Relations with partners across the globe

  • Last updated: 07 Mar. 2024 15:22

NATO has a number of “partners across the globe” or “global partners”, which the Alliance cooperates with on an individual basis. NATO’s global partners include Afghanistan¹, Australia, Colombia, Iraq, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand and Pakistan. NATO’s engagement with global partners is taking on increasing importance in a complex security environment, where many of the challenges the Alliance faces are global and no longer bound by geography.


  • The NATO 2030 agenda agreed by NATO Leaders at the NATO Brussels 2021 Summit seeks to strengthen NATO’s global cooperation with like-minded partners, especially with its global partners, to defend the rules-based international order and institutions, to set international norms and standards in space and in cyberspace, and on new technologies and global arms control.
  • Since 2016, NATO has increasingly engaged politically with its partners in the Indo-Pacific region – Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand – notably through meetings of the North Atlantic Council, including a first meeting at the level of foreign ministers in December 2020, to discuss the shift in the global balance of power and the rise of China.
  • NATO is also intensifying dialogue and cooperation with Colombia.
  • Global partners have access to the full range of activities NATO offers to all partners guided by an Individual Partnership Cooperation Programme. They work with NATO on a range of common cross-cutting security challenges such as cyber defence, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation and resilience.
  • Some partners participate in NATO’s military operations, while many have benefited from NATO’s expertise in areas such as building defence capacity, and defence training and education.
  • NATO also consults with other non-member countries, which have no bilateral programme of cooperation (for example, China, Brazil, Ghana, India, Singapore) in particular on regional security dynamics.
  • At the NATO Brussels Summit in June 2021, Allies agreed to strengthen NATO engagement with key global actors and other new interlocutors beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, including those from Africa, Asia and Latin America.


Wider cooperation

In today’s complex security environment, NATO’s relations with partners across the globe offer many advantages to Allies and partners alike. NATO’s practical cooperation with its global partners includes cross-cutting global challenges such as cyber defence, maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, non-proliferation, defence science and technology, and Women, Peace and Security. Some partners participate in NATO’s military operations, while many have also benefited from NATO’s expertise in areas such as building defence capacity, and defence training and education.

Political consultation and intelligence-sharing are fundamental to the way NATO works with its global partners, just as it is among the 32 Allies. Political dialogue is a key tool for fostering regional understanding and exchanging expertise between Allies and their global partners. This enriches NATO’s situational awareness in areas beyond its direct neighbourhood, and it ensures that global partners understand NATO’s positions and are able to contribute to policy discussions on common security challenges. This is increasing in importance as many of today’s new security challenges are no longer bound by geography, such as in cyber space, space and climate change. Political dialogue also assists in establishing and developing practical cooperation with these partners.

Political dialogue with NATO’s global partners takes place in many different formats, including at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Just as Allied consultations take place in a broad range of committees and at different levels, so too do several global partners participate in these committees on a regular basis, from the level of ministers to technical working groups. For example, NATO’s partners from the Indo-Pacific region – Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand – participate on a regular basis in discussions in the Political Committee and in the North Atlantic Council.

At the most senior level, the Secretary General, the Deputy Secretary General, the Chair of the Military Committee and NATO’s Strategic Commanders meet with global partners’ Heads of State and Government, foreign ministers, defence ministers, as well as other high-level officials.


Support for NATO-led operations

The support provided by global partners and other countries to NATO-led operations has made a significant contribution to international peace and security.

In Afghanistan, a number of global partners such as Australia, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand, made important contributions to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from 2003 to 2014. Many continued to work alongside Allies in the follow-on Resolute Support Mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions. Some countries supported stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan without being involved in combat. This includes Japan, which funded a large number of development projects and dispatched liaison officers, and Pakistan that provided ground and air lines of communication to resupply the mission. In 2020, the Republic of Korea served as the co-chair of the Afghan National Army Trust Fund Board.


Evolution of relations

NATO has maintained a dialogue with countries that are not part of its partnership frameworks, on an ad-hoc basis, since the 1990s. However, NATO’s involvement in areas outside of its immediate region – including Afghanistan and Libya – has increased the need and opportunities for enhanced global interaction. Clearly, the emergence of global threats requires the cooperation of a wider range of countries to successfully tackle challenges such as terrorism, proliferation, piracy or cyber attacks. Dialogue with these countries can also help NATO avert crises and, when needed, manage an operation throughout all phases.

Since 1998, NATO has invited countries across the globe to participate in its activities, workshops, exercises and conferences. This decision marked a policy shift for the Alliance, allowing these countries to have access, through the case-by-case approval of the North Atlantic Council, to activities offered under NATO’s structured partnerships. These countries were known as “Contact Countries”.

Significant steps were taken at the 2006 Riga Summit to increase the operational relevance of NATO’s cooperation with countries that are part of its structured partnership frameworks as well as other countries around the world. These steps, reinforced by decisions at the 2008 Bucharest Summit, defined a set of objectives for these relationships and created avenues for enhanced political dialogue, including meetings of the North Atlantic Council with ministers of the countries concerned, high-level talks, and meetings with ambassadors. In addition, annual work programmes (then referred to as Individual Tailored Cooperation Packages of Activities) were further developed.

At the 2010 Lisbon Summit, Allies agreed to develop a more efficient and flexible partnership policy, in time for the meeting of Allied foreign ministers in Berlin in April 2011. To this end, they decided to:

  • streamline NATO’s partnership tools in order to open all cooperative activities and exercises to partners and to harmonise partnership programmes;
  • better engage with partners across the globe who contribute significantly to security and reach out to relevant partners to build trust, increase transparency and develop practical cooperation;
  • develop flexible formats to discuss security challenges with partners and enhance existing fora for political dialogue; and
  • build on improvements in NATO’s training mechanisms and consider methods to enhance individual partners’ ability to build capacity.

Following the 2010 Lisbon Summit and NATO’s subsequent revision of its partnership policy in April 2011, the global context has changed significantly. As NATO became increasingly confronted with new defence and security challenges such as cyber attacks, disinformation, disruptive technologies and the erosion of arms control regimes, NATO recognised the importance of adapting  to these new security challenges, including working closer together with NATO’s partners.

This increasing engagement with NATO’s like-minded partners, regardless of geographic location, on the basis of the shared values of democratic freedoms, rule of law and human rights, allows Allies to discuss relevant developments in the regions with partners, and increase their situational awareness and understanding of strategic issues on relevant global developments.

In June 2020, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg launched his outline for NATO 2030. In order for NATO to keep its Allies safe in a more uncertain world, the Secretary General stated that NATO must “stay strong militarily, be more united politically, and take a broader approach globally.” NATO taking a more global approach means working even more closely with like-minded partners to develop coherent, strong, unified and collective responses to defend shared values in a world of increased global competition.

The global pillar of NATO 2030 is particularly relevant to NATO’s engagement with its partners from the Indo-Pacific – Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand. As the challenges confronting the Euro-Atlantic area and the Indo-Pacific region are increasingly converging, it is vital for NATO and its close partners in the Indo-Pacific to enhance cooperation and dialogue to support security in both regions, but also to work together to strengthen the rules-based international order. In December 2020, for the first time, these partners participated in a NATO Foreign Ministerial Meeting, where NATO Allies discussed the shift in the global balance of power and the rise of China with these partners, as well as with then-partners Finland and Sweden (now member countries) and the European Union High Representative/Vice President of the European Commission.

At the 2021 Brussels Summit, Allies agreed to increase dialogue and practical cooperation between NATO and existing partners, including partners in the Indo-Pacific, and to strengthen NATO engagement with key global actors and other new interlocutors beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, including from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

  1. The partnership with Afghanistan is currently suspended following North Atlantic Council decisions related to the security environment.