Civil preparedness

  • Last updated: 21 Jun. 2022 10:45

The Alliance depends on civil and commercial resources and infrastructure, such as railways, ports, airfields and energy grids, to support the rapid and effective movement and sustainment of its military forces. Such 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 is ready to provide support to a NATO military operation.



  • Under Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty, all Allies are committed to building national resilience, which is the combination of civil preparedness and military capacity.
  • Allies agreed resilience baseline requirements in seven strategic sectors: continuity of government, energy, population movement, food and water resources, mass casualties, civil communications and transport systems. 
  • As part of its efforts to strengthen resilience, NATO has worked with Allies to enhance preparedness across the whole of government, including in the health sector, by providing general guidelines.
  • To deter, counter or recover from threats or disruptions to the civilian 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.
  • Strategic areas

    NATO civil preparedness is primarily concerned with aspects of national planning that 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 requirements. These are:

    • Continuity of government and critical government services;
    • Energy supplies;
    • Ability to deal effectively with uncontrolled movement of people;
    • Food and water resources;
    • Ability to deal with mass casualties;
    • Telecommunications networks;
    • Transportation systems.

    Together with a package of resilience guidelines, evaluation criteria, assessments and a tailored toolbox, the objective of the baseline requirements is to support nations in their resilience and to provide benchmarks against which to assess the state of civil preparedness. 

    At the 2016 Summit in Warsaw, Allied leaders committed to continue enhancing national resilience to further develop their individual and NATO’s collective capacity to resist any form of armed attack, in accordance with Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Civil preparedness is central to Allies’ resilience and a critical enabler for Alliance collective defence. NATO can support Allies in assessing and, upon request, enhancing their civil preparedness.

    The Warsaw Summit laid the groundwork for the Alliance to bolster resilience, with the development of evaluation criteria in 2017 to support nations in conducting national resilience self-assessments, followed by a NATO assessment. Since 2018, NATO has been conducting assessments of the overall state of the Alliance’s resilience every two years. These assessments identified areas for further work and NATO is supporting Allies by providing guidelines on how to increase the level of preparedness across the seven baseline requirements.

    In 2019, NATO leaders recognised the need to increase the resilience of societies, as well as of the Allies’ critical infrastructure and energy security. They also committed to ensuring the security of communications, including 5G, recognising the need to rely on secure and resilient systems.

    In 2020, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, NATO took necessary measures to ensure that its military activities do not unwittingly contribute to the spread of the virus. In this respect, and in learning lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges such as emerging and disruptive technologies and climate change, NATO is seeking to strengthen the resilience of Allied societies.  

  • Context

    Civil preparedness is particularly important to collective defence because military forces increasingly rely on civilian and commercial sectors for support, including for civilian transport services and facilities, satellite communications and energy supplies, not to mention food and water.

    On average, 75 per cent of host nation support to NATO operations is sourced from local commercial infrastructure and services. For example, around 90 per cent of military transport is provided by civilian assets chartered or requisitioned from the commercial sector. The military medical system is dependent on civilian medical infrastructure for certain services. Both civil and military communications depend on reliable and secure satellite communications and fibre-optic cable networks, including the undersea infrastructure that carries 90 per cent of transatlantic internet traffic. Furthermore, this includes making use of local civilian expertise and human resources to operate successfully.

    The range of functions and facilities the civilian sector covers is accordingly broad, and includes: continuity of government, continuity of essential services to the population and support to military operations as the three critical civilian functions that a country must be able to uphold under all circumstances.

    These civilian assets are often highly vulnerable because they are designed to efficiently generate a return on investment as opposed to providing redundancy and resilience in times of crisis. As hybrid threats blur traditional approaches to crisis management, governmental authorities based on wartime emergency legislation can be rendered 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, the private sector and with civil society.

    To train Allies’ responses to crisis situations, civil preparedness elements are being built into NATO’s military exercises at all levels, from strategic-level crisis management exercises, high-visibility exercises such as Trident Juncture 2018, and lower-level command-post and field exercises.

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

  • History

    During the Cold War, many of the civilian 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 collapse of the Soviet Union, the significantly reduced conventional military threat to the Alliance led to declining attention to and investment in civil preparedness.

    As threats from international terrorism and ethnic and religious extremism became more prevalent, NATO assumed an expeditionary posture that demanded different capabilities and capacities than those developed during the Cold War. During this “out of area” 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 illegal annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, have refocused attention on challenges closer to Alliance territory. As part of its response, the Alliance has agreed to strengthen its deterrence and defence posture. Yet, to be credible, NATO must complement deterrence with civil preparedness and national resilience.

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