Civil preparedness

  • Last updated: 07 Jun. 2018 12:32

The effective transportation of forces and military equipment relies on civil resources and infrastructure, such as railways, ports, airfields and grids. These assets are vulnerable to external attack and internal disruption. Civil preparedness means that basic government functions can continue during emergencies or disasters in peacetime or in periods of crisis. It also means that the civilian sector in Allied nations would be ready to provide support to a NATO military operation.



  • Under Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty, all Allies are committed to building resilience, which is the combination of civil preparedness and military capacity.
  • Allies agreed baseline resilience requirements in seven strategic sectors – continuity of government, energy, population movements, food and water resources, mass casualties, civil communications and transport systems. 
  • To deter or counter potential threats or disruption to the civil sector, effective action requires clear plans and response measures, defined well ahead of time and exercised regularly.
  • That is why there is a need to complement military efforts to defend Alliance territory and populations with robust civil preparedness.

More background information

  • Strategic areas

    NATO civil preparedness is primarily concerned with aspects of national planning which affect the ability to contribute to Allied efforts in continuity of government, continuity of essential services to the population and civil support to military operations. 

    These three critical civilian functions have been translated into seven baseline resilience requirements and agreed by NATO in February 2016. Together with a package of resilience guidelines, assessment and a tailored toolbox, their objective is to support nations in achieving national resilience and provide benchmarks against which to assess the state of civil preparedness.  These are:

    1. Continuity of government and critical government services;
    2. Energy supplies;
    3. Ability to deal effectively with uncontrolled movement of people;
    4. Food and water resources;
    5. Ability to deal with mass casualties;
    6. Telecommunications and cyber networks;
    7. Transportation systems.

    At the 2016 Summit in Warsaw, Allied leaders committed to continue enhancing NATO’s resilience and to further developing individual and collective capacity to resist any form of armed attack. Civil preparedness is a central piece of Allies’ resilience and a critical enabler for Alliance collective defence. NATO can support Allies in assessing and, upon request, enhancing their civil preparedness.

    In 2017, Allies took further steps to implement their commitment.  NATO provided nations with evaluation criteria to assist them in conducting national resilience self-assessments.  In July 2017, NATO produced an Alliance-wide assessment of national resilience which generated an overview of the state of civil preparedness. This identified areas where further efforts are required to enhance resilience and deal with a wide range of threats, including terrorism. 

  • Context

    Why is civil preparedness essential to collective defence? In large operations, around 90 per cent of military transport uses civilian assets chartered or requisitioned from the commercial sector. The military medical system relies on the ability to evacuate casualties. Civilian medical infrastructure must be able to cope with both an increase in demand from civilian casualties as well as the military casualty treatment and evacuation chain.

    Deployed NATO forces need access to host nations’ industrial infrastructure, access to the power grid, food, water and fuel supplies, access to civilian telecommunications infrastructure, and building materials.

    They also require local civilian expertise and manpower. On average, 75 per cent of host nation support to NATO operations is sourced from local commercial infrastructure and services.

    These civil assets are often highly vulnerable because they have been designed to generate maximum profit as opposed to providing redundancy and resilience in times of crisis. In addition, hybrid threats are blurring the traditional divisions of war and peace, rendering government powers based on wartime emergency legislation increasingly impractical or even obsolete. In today’s security environment, resilience to such challenges requires a full range of capabilities, military and civilian, and active cooperation across government and the private sector.  To train Allies’ responses to crisis situations, civil preparedness elements are being built into NATO’s military exercises, such as Trident Juncture 2018.

    Enhancing resilience also requires continued engagement with partners and other international bodies, including the United Nations and particularly the European Union, as well as continuously updated situational awareness.

  • History

    During the Cold War, many of the civil assets, such as railways, ports, airfields, grids or airspace were in state hands and easily transferred to NATO control in a crisis or wartime situation.

    Following the fall of the Berlin wall, the significantly reduced threat meant that the likelihood of a direct attack on mainland Europe diminished. Consequently, attention to and investment in civil preparedness started to decline.

    As threats from international terrorism and religious extremism became more prevalent, NATO assumed an expeditionary stance which demanded different capabilities and capacities than those developed during the Cold War. During this period, outsourcing of non-combat essential military tasks, requirements and capabilities became the norm and was also embraced by new NATO member countries. Although cost-effective, the result has been an incremental increase in military dependency on civilian resources and infrastructure. For example, in large-scale operations around 90 per cent of military transport is now provided by the commercial sector, as is 40 per cent of military satellite communications, while 75 per cent of all host nation support is dependent on the use of locally procured infrastructure and services.

    Recent events, particularly the conflict in eastern Ukraine, have refocused attention on challenges closer to Alliance territory. As part of its response, the Alliance agreed and is implementing a set of assurance and adaptation measures known as the Readiness Action Plan (RAP). To be fully effective, the RAP must be complemented by civil preparedness.

    Consequently, nations are re-evaluating their own vulnerabilities and preparedness to effectively deter and defend against contemporary security threats.