In recent decades, the nature of war has changed dramatically. Great power competition, terrorism, intra-state conflict, cyber threats and climate change pose real risks and often directly impact individuals and communities in ways that have prompted a shift in thinking about approaches to security. The concept of human security is one such result. Human security is a multi-sectoral approach to security that gives primacy to people and includes topics like combatting trafficking in human beings; protection of children in armed conflict; preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence; protection of civilians; and cultural property protection.
- For NATO, the term human security relates to risks and threats to populations where NATO has operations, missions or activities, and how to mitigate and respond to them.
- NATO recognises the importance of reducing the impact of its actions on civilian populations in conflict zones and wherever else it may be conducting activities.
- At the Madrid Summit in June 2022, Heads of State and Government emphasised the centrality of human security and are ensuring that human security principles are integrated into NATO’s core tasks: deterrence and defence, crisis prevention and management, and cooperative security.
- The 2022 Strategic Concept considers that human security, including the protection of civilians and civilian harm mitigation, is central to NATO’s approach to crisis prevention and management. It also commits NATO to working with other international actors to address the broader conditions fuelling crisis and pervasive instability, and to contribute to stabilisation and reconstruction.
- NATO has a number of policies and guiding documents related to human security, including on combatting trafficking in human beings (2004 – ongoing update in 2021), children and armed conflict (2015) and the protection of civilians (2016).
- The NATO policy on combatting trafficking in human beings commits NATO member countries and other troop-contributing countries that participate in NATO-led operations, to reinforcing efforts to prevent and combat such activity.
- NATO Leaders first addressed the issue of children in armed conflict at the 2012 Chicago Summit. As a result, the first NATO Military Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict, outlining a framework to integrate United Nations Security Council Resolution 1612 into training and education were adopted later that year.
- In 2015, NATO developed military guidelines on the prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). These provide strategic direction to reduce the risk of such violence, and NATO personnel are obliged to prevent, act and stop it from happening wherever possible.
- At the Warsaw Summit in 2016, NATO Leaders adopted a NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians. The aim is to set out a coherent, consistent and integrated approach to the protection of civilians in NATO-led operations, missions and activities.
- The 2016 NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians also includes property and services. NATO applies its mandate to protect and support cultural and religious sites in all of its operational areas.
Combatting trafficking in human beings
Human trafficking is a widespread global phenomenon targeting the most vulnerable and affecting nearly every country in the world. Its impact is felt disproportionately in war-torn and crisis areas, and has implications at the individual, community and national scale. Armed conflict of any kind increases the number of displaced and impoverished people, subsequently causing greater vulnerabilities with more people at risk of being exploited through organised crime networks. Factors such as political instability, poverty, forced migration and gender inequality create environments conducive to the trafficking of humans.
All NATO member countries are signatories to the United Nations (UN) Protocol on Trafficking in Persons. Allies are keenly aware that human trafficking fuels corruption and organised crime, and is an impediment to peace and security. NATO is not the primary organisation to combat trafficking in human beings, but supports the efforts of the international community and has developed a policy.
The NATO policy on combatting trafficking in human beings commits NATO member countries and other troop-contributing countries participating in NATO-led operations to reinforcing efforts to prevent and combat such activity.
The policy includes a zero-tolerance approach and calls for military and civilian personnel and contractors taking part in NATO-led operations to receive appropriate training on standards of their behaviour during operations. In theatre, NATO-led forces operating within the limits of their mandate support the responsible host country authorities, as well as relevant international organisations, in their efforts to combat trafficking in human beings.
Much of the responsibility for implementing NATO’s policy is assigned to its Military Committee given that troops from NATO and non-NATO countries participating in NATO-led operations are the most likely to come into contact with trafficked individuals and trafficking rings. Guidance is issued by the Strategic Commanders and the Alliance works to ensure that the entire chain of command in every operation or mission is aware of the NATO policy. For instance, specific policy provisions were developed and incorporated into the operational plans relating to Afghanistan and Kosovo to reflect the NATO policy and relevant guidance, as well as to raise awareness among personnel.
The relationship between armed conflict and human trafficking is but one reason for NATO, as a military and political alliance, to remain involved and to explore how the Alliance might adapt its approaches to countering human trafficking in light of the evolving security environment. To this end, NATO is currently in the process of updating its policy on combatting trafficking in human beings.
Children and armed conflict
Children are affected by armed conflict in many different ways. The six grave violations against children, identified and condemned by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), include their being killed and maimed, recruited or used as soldiers, sexually exploited, abducted, their schools and hospitals being attacked and their access to humanitarian services being denied.
NATO’s “Children in Armed Conflict – A Way Forward” was agreed in 2015 and provides guidance to support further integration of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1612 on Children and Armed Conflict and related resolutions into the Alliance’s military doctrine, education, training and exercises, as well as NATO-led operations and missions.
The issue was first addressed by NATO Leaders at the 2012 Chicago Summit, where they decided to develop practical, field-oriented measures to address violations against children in times of war. As a result, NATO adopted its first Military Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict later that year, outlining a broad framework to integrate UNSCR 1612 and related resolutions into operational activities and into education and training. Soon afterwards, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) – the Alliance’s top political decision-making body – appointed the Assistant Secretary General for Operations within NATO’s International Staff as the Senior NATO Focal Point for Children and Armed Conflict. This person is in charge of maintaining a close dialogue with the UN on this topic.
NATO has also produced an e-learning module on child protection for deployed troops. Developed in cooperation with the UN in 2013, this online tool is available to all Allies and partner countries and provides an overview of the six grave violations against children identified and condemned by the UNSC and the relevant legal frameworks for the protection of children in armed conflict.
At the Wales Summit in 2014, NATO Leaders decided that the Alliance should do more to ensure it is sufficiently prepared whenever and wherever children in armed conflict are encountered. In response, and in close cooperation with the UN, NATO developed the above-mentioned ‘Protection of Children in Armed Conflict – the Way Forward’. Agreed by the North Atlantic Council in March 2015, its main priorities include:
- Supporting UN efforts to monitor instances of the six grave violations committed against children affected by armed conflict.
- When participating in NATO-led operations or missions, military leadership and personnel are trained to recognise and respond to possible instances of the six grave violations identified by the UNSC.
- When training local forces, NATO ensures that the protection of children affected by armed conflict is given proper attention; NATO also promotes reporting and monitoring mechanisms focusing on the six grave violations.
- The development of standard operating procedures for reporting violations.
In practice, standard procedures for monitoring and reporting on these violations in NATO-led missions and operations have been developed in consultation with relevant non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The issue of children and armed conflict is incorporated into NATO’s military exercise scenarios so that NATO commanders receive training to respond to situations where the six grave violations committed against children might be encountered. Focal Points for Children and Armed Conflict have been appointed throughout the NATO Command Structure. They support the integration of the Military Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict into training opportunities, exercises and mission planning.
Conflict-related sexual violence
Conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) refers to acts of sexual violence used as a tactic of war, usually to gain political or military advantage. It is recognised, codified and prosecuted as one of the most serious violations of international law. Sexual violence has been used in armed conflicts throughout history and continues to be a problem across the globe. This widespread crime has devastating and long-term effects on individuals and entire communities, and is a continuous impediment to peace and security.
NATO is committed to implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1820 on sexual violence in conflict. In 2015, NATO developed military guidelines on the prevention of, and response to, conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence. These provide strategic direction with the aim of reducing the risk of CRSV and improving responsive measures for the protection of vulnerable populations. NATO personnel are obliged to prevent, act and stop CRSV; to develop the analytical tools necessary to understand the level of risk of CRSV for information collection and reporting; and to cooperate with relevant international or local actors, including the UN.
In 2019, NATO outlined its work in this area and reaffirmed its commitment to eliminating CRSV in a statement to the UN Security Council. NATO is alert to the new and emerging challenges of CRSV and its security implications, now and into the future. The Alliance regularly works with a range of international organisations and civil society actors to contribute to the elimination of sexual violence in conflict.
In June 2020, NATO hosted a Digital Dialogue on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, where a new NATO policy was proposed to provide the foundation for the Alliance’s continued commitment to the fight against CRSV. The policy was adopted by Allied Defence Ministers in early June 2021 and, later that month, it was endorsed by NATO Leaders at the Brussels Summit. It outlines the actions that NATO will take to prevent and respond to CRSV in all operations, missions and Council-mandated activities.
Protection of civilians
NATO and its partners are contributing to the protection of civilians by integrating related measures in the planning and conduct of NATO-led operations and missions. The protection of civilians includes all efforts taken to avoid, minimise and mitigate the negative effects that might arise from NATO-led military operations.
NATO integrates the protection of civilians from the outset of an operation, mission and other mandated activity. Drawing on experience from Kosovo and Afghanistan, NATO and its partners have developed specific policies and guidelines for the protection of civilians in the planning and conduct of NATO-led operations and missions.
At the Warsaw Summit in 2016, NATO Leaders adopted a NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians. The aim of this overarching policy is to set out a coherent, consistent and integrated approach to the protection of civilians in NATO-led operations, missions and other mandated activities. The policy was developed with NATO partners and in consultation with the United Nations and other relevant international organisations, and is an integral part of NATO’s human security approach. In recent years, NATO has made considerable progress in implementing the policy at both the political and military levels; it has achieved this through tailored training (that includes partners), by integrating the protection of civilians into NATO exercises, and by ensuring its integration into NATO’s doctrine and planning.
In 2018, a NATO Military Concept on the Protection of Civilians was endorsed. It puts the NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians into practice and includes four objectives:
- understand the human environment, such as the culture, history, demographics, strengths and vulnerabilities;
- safeguard civilians from harm by belligerents;
- facilitate access by the population to basic needs and services; and
- contribute to a safe and secure environment through support to the local government and its institutions.
NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept states that human security, including the protection of civilians and civilian harm mitigation, is central to NATO’s approach to crisis prevention and management.
Protecting cultural property
NATO recognises cultural property protection as an essential consideration in the military environment and a critical indicator of community security, cohesion and identity. As demonstrated by the conflicts in the Western Balkans in the 1990s, the destruction of cultural symbols can have significant political dimensions and become a tactic used to weaken affected communities. Recognising the linkage with the broader protection agenda, cultural property protection is an important aspect of NATO’s human security approach to operations and missions and a valuable component of NATO’s efforts to build peace and security.
NATO’s obligations regarding the protection of cultural property stem from both its values and international law. The preamble to the North Atlantic Treaty states that the Alliance is “determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples”. In terms of the legal basis, the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its protocols provide the core regulatory instrument on cultural property protection.
The 2016 NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians clearly states that the protection of civilians in NATO-led operations and missions can include the protection of not only persons but also property and services. To ensure the Alliance meets its intents and obligations in its operations and missions, NATO has incorporated cultural property protection into policy and doctrine.
NATO applies its mandate to protect and support cultural and religious sites in all of its operational areas. As part of its directive in Kosovo, the NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) protects heritage sites, like monasteries, until the security situation improves on the ground and responsibility is handed over to the Kosovo Police. Over time, responsibility for the Gazimestan Monument, the Gracanica Monastery, Zociste Monastery, Budisavci Monastery, Gorioc Monastery, the Archangel site, the Devic Monastery and the Pec Patriarchate have been handed over to the Kosovo Police. Only the Decani Monastery remains under KFOR protection. In Afghanistan, NATO forces participated in initiatives and projects on an ad hoc basis, such as offering cultural heritage courses, building temporary facilities to store archaeological finds, rebuilding the National Museum of Afghanistan and protecting cultural heritage in Ghazni. During Operation Unified Protector in Libya, NATO used the data provided by several sources, including UNESCO and academia, in order to integrate cultural property protection into the planning of NATO airstrikes.
Various training institutes have developed training on the concept of cultural property protection and on its applicability in operational contexts. The NATO-accredited Civil-Military Cooperation Centre of Excellence in The Hague, the Netherlands coordinates these training efforts.