The primary role of the International Staff (IS) is to provide advice, guidance and administrative support to the national delegations at NATO Headquarters. The IS helps to implement decisions taken at different committee levels and, in doing so, supports the process of consensus-building and decision-making within the Alliance.
- Some 1,000 civilians work within NATO’s IS, which is composed solely of nationals from NATO member countries.
- The IS provides advice, guidance and administrative support to the national delegations at NATO Headquarters.
- It helps implement all decisions taken at any committee level.
- The IS is headed by the NATO Secretary General, who from an administrative point of view is also a member of the IS.
- Vacancies within the IS are announced on NATO’s website and are open to all member country citizens.
- Worldwide, some 6,000 civilians work for NATO in different agencies and strategic and regional commands.
Role and responsibilities
The International Staff (IS) is an advisory and administrative body that supports the North Atlantic Council (Council or NAC) – NATO’s top political decision-making body. It is responsible for the preparation and follow-up of action in all matters of the Council. For instance, the IS produces a wide range of documents from policy papers to background notes, reports and speeches on issues relevant to NATO’s political and military agenda. It supports and advises committees, and also prepares and follows up on their discussions and decisions, therefore facilitating the political consultation process. It liaises closely with NATO’s International Military Staff (IMS) located in the same building in Brussels. The IMS is the executive body of the Military Committee – NATO’s senior military authority.
Members of the IS owe their allegiance to the Organization throughout the period of their appointment. They are either recruited directly by the Organization or seconded by their governments, and each appointment is approved by the Secretary General.
Vacancies within the IS are announced on NATO’s website and are open to member country citizens.
The structure of the International Staff
The International Staff includes the Office of the Secretary General, eight divisions, each headed by an Assistant Secretary General, and a number of independent offices headed by directors.
The Office of the Secretary General
The Office of the Secretary General comprises: the Secretary General himself, who heads the IS, as well as the Deputy Secretary General; the Private Office that includes a director and staff; a Human Security Unit, headed by the NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security; the Policy Planning Unit and the Council Secretariat.
The IS fulfils a number of roles filled by different divisions:
- Joint Intelligence and Security Division: benefiting from increased intelligence-sharing between member country services and the Alliance, this division produces strategic analytical reports related to terrorism and its links with other transnational threats. It is also responsible for coordinating, monitoring and implementing NATO's security policy, for overall security within NATO and for the NATO Headquarters Security Service.
- Emerging Security Challenges Division: this division deals with a growing range of non-traditional risks and challenges. For instance, it focuses on terrorism, hybrid threats, cyber defence, artificial intelligence, and climate and energy security. It also conducts strategic analysis and runs NATO’s science programme.
- Political Affairs and Security Policy Division: this division provides political advice and policy guidance. It has the lead role in the political aspects of NATO's core security tasks, including regional and security affairs, as well as relations with other international organisations and partner countries. It also deals with arms control issues, disarmament and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
- Defence Policy and Planning Division: this division develops and implements the defence policy and planning dimension of NATO’s fundamental security tasks. This includes defence planning, the Alliance's nuclear policy, enablement and resilience, and certain aspects of operational planning.
- Operations Division: Operations provides the operational capability required to meet NATO's deterrence, defence and crisis management tasks. Responsibilities include NATO's crisis management and peacekeeping activities, civil preparedness and exercises, and defence institution and capacity-building.
- Defence Investment Division: this division is responsible for developing and investing in assets and capabilities aimed at enhancing the Alliance's defence capacity, including armaments planning, air defence and security investment.
- Public Diplomacy Division: this division is responsible for engaging multiple audiences on the Alliance’s policies and activities worldwide. It does this through media operations, digital communication and people-to-people engagement, especially in member and partner countries.
- Executive Management Division: this division manages staff and finances. It is tasked with ensuring that NATO's IS works efficiently and provides support to all elements operating at NATO Headquarters, including support and conference services, information management and NATO's human and financial resources.
Also within the IS are five independent offices: the Office of Chief Information Officer, the Office of Legal Affairs, the Office of Internal audit and Risk Management, the Office of Financial Control and the NATO Office of Resources.
Evolution of the International Staff
The IS was created in 1951 to support the NAC. It was made responsible for the preparation and follow-up of action in all matters of the NAC. The Agreement on the Status of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization defined its status, which National Representatives and International Staff negotiated and signed in September 1951.
Throughout the years, the IS has been reorganised many times. In November 2002 for instance, at the Prague Summit, NATO leaders approved a package of measures to enhance the Alliance's ability to meet new security threats. This included a reorganisation of NATO's IS and the implementation of modern management processes. The restructuring aimed to ensure a fairer redistribution of responsibilities among divisions, strengthen management of the staff and improve coordination on key issues and programmes.
In the 2010 Strategic Concept, NATO committed to "engage in a process of continual reform, to streamline structures, improve working methods and maximise efficiency". As such, a review of the IS was launched as part of a larger package of reform – that of the military command structure, organisations and agencies, and NATO committees.
Beyond the Strategic Concept, reform remains an ongoing process.