20 years of engaging partners
NATO created the North Atlantic Cooperation Council as a forum for dialogue with its former Warsaw Pact adversaries on 20 December 1991. This marked the start of the Allies’ policy of cooperative security, now considered one of NATO’s three essential core tasks. Over the past two decades, NATO’s partnerships have continued to evolve, adapting to new security challenges in an unpredictable, fast-changing and increasingly interconnected world.
“We are overcoming the division of Europe. Those who once were enemies now meet as partners and friends. A source of stability as well as an agent of change, NATO has made a substantial contribution to the process and it will continue to do so.”
NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner, Inaugural meeting of the NACC
The sea-change in the security environment brought about by the end of the Cold War opened new opportunities for cooperation. The creation of the NACC was a manifestation of the “hand of friendship” extended at the July 1990 summit meeting in London, where Allied leaders declared their determination to work with all the countries of Europe “to create enduring peace on this continent”.
Such was the pace of change in Europe at the time that the inaugural meeting of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) itself witnessed an historic event: as the final communiqué was being agreed, the Soviet ambassador announced that the Soviet Union had dissolved during the meeting and that he now only represented the Russian Federation.
Adapting to the post-Cold War environment
The NACC contributed to building trust and broke new ground in many ways. Political consultations and cooperation was launched on a number of security and defence-related issues. Military-to-military contacts and cooperation also got off the ground.
However, the post-Cold war period brought its own security challenges. The outbreak of regional conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and parts of the former Soviet Union dissipated early hopes of a peace dividend. The unpredictable security environment called for a cooperative approach to security and to developing the capabilities required for multinational peacekeeping operations. Moreover, wider Euro-Atlantic security and stability needed to be underpinned by promoting transparency and reform in the areas of security and defence, based on democratic values. Many countries – Allies and partners alike – also needed to reshape their military forces and defence structures to make them more affordable and better suited to the security challenges of the post-Cold War environment.
The Allies saw a potential role for NATO to work with partners, both in terms of developing capabilities and supporting reform and transformation. However, while the NACC was a useful forum for multilateral political dialogue, it lacked the possibility for partners to develop individual relations with NATO tailored to their respective needs and ambitions. The Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme was launched in 1994 to fill this gap, giving partners the opportunity to choose from a wide-ranging menu of activities to develop practical bilateral cooperation with NATO.
Extending the partnership network
The invitation to join the Partnership for Peace was not just offered to NACC partners but also to the traditionally neutral western European countries. This led to the NACC being replaced in 1997 the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) – a more inclusive security forum, better suited for the increasingly sophisticated relationships being developed with PfP partners.
In parallel with launching the Partnership for Peace, the Alliance further extended its network of partnerships by inviting countries on the southern Mediterranean rim to join the Mediterranean Dialogue.
The operational value of these partnerships was soon demonstrated by the active support of many partners, including Russia, for the UN-mandated, NATO-led peacekeeping forces that were deplyed to Bosnia and Herzegovina in December 1995 and Kosovo in June 1999.
The beginning of the 21st century brought a new set of complex and unpredictable security challenges. In response, NATO took steps to broaden and deepen cooperation with its existing partners, as well as extending its network of partnerships by launching the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative with countries of the Gulf region in 2004 and by developing cooperation with other partners from across the globe.
Towards more effective and flexible partnerships
Twenty years since the first forum with partners was set up, NATO’s policy of partnership and cooperative security has stood the test of time. Today, partners are deployed alongside Allies in operations from the Balkans to Afghanistan and are working with NATO to address the global threat of terrorism and other emerging security challenges.
Euro-Atlantic security is best assured through a wide network of partner relationships with countries and organizations around the globe. For this reason, cooperative security is identified as one of NATO’s three essential core tasks in NATO’s new Strategic Concept, adopted at the Lisbon Summit in November 2010.
With the adoption of a new partnerships policy in Berlin in April 2011, dialogue and cooperation with partners is being made more inclusive, flexible, meaningful and strategically oriented. “The newly approved ‘Berlin partnership package’ will allow us to work on more issues, with more partners, in more ways,” says NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.