A ''comprehensive approach'' to crises

  • Last updated: 07 Mar. 2024 12:51

Lessons learned from NATO operations and missions show that addressing crisis situations calls for a comprehensive approach combining political, civilian and military instruments. Building on its unique capabilities and operational experience, including expertise in civilian-military interaction, NATO can contribute to the efforts of the international community for maintaining peace, security and stability, in full coordination with other actors. Military means, although essential, are not enough on their own to meet the many complex challenges to our security. The effective implementation of a comprehensive approach to crisis situations requires countries, international organisations and non-governmental organisations to contribute in a concerted effort.

CINCU, Romania – Romanian IAR 330 helicopters transport special forces troops during Exercise Steadfast Defender 2021.

Steadfast Defender 2021 is a NATO-led exercise involving over 9,000 troops from more than 20 NATO Allies and partners. The objective is to ensure that NATO forces are trained, able to operate together and ready to respond to any threat from any direction. More information on Steadfast Defender 2021 can be found here and here. 
NATO is taking the necessary measures to protect our armed forces. This includes COVID-19 precautions, such as pre-deployment testing and quarantining.


  • Different actors contribute to a comprehensive approach based on a shared sense of responsibility, understanding and determination, taking into account their respective strengths, mandates and roles, as well as their decision-making autonomy.
  • In December 2017, NATO reviewed the tasks of its 2011 Comprehensive Approach Action Plan, validating the importance of coherence of decisions, civilian-military interaction and cooperation with other actors.
  • These tasks are being implemented by a dedicated civilian-military task force that involves all relevant NATO bodies and commands.
  • The Action Plan covers four key areas: planning and conduct of operations; lessons learned, training, education and exercises; cooperation with external actors; and strategic communications.
  • Implementation of the comprehensive approach is integral to many recent and ongoing NATO activities, such as its contributions to the international community’s fight against terrorism and efforts to promote stability, and its role in responding to hybrid threats.  


Planning and conduct of operations

NATO takes full account of all military and non-military aspects of crisis management, and is working to improve practical cooperation at all levels with all relevant organisations and actors in the planning and conduct of operations. The Alliance promotes the clear definition of strategies and objectives among all relevant actors before launching an operation, as well as enhanced cooperative planning.

The Allies agree that, as a general rule, elements of stabilisation and reconstruction are best undertaken by those actors and organisations that have the relevant expertise, mandate and competence. However, there can be circumstances that may hamper other actors from undertaking these tasks, or undertaking them without support from NATO.

To improve NATO’s contribution to a comprehensive approach of the international community when addressing crises, NATO bodies as well as individual Allies follow the Comprehensive Approach Action Plan to promote integrated civil-military planning across NATO’s three core tasks (i.e. deterrence and defence; crisis prevention and management; and cooperative security). The principles of the comprehensive approach – coherence of actions, civilian-military interaction and reaching out to external partners – are integral to the activities of the NATO Headquarters’ Crisis Management Task Force as well as the NATO Command and Force Structures. 

The planning and conduct of NATO operations and missions now integrate perspectives from different priority areas, including: gender; the Women, Peace and Security agenda; children and armed conflict; building integrity; cultural property protection; combatting trafficking in human beings; and environmental protection.


Lessons learned, training, education and exercises

Applying a comprehensive approach means a change of mind-set. The Alliance therefore emphasises joint training of civilian and military personnel to promote the sharing of lessons learned and to build trust and confidence between NATO, its partners and other international and local actors.

After NATO Operation Unified Protector in Libya in 2011, lessons learned were developed at the staff level with, for example, the United Nations. Another example is the NATO Defence Education Enhancement Programme, which, as a matter of principle, reaches out to external providers and enablers including international organisations and non-governmental organisations, addressing both civilian and military experts. Certain NATO military exercises are open to partners and non-NATO entities that can be involved through either observation or participation. Partners and non-NATO entities were involved, for instance, in NATO exercises Steadfast Defender 2021 (with then-partners Finland and Sweden (now NATO members)) and Cyber Coalition 2021 (with Finland, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and the European Union) as well as Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre exercise North Macedonia 2021 (with seven partners and 15 international organisations).


Enhancing cooperation with external actors

Cooperation has become well established with the United Nations and its agencies, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, in particular, as well as with the World Bank, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration, the African Union, INTERPOL and the League of Arab States. Closer links are developed with non-governmental organisations as well.

The scope of cooperation ranges from political dialogue, including through regular staff talks, to practical cooperation during operations and missions. High-level officials from these organisations are regularly invited to meetings of the North Atlantic Council, including at the level of heads of state and government, to discuss closer cooperation and issues of common interest.

The implementation of the comprehensive approach has helped to build mutual awareness with these organisations. This has allowed the Alliance to broaden the range of its external interlocutors, who are becoming more accustomed to work with NATO and better informed about the role of military in complex environments.


Strategic communications

To be effective, a comprehensive approach to crisis management must be complemented by sustained and coherent public messages. NATO’s information campaigns are substantiated by systematic and updated information, documenting progress in relevant areas. NATO shares communications guidance with Allies in order to encourage a coherent communications effort.

Efforts are also being made to share communication strategies with international actors and to coordinate communications in theatre.