on civil and commercial assets and capabilities. As a consequence, civil resources and critical infrastructure are now, in many areas, owned and operated by the private sector. A few figures illustrate the extent of this: around 90 per cent of military transport for large military operations is chartered or requisitioned from the commercial sector; on average, over 30 per cent of satellite communications used for defence purposes are provided by the commercial sector; and some 75 per cent of host nation support to NATO operations is sourced from local commercial infrastructure and services.

With the reduction in military investments and the privatisation of previously government-owned assets, a heavy reliance on civilian enablers, bound by commercial practices, has developed.

Driven by several objectives including maximising efficiency, the private sector has eliminated most redundancies, which are costly for business. However, different privately owned assets are critical for maintaining continuity of government and essential services in a potential high-impact crisis. During the Cold War, for instance, there were territorial defence mechanisms and capabilities in place ready to support a war effort, but they no longer exist.

Moreover, with the widespread use of new technologies, our societies have become interconnected and interdependent in the economic, financial, information and cyber domains. Such interdependence has been a great strength and of significant benefit to our societies, but it can also create vulnerabilities and establish dependencies.

Strengthening resilience

The better prepared Allies are, the less vulnerable and potentially less likely they are to be attacked, making NATO as a whole stronger. Allies can strengthen resilience, for instance, through the development of their national defence capacity, assured access to critical infrastructure and the development of back-up plans in the event of crises; they can also regularly test their ability to provide vital services and support to military forces, using civil, commercial or other instruments.

NATO’s work to improve resilience is not specific to any single vulnerability. It contributes to protecting Alliance territory and populations from all potential hazards. At the 2016 Summit in Warsaw, Allied Leaders decided to boost NATO’s resilience to the full spectrum of threats and continue developing individual and collective capacity to resist any form of armed attack.  They agreed seven baseline requirements for national resilience against which member states can measure their level of preparedness. These requirements reflect the core functions of continuity of government, essential services to the population and civil support to the military, which must be maintained under the most demanding circumstances. They are all connected, which means if one area is impacted, another may suffer as a result:

  • Assured continuity of government and critical government services: for instance the ability to make decisions, communicate them and enforce them in a crisis;
  • Resilient energy supplies: back-up plans and power grids, internally and across borders;
  • Ability to deal effectively with uncontrolled movement of people, and to de-conflict these movements from NATO’s military deployments;
  • Resilient food and water resources: ensuring these supplies are safe from disruption or sabotage;
  • Ability to deal with mass casualties: ensuring that civilian health systems can cope and that sufficient medical supplies are stocked and secure;
  • Resilient civil communications systems: ensuring that telecommunications and cyber networks function even under crisis conditions, with sufficient back-up capacity. This requirement was updated in November 2019 by NATO Defence Ministers, who stressed the need for reliable communications systems including 5G, robust options to restore these systems, priority access to national authorities in times of crisis, and the thorough assessments of all risks to communications systems;
  • Resilient transport systems: ensuring that NATO forces can move across Alliance territory rapidly and that civilian services can rely on transportation networks, even in a crisis.

Implementing this commitment is a top priority for Allies. Since 2016, the resilience of Allied members has improved, but challenges and shortfalls remain. At the same time, Allies are confronted with new challenges, including economic pressures that could undermine the assured access of essential critical infrastructures by national governments and the military in times of crisis. NATO updated its baseline requirements in 2020 to reflect the challenges presented by emerging communications technologies, such as 5G, as well as the impact and implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indeed, the current pandemic is a time when resilience is being tested. NATO and Allies have been working continuously to enhance preparedness across the whole of government, especially in the health sector. In support of Allies, NATO’s primary body that addresses preparedness and resilience – the Civil Emergency Planning Committee – is monitoring and assessing the impact of the crisis, and it facilitates an exchange of information and best practices among Allies on an ongoing basis.

Strengthened civil-military cooperation

Renewed attention to resilience is leading to increased collaboration between civil and military stakeholders. Collaborative arrangements between them are proving of mutual benefit, both in peacetime and crisis. For example, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, military assistance to civil authorities has been of critical support when civilian resources are under severe stress.

Exercises are an effective way to conduct stress tests of national arrangements, in particular when it comes to large-scale contingencies such as an attack with weapons of mass destruction or dealing with certain aspects of hybrid warfare. In this respect, resilience is an important area for analysis, and new assessment tools are being developed in order to improve how the Alliance and its members identify vulnerabilities, evaluate their preparedness and improve their capacity.

Partnering to strengthen resilience

Enhancing resilience and civil preparedness is also part of NATO’s support to partners and a way to project stability in the Alliance’s neighbourhood. Examples of practical cooperation include the deployment of teams of civil preparedness experts in support of Ukraine and Iraq, and the establishment of a joint UN-NATO three-year project to assist Jordan in improving its preparedness in the field of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons.

NATO also cooperates with the private sector and other international organisations. The European Union, in particular, remains a unique and essential partner for the Alliance, particularly through staff-to-staff consultations and practical cooperation in a number of areas.