Education and training

  • Last updated: 26 Nov. 2018 11:05

In order to fulfil its fundamental and enduring purpose of safeguarding the freedom and security of its members, the Alliance must maintain the capabilities to prevent, detect, deter and defend against any threat of aggression. For this reason, NATO conducts education and training programmes to increase cohesion, effectiveness and readiness of its multinational forces. Furthermore, NATO shares its expertise with partner countries in their education and training reform efforts.



  • Since its inception in 1949, NATO has engaged in education and training activities, which have expanded geographically and institutionally over time.
  • The establishment of Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in 2002 is testimony of NATO’s resolve to boost education and training. ACT is entirely dedicated to leading the transformation of NATO’s military structure, forces, capabilities and doctrine, including through exercise and training design and management.
  • ACT has a holistic approach to education and training: it provides unity of effort and helps identify gaps and avoid duplication, while ensuring greater effectiveness and efficiency through global programming. These efforts are complementary to national programmes.
  • Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), at the head of Allied Command Operations (ACO), provides strategic-level guidance and sets the priorities and requirements for NATO Education, Training, Exercises and Evaluation (ETEE).
  • NATO’s education and training programmes help to improve “interoperability” of multinational forces, i.e. their ability to work together.
  • The Alliance is committed to effective cooperation and coordination with partner countries and international organisations, such as the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union
  • Transformation through education and training

    NATO’s education and training activities support the ongoing process of transformation. Through the constant adaptation of its courses, training events and the introduction of new concepts and capabilities, NATO uses its exercises to ensure the Alliance is able to respond to emerging security challenges. There are four core dimensions to this area of activity: education, individual and collective training, exercises and their respective evaluation. Through its education programmes, NATO aims to enhance individual knowledge and skills, and to develop competencies to confront a variety of challenges; individual training activities focus on the development of skills necessary to perform specific tasks and duties. The acquired knowledge is then further developed through practical application during collective training; exercises take training a step further by testing acquired knowledge during scenario-based live or computer-assisted simulations, often involving many participants from different countries. Exercising is paramount for maintaining, testing and evaluating the readiness and interoperability of Allies, partners and non-NATO entities.

    Allies and partner countries are committed to supporting the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and related Resolutions and take actions to promote the Women, Peace and Security agenda also through education and training.

    1. Organisation of training in NATO

    Collective education and training have been ongoing since the inception of the Alliance in 1949, with NATO forces conducting joint training1 to strengthen their ability to practise collective defence. The outbreak of the Korean War helped the Allies quickly understand the importance of an integrated force under centralised command.  Over time, training has expanded both geographically and institutionally to become an integral part of NATO’s ability to provide security. As a priority, NATO is ensuring that its commands and multinational forces remain ready, responsive, adaptable and interoperable, despite differences in tactics, doctrine, training, structures and language. NATO’s two Strategic Commands – Allied Command Operations (ACO) and Allied Command Transformation (ACT) – manage the education, training, exercise and evaluation process. There are a number of organisations through which NATO education and training is implemented. Some operate under the direction of the Alliance and others are external but complementary to Alliance structures.

    Allied Command Operations

    ACO, located at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium, plays an important role in the field of education and training. It develops and maintains forces standards; provides guidance on exercise programmes and their evaluation; and identifies requirements related to training and force development capabilities.

    Allied Command Transformation

    ACT was created as part of the reorganisation of NATO’s command structure in 2002. This was an important step in improving readiness and interoperability through the coordination of education and individual training, with collective training and exercises. This Strategic Command, located in Norfolk, Virginia, United States, holds lead responsibility for directing NATO schools as well as for the development of joint education, individual training, and associated policy and doctrine between NATO and Partnership Training and Education Centres. Since July 2012, ACT has also been given the responsibility of managing collective training and exercises based on ACOs’ requirements.

    Starting from specific requirements and analyses, ACT identifies and develops the most appropriate education and training solution for every discipline. To this extent, annual conferences keep the disciplines aligned with the ever-evolving requirements, and guarantee responsive and flexible education and training cycles. Once the solutions are defined, delivery of courses, training and exercises is synchronised with all stakeholders.

    NATO education and training facilities

    Seven education and training facilities are currently in place. The last three are under the direct control of Allied Command Transformation:

    • The NATO Defense College (NDC) in Rome, Italy, is NATO’s primary strategic-level educational facility and includes areas of study such as trends in the international security environment and their potential effects on NATO countries. It provides training for senior commanders.
    • The NATO School in Oberammergau (NSO), Germany, is the primary operational-level training centre for students. Operational-level training focuses on joint planning of NATO operations, operations planning, defence planning, logistics, communications, civil emergency planning, and civil-military cooperation.
    • The NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre (NMIOTC) in Souda Bay, Greece, conducts theoretical and practical training, including simulation, for NATO forces in surface, sub-surface, aerial surveillance, and special operations activities.
    • The NATO Communications and Information Systems School (NCISS) in Latina, Italy, provides cost-effective, highly developed formal training to personnel (military and civilian) from NATO and non-NATO countries for the efficient operation and maintenance of NATO communications and information systems.
    • The Joint Warfare Centre (JWC) in Stavanger, Norway, principally focuses on training forces at the operational level to ensure they remain interoperable and fully integrated.  
    • The Joint Force Training Centre (JFTC) in Bydgoszcz, Poland, supports training for NATO and partner forces to improve joint and combined tactical interoperability. The JFTC conducts joint training for tactical-level command posts and staffs in² support of tactical-level commanders.
    • The Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre (JALLC) in Lisbon, Portugal is NATO’s lead agency for the analysis of operations, training and experiments, and for the collection and dissemination of lessons learned. The JALLC deploys project teams worldwide, delivering analysis support to NATO at the strategic and operational levels.

    NATO education and training providers

    These are entities that have a relationship with NATO, but are typically administered by sponsor countries, national authorities or civil organisations. They are open to participation by personnel from member and partner countries and may sometimes welcome individuals coming from other organisations.

    • Centres of Excellence

    The Centres of Excellence are nationally or multinationally sponsored entities that provide high-quality expertise and experience to the benefit of the Alliance, especially in support of transformation. They provide opportunities to enhance training and education, assist in doctrine development, identify lessons learned, improve interoperability and capabilities, and test and validate concepts through experimentation. There are 24 Centres of Excellence that offer specialised courses to military and civilian personnel within their field of expertise.

    • Partnership Training and Education Centres

    Partnership Training and Education Centres (PTECs) are a global network of educational and training establishments promoting collaborative initiatives and high-quality instruction to enhance capacity-building, interoperability and a comprehensive understanding of wider security issues.

    • Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes

    The PfP Consortium – an Austrian-German-Swiss-US initiative – was established in 1999 to help promote education in security-related topics by facilitating cooperation between both civilian and military institutions in NATO and partner countries in support of NATO priorities such as defence institution building and defence reform.

    Other education and training facilities

    Organisations that are not directly related to NATO may support the Alliance in its education and training activities. These facilities can come from national, multinational and non-governmental organisations, such as military schools and universities.

    2. Education and training in NATO-led operations

    NATO’s efforts help to increase stability in crisis areas go beyond deploying troops. They include education and training to help partners develop security institutions and provide for their own security.


    NATO is currently conducting Resolute Support, a non-combat mission which provides training, advice and assistance to Afghan security forces and institutions. Resolute Support was launched on 1 January 2015 and its key functions include supporting planning, programming and budgeting; assuring transparency, accountability and oversight; supporting the adherence to the principles of rule of law and good governance; and supporting the establishment and sustainment of processes such as force generation, recruiting, training, managing and development of personnel.

    An important aspect of NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan is assisting the country in developing its security institutions and forces. The Alliance deploys Tactical Advice and Assistance Teams to Afghan National Defence and Security Forces units at various levels of command.

    On 20 November 2010, NATO and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan signed a Declaration on an Enduring Partnership. This Enduring Partnership is intended to provide long-term political and practical support to Afghanistan as it rebuilds its security institutions and assumes full responsibility for its own security. It includes a series of agreed programmes and activities undertaken as part of the ongoing cooperation between NATO and Afghanistan. This includes the Professional Military Education Programme for Afghanistan, which aims to further develop Afghan institutions, as well as other initiatives such as a counter-narcotics training pilot project.

    On the occasion of NATO’s Brussels Summit in 2018, the Alliance and the Afghan authorities reaffirmed their mutual commitment to ensuring long-term security and stability. NATO and its operational partners will continue to sustain the Resolute Support mission through continuous delivery of training, advice and assistance to the Afghan security institutions and forces.


    NATO launched a non-combat training and capacity-building mission – the “NATO Mission Iraq” – in July 2018, at the request of the Iraqi government and in coordination with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. NATO trainers are helping Iraqi forces secure their country and the wider region against terrorism, and prevent the re-emergence of ISIS. The mission will also help to set up military schools and sustain more effective, transparent and inclusive national security structures and institutions.

    From 2004 to 2011, NATO conducted a relatively small but important support operation in Iraq that consisted of training, mentoring and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces. It was known as the “NATO Training Mission in Iraq” (NTM-I). In 2011, Iraq was granted partner status by NATO and then signed a jointly agreed Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme in September 2012, providing a framework for political dialogue and tailored cooperation in mutually agreed areas. This was followed by a Defence and Related Security Capacity Building Package for Iraq in 2015 that involved, for instance, a “train-the-trainers’ course. NATO’s support to Iraq was boosted in January 2017 by a small core team of NATO civilian and military personnel, based in Baghdad that coordinates training and capacity-building activities.

    1. Joint training means forces from two or more military departments working under a single command and combined forces are forces from different countries working under a single command.
  • Stepping up cooperation with partners

    Initially, NATO’s education and training programmes focused on increasing interoperability between NATO and partner forces. They were later expanded to provide the means for members and partners to collaborate on how to build, develop and reform educational institutions in the security, defence and military domains.

    Over the last decades, the Alliance has also developed structured partnerships with international organisations.  This cooperation enhances the ability to give coherent and effective responses to complex security challenges.

    Education and training programmes in the framework of structured partnerships

    • Partnership for Peace programme

    When NATO invited former Warsaw Pact countries, former Soviet Republics and non-member western European countries to join the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme in 1994, participating countries committed themselves to increasing interoperability with NATO forces. This opened the way for joint training and marked the beginning of NATO’s support for defence reform.

    NATO training institutions soon followed suit. The first officers’ course for partner countries was conducted in October 1994 at the NATO Communications and Information Systems School. Similarly, the NATO Defense College integrated PfP issues into its Senior Course.

    • Mediterranean Dialogue

    The Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) was created in 1994, initially as a forum for political dialogue. In 1997, at a meeting in Sintra, Portugal, the Alliance decided to open selected military training activities to countries participating in this initiative (currently seven countries: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia). In 2004, Allied leaders elevated the MD initiative to a genuine partnership to include increased participation in exercises and individual training at NATO institutions.

    • Istanbul Cooperation Initiative

    The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) was launched during the Istanbul Summit in 2004, as a means of engaging in practical security cooperation activities with countries throughout the broader Middle East region. The ICI offers both cooperation with interested countries in training and education activities and participation in NATO exercises, as well as in other areas. To date, four countries have joined the initiative: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

    • African Union

    NATO continues to support the African Union (AU) in its peacekeeping missions on the African continent. Since June 2007, NATO has assisted the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) by providing capacity-building support, as well as expert training support to the African Standby Forces (ASF), all at the AU’s request.

    Tailor-made defence education

    The Defence Education Enhancement Programme (DEEP) is a vehicle for reform, providing tailored, practical support to individual countries in developing and reforming their professional military education institutions. Through faculty development, teaching curricula development and peer-to-peer consultations, DEEP provides a platform to foster defence capacity building, cooperative capability development and standardization, and promotes interoperability of processes and methodologies to enhance democratic institutions.

    A vast network of institutions and individuals support these projects on a voluntary basis, for instance the NATO Defense College, the NATO School Oberammergau, the US Army War College, the Canadian Defence Academy, the National Defence University of Poland, the National Defence University of Romania, the Czech University of Defence, the Slovak Armed Forces Academy, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany) and the Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes.

    Advice and expertise

    NATO shares its expertise in the field of defence capabilities with partners. It does this through the PfP Planning and Review Process (PARP), a voluntary mechanism that helps identify partner forces and capabilities and assesses the implementation of defence-related objectives, established on a case-by-case basis under different cooperation packages.

    Countries with special relationships with NATO can have additional mechanisms for exchanging advice and expertise. For instance, the NATO-Ukraine Joint Working Group on Defence Reform provides a forum through which consultation can take place on initiatives as diverse as civil-military relations, defence planning, policy, strategy and national security concepts. Moreover, NATO-led multinational teams of experts can visit partner countries to address the education and training requirements listed in the Individual Partnership Action Plans of the countries concerned.

    Additionally, understanding the wide range of terrorist challenges posing a direct threat to international stability and the security of Alliance populations, NATO formally joined the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in May 2017. Building on its experience in working together and with partners in NATO-led operations, training and exercises, the Allies are enhancing the level of cooperation with regard to preventing, mitigating and responding effectively to terrorist attacks.

    Courses, seminars and workshops

    NATO partners are able to participate in an array of NATO education activities – courses, roundtables, seminars and workshops.

    Initiatives for the Mediterranean and the Middle East  

    A dedicated Middle East Faculty has been established at the NATO Defense College in Rome. The Faculty has a unique nature, being focused on curriculum development, academic programme delivery and outreach activities. Furthermore, it conducts research on the international security environment and on contemporary strategic issues of interest, with the emphasis on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. It also organises both the NATO Regional Cooperation Course and the Senior Executive Regional Conference, with the attendance of Allies, partners and NATO personnel. Furthermore, in January 2017, the NATO-ICI Regional Centre in Kuwait was inaugurated in Kuwait as the hub for training, education and other cooperative activities between NATO and its ICI partners in the Gulf. Several courses have since been implemented.

  • Education and training: a key activity since 1949

    Collective education and training has been ongoing since the inception of the Alliance in 1949. Over time, it has expanded to become an integral part of NATO’s ability to provide security. It has expanded geographically, with NATO working with a larger number of countries, and institutionally, with the creation of ACT, a strategic command entirely dedicated to leading transformation throughout the Alliance.


    In the early years of the Alliance, NATO forces conducted joint training to strengthen their ability to practise collective defence. In other words, education and training was conducted to ensure that forces were prepared in the case of an attack.

    An integrated force under centralised command

    An integrated force under centralised command was called for as early as September 1950, following the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. The first Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was appointed in December 1950. Following this appointment, national forces were put under centralised command.

    The Alliance’s first exercises

    The Alliance’s first exercises were held in the autumn of 1951. During 1953, there were approximately 100 exercises of various kinds conducted by NATO. From this point on, NATO forces began to gain cohesion.

    Education for individuals

    Individual education soon followed. The need for a specialised setting to explore issues unique to the Alliance was first recognised by General Eisenhower in April 1951. The NATO Defense College was inaugurated later that year, on 19 November, and was transferred from Paris, France to Rome, Italy in 1966, where it is still located.

    The NATO Communications and Information Systems School was established in 1959, when a civil contractor began to train a small number of NATO personnel on what would become NATO's “ACE HIGH Communications System”. On 2 May of the same year, the NATO Undersea Research Centre in La Spezia, Italy was commissioned.  During the 2002 reform process, this centre was moved to the agency structure of the Alliance as an organisational element linked to research. In 1971, the Military Committee established the NATO Training Group. This Group met for many years in joint session with the Euro-training sub-group, which was set up to improve multinational training arrangements between European countries (its responsibilities were passed on to NATO in 1993). The NATO Training Group was formally transferred from the Military Committee to ACT in 2004. Its principal aim is to improve interoperability among Allies and between the forces of partner countries.

    In 1975, the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany received its charter and present name. Its principal focus was on issues relating to collective defence. More recently in 2003, the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre was established in Souda Bay, Greece to conduct training for NATO forces in surface, sub-surface, aerial surveillance and Special Operations activities.

    NATO training opens to partners

    While the PfP programme and the MD initiative had been set up in 1994, NATO decided to increase cooperation with all its partners.

    In 1998, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council approved the creation of the Partnership for Peace Consortium, and at the 1999 Washington Summit NATO leaders approved plans for an “Enhanced and more Operational Partnership”. In addition, with the revision of the NATO Strategic Concept in 1999, the role of the NATO School was fundamentally altered to include cooperation and dialogue with civilian personnel from non-NATO countries.

    In May 2002, the Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre in Monsanto (Lisbon), Portugal was established. This facility’s mission is to perform joint analysis and experimentation of operations, training and exercises – also with partners.

    In February 2005, the North Atlantic Council started developing the Education and Training for Defence Reform (EfR) initiative. EfR helps educators incorporate principles linked to defence institution building into their curricula. Since the courses are aimed at civil servants and other persons participating in defence institution building, they contribute indirectly to improving defence reform.

    At the 2014 Wales Summit, Allies endorsed the Partnership Interoperability Initiative, launching the Interoperability Platform. This widened opportunities for partner participation in NATO exercises, with the aim of increasing interoperability and preparedness for crisis management situations.

    Recognising the importance of a strengthened strategic partnership, European Union members and NATO Allies – at the 2016 Warsaw Summit – decided to find ways to better provide security in Europe and beyond. In this regard, the Joint Declaration by the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission and the Secretary General of NA