NATO’s military concept for defence against terrorism

International Military Staff

  • Last updated: 19 Aug. 2016 15:50



Terrorism poses one of the most immediate and asymmetric threats to the Alliance and its Members.  Weak and failing states allow terrorist organisations to establish zones of instability along NATO’s borders. Transnational terrorism not only poses a threat to the Alliance, but also creates long-term consequences for global peace and stability.  Those consequences are increasingly the result of two main developments: instability in a number of weak states; and the prolific use by terrorist organisations of the Internet and social media to inspire fighters and supporters as well as to maintain a global terrorist network .

In 2012, NATO agreed Policy Guidelines on Counter-Terrorism (CT).  These Guidelines provide strategic direction for NATO’s CT activities and identify key areas within which the Alliance should implement initiatives to enhance the prevention of and resilience to acts of terrorism.  The focus will be on awareness, capabilities and engagement with partners.

Key definitions

a. Terrorism. The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence, instilling fear and terror, against individuals or property in an attempt to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, or to gain control over a population, to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives.

b. Counter-Terrorism. All preventive, defensive and offensive measures taken to reduce the vulnerability of forces, individuals and property against terrorist threats and/or acts, to respond to terrorist acts. In the frame of the NATO Comprehensive Approach, this can be combined with or followed by measures enabling recovery after terrorist acts.


  1. Compliance with International Law.  NATO will continue to act in accordance with International Law, the principles of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, International Conventions and Protocols against terrorism and relevant UN Resolutions provide the framework for all national and multilateral efforts to combat terrorism, including those conducted by the Alliance.
  2. Support to Allies.  Although individual NATO members have primary responsibility for the protection of their own populations and territories against terrorism, cooperation within NATO can enhance Allies’ national efforts to prevent, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism.  NATO, upon request, may support these efforts. As an international organization, it has unique assets and capabilities to offer in support of Allies’ CT efforts.
  3. Non-Duplication and Complementarity.  NATO will seek to avoid unnecessary duplication of the existing efforts of individual nations or International Organizations as it develops its own contribution to CT in a manner that complements those efforts.

Based on these three principles, the Alliance will focus coordinated and consolidated contributions to CT in three main areas: awareness; capabilities; and engagement.


Awareness is an essential enabler for the planning, preparation and execution of all CT activities.  NATO’s military contributions will include:

  1. Providing terrorism-related information, intelligence and assessments regarding Terrorism in order to enhance NATO’s overall Situational Awareness.
  2. Sharing relevant CT-related information with key outside actors, where appropriate and when it is militarily relevant.
  3. Maintaining a system of terrorism indicators and warnings to facilitate early detection.
  4. Promoting, through engagement and strategic communication, a common understanding of this CT concept and NATO’s potential military contribution to CT as part of a broader international effort.


NATO has unique military training, means and expertise which can contribute to global Counter-Terrorism efforts.  Potential military contributions include:

  1. Sharing best practice, expertise and information relating to capabilities relevant to CT.  For example, NATO’s work on airspace security, air defence, maritime security, Special Operations, response to CBRN, non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and protection of critical infrastructure is well established and may be useful to an effective CT response by the Alliance, international organizations and individual nations.
  2. Maintaining existing capabilities and expertise (including NATO Educational Training Facilities (NETF) and NATO accredited Centres of Excellence (COE) and NATO Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ)) applicable for use against the terrorist threat.
  3. Ensuring that CT threat analysis, lessons learned and best practices are reflected in identifying and assessing requirements for emerging and future security challenges and in the update of present Capability Codes and Statements (CC&S).
  4. Thereafter, ensuring that appropriate CT-relevant capabilities are developed and maintained in the short, medium and long term.
  5. Developing standardized doctrinal work on CT in order to provide efficiency and interoperability in CT.
  6. Maintaining advance planning activities related to this domain to facilitate potential NATO early commitment.


Optimal application of CT measures will require internal, interagency and international collaboration to ensure that overall effects are complementary, mutually supportive and synchronized.

Furthermore, NATO can support national and international efforts to counter terrorism via existing cooperation mechanisms.  Initiatives should concentrate on developing and implementing programs directed towards:

  1. Assistance and advice to progress Defence and Security Sector reform and aid capability development.
  2. Building Defence Capacity, implementing the guidelines of the NATO Security Force Assistance Concept, and providing Military Assistance as appropriate.
  3. Providing education, training and opportunities for participation in exercises.
  4. Promoting interoperability, including sharing of standards.