Reserve forces

  • Last updated: 07 Mar. 2024 15:19

As threats to global security have evolved, so too has the role of reserve forces in NATO. Reservists combine a civilian career with a military function and therefore play a crucial role in building bridges between military and non-military personnel across the Alliance. Their main role is to be available to fight as soon as there is the need to mobilise forces, making them an indispensable part of the Alliance’s security.


  • NATO does not have or control its own reserve forces – it works on reservist issues through three different entities.
  • NATO works with the National Reserve Forces Committee (NRFC), which focuses on military policy and concepts, and is an advisory body for the Military Committee on these questions.
  • It also works with the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (known by its French acronym CIOR), which concentrates on developing an inter-allied common spirit and the training and education of reservists.
  • NATO also works with the Interallied Confederation of Medical Reserve Officers (CIOMR), which brings together medical officers from the reserve forces of member countries.
  • Together, these entities seek to complement efforts and harmonise their respective programmes and projects.
  • All three serve as a platform to exchange views and best practices and, whenever possible, they convene at the same time and place.
  • The Military Committee is briefed once a year on the activities of these organisations.


National Reserve Forces Committee (NRFC)

Up to the early 1980s, reserve forces and related policy matters were considered a national issue only, so they did not come within the remit of NATO. In 1981, a central forum for reservist matters called the National Reserve Forces Committee (NRFC) was founded, but it was not until 1996 that it was officially recognised as a NATO committee.

Objectives and responsibilities

The NRFC has the task of preparing conceptual proposals and developing approaches as an advisory body for the Military Committee in this area. It does not, however, address strategic, tactical or operational issues.

Its objectives and responsibilities were approved by the Military Committee (MC 392) on 18 November 1996 and have since been amended several times.
These are defined as:

  1. Providing policy advice on reserve issues to the Military Committee;
  2. Strengthening the readiness and effectiveness of Alliance reserves by providing a forum for the exchange of information and sharing of best practices;
  3. Maintaining awareness of relevant issues and identifying common activities that may be of interest to Alliance and partner reserves by liaising with entities that have an interest in these issues. In particular, the NRFC cooperates with the CIOR.

Functioning of the committee

The NRFC consists of a chairperson and a secretariat, as well as the national delegations of NATO members and five observer countries (Australia, Austria, Georgia, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea). Liaison officers represent the International Military Staff, Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation. National ministries of defence appoint their respective committee delegations.

One of the member countries holds the chair for a period of two years. The chairperson organises and conducts meetings, and coordinates the activities of the committee. He/she is the correspondent between the NRFC and the Military Committee, speaks on behalf of the NRFC and is in charge of tasks and studies requested by the Military Committee. 

The NRFC holds plenary conferences at least twice a year.


Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR)

The Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (Confédération interalliée des officiers de réserve or CIOR) is an independent body that represents the reserve officers from 29 NATO members and five associated countries. It was founded in 1948 and officially recognised by NATO in 1976 (MC 248/1) with the aim of providing advice on the best use of reservists, continuing to improve the knowledge of NATO authorities about national reserve forces, and exchange information between member states. It is a non-political, non-governmental, non-profit-making organisation which cooperates with the Alliance on reservists issues.

The members of the CIOR associations are active civilians and professionals, in addition to their role as reserve officers. This dual role allows them to contribute to a better understanding of security and defence issues within their national populations, as well as bringing civilian expertise and experiences to the challenges facing reserve forces at NATO.

Delegates to the CIOR are elected by their national reserve officer associations. The head of each delegation is a CIOR vice-president. The Confederation is structured around a constitution that provides for a rotating presidency, an executive council comprised of vice-presidents, key committees and several annual events that promote training, education and professional development of reserve forces.

CIOR’s main roles:

  • Improving “NATO understanding of CIOR goals and activities, by informing NATO authorities, periodically briefing the Military Committee”.
  • To increase cooperation between NATO and CIOR “by providing advice from CIOR’s perspective on the best utilisation of reservists in the defence of NATO and in non-Art. 5 operations.”
  • “To contribute to improving the knowledge of NATO authorities about national reserve forces and the role of the reserve forces in common NATO defence and new missions, particularly from the CIOR perspective.”
  • “To utilise CIOR knowledge of reserve affairs within each member nation in order to inspire developments in the organisation, administration and social aspects, where appropriate, of reserve forces and in particular of reserve Officers.”

CIOR committees:

  1. Defence Attitudes & Security Issues Committee
  2. Civil Military Cooperation Committee
  3. Military Competitions Committee
  4. Legal Committee
  5. Partnership for Peace & Outreach Committee
  6. Language Academy Committee
  7. Seminar Committee
  8. Young Reserve Officers Committee

The main meetings of the CIOR are held on an annual basis in the summer, with locations alternating among member countries. It also organises a winter conference each year in Brussels, Belgium, for the CIOR Council and Committees. The Confederation is financed by annual subscriptions from its component national associations. The CIOR has a permanent representative at NATO Headquarters (in Brussels, Belgium) in the International Military Staff.


Interallied Confederation of Medical Reserve Officers (CIOMR)

The Interallied Confederation of Medical Reserve Officers (Confédération interalliée des officiers médicaux de réserve or CIOMR) is a confederation in its own right. Established in 1948, the CIOMR is the official organisation of healthcare professionals within the reserve forces from countries that were to become NATO members. Originally founded by Belgium, France and the Netherlands, the Confederation now includes other NATO members and affiliated countries, including associate members.

The CIOMR works to establish close relations with NATO’s Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services (COMEDS) and with medical professionals and services of all member countries. It also promotes effective collaboration with the active forces of the Alliance.