Human Security

  • Last updated 26-Feb-2021 15:43

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 the empowerment of people. 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.



  • At their 2019 meeting in London, NATO leaders agreed on the need to step up NATO’s role in Human Security.
  • NATO recognises the distinct impacts of conflict on women, men, girls and boys, and applies a gender lens to its work on human security as outlined in the NATO Women, Peace and Security Policy.
  • NATO has a number of policies and guiding documents related to Human Security, including on Countering Trafficking in Human Beings (2004 – ongoing update in 2021), Children and Armed Conflict (2015), and Protection of Civilians (2016).
  • As of 2021, a NATO policy on Preventing and Responding to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence is currently under development.


More background information

NATO recognises the importance of reducing the impact of its actions on civilian populations in conflict zones.
As the Alliance has developed its policies related to protection, multiple strands of work have been brought together under the umbrella of Human Security, including: protection of civilians, children and armed conflict, countering trafficking in human beings, preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence, and protecting cultural property.
For NATO, the definition of ‘Human Security’ broadly relates to risks and threats to populations and how to mitigate and respond to them.


Policies and guidance

At the 2004 Istanbul Summit, NATO leaders endorsed a policy on Countering Trafficking in Human Beings. The policy commits NATO member countries, and other troop-contributing nations participating in NATO-led operations, to reinforce efforts to prevent and combat human trafficking. As of 2021, an update to this policy is currently underway.

In 2015, Allies agreed a guidance document entitled, “Children in Armed Conflict – A Way Forward”. This document provides guidance to further integrate UN Security Council Resolution 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.

Also in 2015, NATO developed military guidelines on the Prevention and Response to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV). These guidelines provide strategic commitments with the aim of reducing the risk of CRSV and improving responsive measures that take protection needs into consideration.

At the 2016 Warsaw Summit, NATO leaders endorsed the NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians. This policy sets out a coherent, consistent and integrated approach to the protection of civilians in NATO and NATO-led operations, missions and other Council-mandated activities.

In 2019, NATO’s two Strategic Commands (Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation) released a directive outlining the legal principles, roles and responsibilities in relation to Cultural Property Protection at NATO, including on information sharing, reporting and training.