Cooperation with the African Union

  • Last updated: 27 Apr. 2023 09:01

Since 2005, NATO has been supporting the African Union (AU) – a regional organisation with 55 members established in 2002. The NATO-AU relationship started modestly with AU requests for logistics and airlift support for its mission in Sudan. The relationship has since evolved based on parity, mutual respect and reciprocity. NATO Allies are committed to expanding the relationship from support to cooperation with the AU in order to make it an integral part of NATO’s efforts to work more closely with partners in tackling security challenges emanating from the South.


  • NATO and the AU are reinforcing their relationship by increasing practical cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
  • Cooperation is being developed in three main areas: operational support; training support; and structural assistance, alongside liaison and coordination activities.
  • Operational support includes strategic air- and sealift, as well as planning support for the AU mission in Somalia.
  • Training support includes inviting AU officers to attend courses at NATO training and education facilities and delivering courses through NATO’s Mobile Education and Training Teams.
  • Structural assistance includes focused support to the African Stand-by Force Concept and its associated projects including exercises, early warning and disaster preparedness.  
  • NATO has also established a liaison office at the AU’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is led by a Senior Military Liaison Officer and provides support from subject matter experts, at the AU’s request.
  • NATO coordinates its AU-related work with bilateral partners and other international organisations, including the European Union and the United Nations.


Context and principal areas of NATO-AU cooperation

NATO-AU cooperation has mainly been pragmatic and driven by requests from the African Union for support in very specific areas. The principal areas of cooperation, as agreed in March 2020, are: operational support, training support and structural assistance.

At the Warsaw Summit in 2016, NATO leaders committed to increasing political and practical cooperation with the African Union. At the same time, Allies also approved NATO’s Framework for the South, which aims to integrate and streamline NATO’s approach to tackle challenges by focusing on improved capabilities, enhanced anticipation and response, as well as boosting NATO’s regional partnership and capacity-building efforts. In November 2019, NATO and the AU signed an agreement to strengthen political and practical partnership and, in March 2020, Allies approved additional cooperation initiatives with the aim of progressively maturing the NATO-AU relationship from one of ad-hoc support to substantive practical partnership.    

Operational support

Following NATO’s support to the AU mission in Sudan in 2005, the AU made a general request in January 2007 to all partners, including NATO, for financial and logistical support to its mission in Somalia (AMISOM). It later made a specific request to NATO in May 2007, requesting strategic airlift support for AU member states willing to deploy in Somalia under AMISOM. In June 2007, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) agreed, in principle, to support this request and NATO’s support was initially authorised until August 2007. Strategic sealift support was requested at a later stage and agreed in principle by the NAC in September 2009.

The AU’s strategic airlift and sealift support requests for AMISOM (replaced by the African Union Transition Mission to Somalia – ATMIS – in April 2022) have been renewed on an annual basis.

Training support

Education and training

NATO offers opportunities for AU personnel to attend courses at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany, and the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy. The AU is also being given access, in a step-by-step process matching AU interest with NATO expertise, to the skills and know-how available within NATO-accredited Centres of Excellence. 

These education and training opportunities are offered based upon AU requirements and the availability of NATO training venues. On average, 20 AU students are sponsored at NATO training venues per year.

Mobile training

Since 2015 and in response to an AU request, NATO delivers dedicated training to African Union officers through Mobile Education and Training Teams (METT) that deliver tailored courses in Africa. NATO has progressively increased the number of courses delivered and is providing three or more METT courses annually. The METT format allows to reach a wider audience: participants are drawn from among AU staff, but also from the Regional Economic Communities headquarters, which form the backbone of the development of Africa’s continental force, the African Stand-by Force (ASF). On average, 30 AU students participate in each training session.

Structural assistance

NATO provides structural assistance to the AU through the deployment of NATO subject matter experts to the AU Headquarters in Ethiopia and in particular to the AU Peace Support Operations Division. These experts have made significant contributions to AU priority areas. Working side-by-side with AU counterparts, they share their knowledge and know-how in planning across various domains including maritime, finance, monitoring, procurement, air movement coordination, communications, information technology, logistics, human resources, military manpower management and contingencies. NATO experts provide support for periods of six to twelve months, renewable at the AU’s request. The AU makes these requests on an annual basis and they can vary from year to year depending on priorities; the most recent AU request calls for support in strategic planning, as well as planning for movements and exercises.

NATO has also been providing expert and training support to the African Stand-by Force (ASF) Concept at the AU’s request. The ASF is to be deployed in Africa in times of crisis and is part of the AU’s efforts to develop long-term peacekeeping capabilities; it represents the AU’s vision for a continental, on-call security apparatus. NATO’s doctrinal knowledge and practical experiences linked to the NATO Response Force and NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force are valuable for the AU to advance the ASF Concept. For instance, NATO has organised certification/evaluation and training programmes for AU staff, which support the ASF’s operational readiness. NATO has also trained AU officials participating in military exercises and provided military experts to assist in the evaluation and lessons learned procedures of an exercise and has supported various ASF preparatory workshops designed to develop ASF-related concepts. Moreover, the Alliance is specifically engaged in providing support to bringing the ASF’s Continental Logistics base in Douala, Cameroon to full operational capacity.

NATO representation in Addis Ababa

NATO liaison office

NATO has a liaison office at the headquarters of the AU. The liaison office is comprised of a Senior Military Liaison Officer, a Deputy and one support staff. The liaison office provides, at the AU’s request, subject matter experts, who work in the AU’s Political Affairs, Peace and Security Department alongside African counterparts. The NATO Senior Military Liaison Officer is the primary interlocutor and coordinator for the Alliance’s activities with the AU. The size of NATO’s presence on the ground in Addis Ababa is based upon the requests from the AU and the availability of resources from Allies.

NATO Contact Point Embassy

The Embassy of a NATO member country in Addis Ababa provides diplomatic support as the official NATO Contact Point Embassy to the AU on a rotational basis. The Ambassador regularly hosts other NATO Ambassadors and Defence Attachés based in Addis Ababa to share information on NATO activities with the AU. The Embassy of Canada currently fulfils this role.

Other staff-level engagements in Addis Ababa

For work with the AU, the NATO Senior Military Liaison Officer in Addis Ababa coordinates with Allied Defence Attachés, bilateral partners and other international organisations based in the capital, including the United Nations and the European Union.

Milestones in NATO support to the AU

Starting in 2005 with the provision of NATO logistical support to the AU to expand its mission in Darfur, the NATO-AU relationship has developed over time.

  • 2005 – NATO provides strategic airlift to the AU Mission in Sudan.
  • 2007 – Allies agree to provide strategic airlift to support the AU’s involvement in Somalia (AMISOM) and in 2009, agree to provide strategic sealift.
  • 2011 – AU Commission Chairperson Jean Ping visits NATO twice in the context of Operation Unified Protector – the UN-mandated operation set up to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, in Libya, under threat of attack.
  • 2014 – AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ambassador Smail Chergui visits NATO and signs the technical agreement on NATO-AU cooperation.
  • 2015 - NATO opens its liaison office at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
  • 2015 – NATO and the AU begin a programme of annual military-to-military staff talks.
  • 2015 – NATO enhances the programme of mobile training solutions offered to AU officers.
  • 2016 – NATO leaders agree to further strengthen and expand the Alliance’s political and practical cooperation with the AU at the Warsaw Summit.
  • 2019 – A cooperation agreement is signed to strengthen partnership and bring NATO and the AU closer together.
  • 2020 - NATO and the AU agree to a new series of measures to further integrate their cooperation.
  • 2021 – NATO-AU Cooperation Plan to gradually enhance the military cooperation offered to the AU.
  • 2021 – AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Ambassador Bankole Adeoye visits NATO Headquarters.