NATO’s essential and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means. Collective defence is at the heart of the Alliance and creates a spirit of solidarity and cohesion among its members.
NATO strives to secure a lasting peace in Europe, based on common values of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Seeing the outbreak of crises and conflicts beyond Allied borders can jeopardise this objective, the Alliance also contributes to peace and stability through crisis management operations and partnerships. Essentially, NATO not only helps to defend the territory of its members, but also engages where possible and when necessary to project its values further afield, prevent and manage crises, stabilise post-conflict situations and support reconstruction.
NATO also embodies the transatlantic link by which the security of North America is tied to that of Europe’s. It is an intergovernmental organisation which provides a forum where members can consult on any issue they may choose to raise and take decisions on political and military matters affecting their security. No single member country is forced to rely solely on its national capabilities to meet its essential national security objectives. The resulting sense of shared security among members contributes to stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.
NATO’s fundamental security tasks are laid down in the Washington Treaty (also known as the North Atlantic Treaty). They are sufficiently general to withstand the test of time and are translated into more detail in the Organization’s strategic concepts. Strategic concepts are the authoritative statement of the Alliance’s objectives: they provide the highest level of guidance on the political and military means to be used to achieve these goals and remain the basis for the implementation of Alliance policy as a whole.
During the Cold War, NATO focused on collective defence and the protection of its members from potential threats emanating from the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of non-state actors affecting international security, many new security threats emerged. NATO is countering these threats by utilising collective defence, managing crisis situations and encouraging cooperative security, as outlined in the 2010 Strategic Concept.