Cooperation with the African Union

  • Last updated: 13 Nov. 2019 15:28

Since 2005, NATO has been cooperating with the African Union (AU) – a regional organisation with 55 members created in 2002. The NATO-AU relationship started modestly with AU requests for logistics and airlift support for its mission in Sudan. The cooperation has evolved over time and, although primarily based on ad-hoc military-technical cooperation, NATO Allies have committed to expanding cooperation with the AU, with the aim of making it an integral part of NATO’s efforts to work more closely with its partners to tackle security challenges emanating from the south.


  • NATO has developed cooperation with the African Union principally in three areas: operational support; capacity-building support; and assistance in developing and sustaining the African Standby Force (ASF).
  • Operational support includes strategic air- and sealift, as well as planning support for the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
  • Capacity-building support includes inviting AU officers to attend courses at NATO training and education facilities and delivering courses through NATO’s Mobile Training Teams.
  • Support for the development and sustainment of the ASF includes exercises and tailor-made training, as well as assistance in developing ASF-related concepts.
  • NATO has also established a liaison office at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is led by a Senior Military Liaison Officer and provides, at AU’s request, subject matter experts, who work in the AU’s Peace and Security Department alongside African counterparts.
  • NATO coordinates its AU-related work with bilateral partners and other international organisations, including the European Union and the United Nations.

More background information

  • 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 are: operational support, capacity-building support and support for the development of the African Union Standby Force. However, 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. Similarly, Allies agreed to the Projecting Stability initiative, a new vision to cooperate with partners beyond NATO territory, with an aim to develop a more strategic, coherent and effective approach to partnerships. More recently, in November 2019, NATO and the AU signed an agreement to strengthen political and practical partnership so as to better respond to common threats and challenges.

    NATO’s cooperation with the African Union is an integral part of both NATO’s Framework for the South and the Alliance’s efforts in Projecting Stability. Since the Warsaw Summit, NATO has strengthened its approach to the south and its partnerships in the region, and is continuing to develop relations with the AU.

    From a practical point of view, Allied Joint Force Command (JFC) Naples is the NATO operational headquarters designated to implement the Alliance’s practical cooperation with the AU.

    JFC Naples is also the home of NATO’s Strategic Direction South Hub, which was inaugurated in September 2017 as a way to face the current and evolving security issues from NATO’s southern neighbourhood and enhance the Alliance’s relationships with partners from the south.

    Operational support

    Logistical support

    In January 2007, the AU made a general request to all partners, including NATO, for financial and logistical support to 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 have been renewed on an annual basis. The current NAC agreement to support the AU with strategic air- and sealift for AMISOM extends until January 2021.

    Planning support

    NATO provides subject matter experts for the AU Peace Support Operations Department. These experts have made significant contributions to AU priority areas. They have shared their knowledge and expertise 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’s contribution of subject matter experts responds to annual requests from the AU. The areas requested vary from year to year based on AU priorities. In this capacity, NATO experts work side-by-side with AU counterparts, offering expertise in specific domains for periods of six to twelve months, renewable at the AU’s request. The most recent request from the AU calls for support in strategic planning, as well as planning for movements and exercises.

    Capacity-building support

    Education and training

    NATO offers opportunities for AU personnel to attend courses at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany, the NATO Defense College in Rome, and other NATO training facilities such as NATO-accredited Centres of Excellence in the respective sponsoring countries. These education and training courses 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 though 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 for reach to a wider audience; participants are drawn from among AU staff, but also the Regional Economic Communities, which form the backbone of the development of Africa’s continental force, the African Stand-by Force. On average, 30 AU students participate in each training session.

    Support for the development of the African Standby Force

    NATO has been providing expert and training support to the African Standby Force (ASF) at the AU’s request. The ASF is intended 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, and shares similarities with the NATO Response Force.

    At the AU’s request, the Alliance offers capacity-building support through courses and training events. NATO has also organised certification/evaluation and training programmes for AU staff, which support the ASF’s operational readiness. For instance, NATO has trained AU officials participating in military exercises and provided military experts to assist in the evaluation and lessons learned procedures of an exercise. NATO has also supported various ASF preparatory workshops designed to develop ASF-related concepts. The Alliance is also specifically engaged in providing support to bringing the ASF’s Continental Logistics base in Douala, Cameroon to full operational capacity.

    NATO experts were also involved in supporting the preparation phases of Exercise Amani Africa II (October-November 2015) in South Africa, and played an active role in the execution phase. This was the first field training exercise for the ASF that brought together regional standby brigades from across the continent. African military, police and civilians participated in testing the ASF’s rapid deployment capability and the ASF’s level of readiness for full operational capability.

  • NATO representation in Addis Ababa

    NATO liaison office

    NATO has a liaison office to the headquarters of the African Union. The liaison office is comprised of a Senior Military Liaison Officer, a Deputy and one support staff. The NATO Senior Military Liaison Officer is the primary 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 Royal Norwegian Embassy in Addis Ababa provides diplomatic support as the official NATO Contact Point Embassy to the African Union. The Ambassador regularly hosts other NATO Ambassadors and Defence Attachés based in Addis Ababa to share information on NATO activities with the African Union. Norway has extended its offer to serve as the NATO Contact Point Embassy until December 2020. 

    Other staff-level engagements in Addis Ababa

    For work with the African Union, 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 (UN) and the European Union (EU).

  • Expanding areas of cooperation

    At the 2016 Summit in Warsaw, Allied leaders committed to expanding NATO’s political and practical partnership with the AU to address common challenges. This has helped fuel a new momentum in NATO-AU relations to expand areas of cooperation. In April 2018, for instance, the NATO Defense College hosted a seminar in Rome, Italy, which convened senior officials from both NATO and the African Union in order to develop a series of pragmatic proposals to increase and enhance areas of cooperation. These include proposals in the areas of counter-terrorism, countering improvised explosive devices, the Women, Peace and Security agenda, building integrity, and support to AU peace-support operations.

  • 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 African Union 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.