Resilience, civil preparedness and Article 3

  • Last updated: 20 Sep. 2022 13:22

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.

Montage de tentes peloton à la Rockhal

Luxembourg Armed Forces personnel set up a mobile medical facility at the Centre Hospitalier du Nord in Ettelbruck, Luxembourg during the COVID-19 pandemic, which tested the resilience of NATO countries.


  • 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.
  • 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, crisis and conflict.
  • Civil preparedness has three core functions: continuity of government, continuity of essential services to the population and civil support to military operations. These three critical functions have been translated into seven baseline requirements for national resilience against which Allies can measure their level of preparedness.
  • Military forces, especially those deployed during crises and conflict, heavily depend on the civilian and commercial sectors for transport, communications, energy and even basic supplies such as food and water, to fulfil their missions. Civil preparedness ensures that these sectors are ready to withstand external attacks or internal disruptions and remain able to provide support to a NATO military operation if needed.
  • Overall, NATO policy on resilience and civil preparedness is guided by the Resilience Committee, which reports directly to the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s principal political decision-making body.


  • 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 cyber attacks 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.

    Initially, at the end of the Cold War, defence budgets were cut and although this trend has since been reversed, it increased NATO’s overall reliance on civil and commercial assets and capabilities – such as railways, ports, airfields and energy grids – to support the rapid and effective movement and sustainment of military forces. As a consequence, civil resources and critical infrastructure are, 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 provided by civilian assets chartered or requisitioned from the commercial sector;
    • over 70 per cent of satellite communications used for defence purposes are provided by the commercial sector;
    • approximately 90 per cent of transatlantic internet traffic, including military communications, is carried by undersea fibre-optic cable networks maintained by civilian infrastructure;
    • on average, some 75 per cent of host nation support to NATO operations is sourced from local commercial infrastructure and services.

    Despite this, driven by several objectives including maximising efficiency, the private sector has eliminated most redundancies, which are costly for business. Nevertheless, different privately owned assets are critical for maintaining continuity of government and essential services in a potential high-impact crisis, which represents a greater vulnerability than in the past. 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. In today’s security environment, resilience to such challenges requires a full range of capabilities – military and civilian – and a whole-of-society approach, with active cooperation across government, the private sector and civil society.

  • 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. To deter, counter or recover from threats or disruptions to the civilian sector, effective action requires clear plans and response measures, defined well ahead of time and exercised regularly.

    NATO’s work to improve resilience follows an all-hazards approach, not specific to any single vulnerability. It contributes to protecting Alliance territory and populations from all potential hazards. At the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw, Allied Leaders decided to boost NATO’s resilience to the full spectrum of threats and continue developing their countries’ individual and NATO’s 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:

    1. Assured continuity of government and critical government services: for instance the ability to make decisions, communicate them and enforce them in a crisis;
    2. Resilient energy supplies: back-up plans and power grids, internally and across borders;
    3. Ability to deal effectively with uncontrolled movement of people, and to de-conflict these movements from NATO’s military deployments;
    4. Resilient food and water resources: ensuring these supplies are safe from disruption or sabotage;
    5. Ability to deal with mass casualties and disruptive health crises: ensuring that civilian health systems can cope and that sufficient medical supplies are stocked and secure;
    6. 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;
    7. 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.

    These requirements reflect the three core functions of continuity of government, essential services to the population and civil support to the military, which must be maintained even under the most demanding circumstances. They are all connected, which means if one area is impacted, another may suffer as a result.

    Together with a package of resilience guidelines, evaluation criteria, assessments and a tailored toolbox, the objective of the baseline requirements is to support Allies in enhancing their resilience and to provide benchmarks against which to assess their state of civil preparedness. 

    The NATO Summit in 2016 laid the groundwork for the Alliance to bolster resilience, with the development of evaluation criteria to support Allies in conducting national resilience self-assessments. Since 2018, based on these assessments, NATO has been conducting analyses of the overall state of the Alliance’s resilience every two years. These analyses identify areas for further work and NATO is supporting Allies by providing guidelines on how to increase the level of preparedness across the seven baseline requirements.

    In 2019, NATO leaders recognised the need to increase the resilience of societies, as well as of the Allies’ critical infrastructure and energy security. They also committed to ensuring the security of communications, including 5G, recognising the need to rely on secure and resilient systems.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has severely tested the resilience of NATO member countries. The Alliance’s response has underlined the importance of civil-military engagement and cooperation, and demonstrated the vital roles that Allied armed forces play in supporting civil societies. NATO and individual member countries have been working continuously to enhance preparedness across the whole of government, especially in the health sector.

    Since 2016, the resilience of NATO members has improved, but challenges and shortfalls remain. At the same time, Allies are confronted with new challenges that could undermine the assured access to essential critical infrastructure by national governments and the military in times of crisis.

    In 2021, Allied Heads of State and Government agreed a Strengthened Resilience Commitment to further enhance national and collective resilience and civil preparedness. Allies agreed to step up efforts to secure and diversify supply chains; to ensure the resilience of critical infrastructure and key industries, including by protecting them from harmful economic activities; and to deal with the impact of natural hazards that are being exacerbated by climate change, among other commitments.

    Allies have also agreed to establish, assess, review and monitor collective resilience objectives to guide nationally developed resilience goals and implementation plans. This helps to build a more integrated and better-coordinated approach towards strengthening resilience at NATO. Supported by a new planning and review cycle, the national resilience goals are intended to operationalise the collective resilience objectives, the purpose of which is to address the Alliance’s vulnerabilities across the seven baseline requirements.

  • 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. To test Allies’ responses to crisis situations, civil preparedness elements are being built into NATO’s military exercises at all levels, from strategic-level crisis management exercises and high-visibility exercises to lower-level command-post and field exercises.

  • 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 in 2014, Jordan in 2015 and Iraq in 2019. The cooperation with Jordan, which runs from 2019 until 2022, resulted in a joint United Nations-NATO three-year project to assist Jordan in improving its preparedness in the field of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons.

    Continued engagement with the private sector and other international organisations like the European Union (EU) and the United Nations is also key to strengthening resilience, especially by developing shared situational awareness. The EU, in particular, remains a unique and essential partner for the Alliance, particularly through staff-to-staff consultations and practical cooperation in a number of resilience-related areas.

  • Evolution

    During the Cold War, many key components of civilian infrastructure, such as railways, ports, airfields, energy grids or airspace, were in state hands and easily transferred to NATO control in a crisis or wartime situation.

    Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the significantly reduced conventional military threat to the Alliance led to declining attention to and investment in civil preparedness.

    As threats from international terrorism became more prevalent, NATO assumed an expeditionary posture that demanded different capabilities and capacities than those developed during the Cold War. Because Allied operations and missions were increasingly outside of NATO territory, this era did not warrant a large involvement of Allied civil preparedness resources. During this period, outsourcing of non-combat essential military tasks, requirements and capabilities became the norm, and was also embraced by new NATO member countries. Although cost-effective, the result was an incremental increase in military dependency on civilian resources and infrastructure.

    Recent events have refocused attention on challenges closer to NATO territory. As part of its response, the Alliance is strengthening its deterrence and defence posture.  This includes strengthening civil preparedness and national resilience. Consequently, Allies are re-evaluating their own vulnerabilities and preparedness to effectively deter and defend against contemporary security threats.