Partnership tools

  • Last updated: 16 Aug. 2023 12:28

NATO has developed a number of partnership tools and mechanisms to support cooperation with partner countries through a mix of policies, programmes, action plans and other arrangements. Many tools are focused on the important priorities of interoperability and building capabilities, and supporting defence and security-related reform.


  • A Partnership Cooperation Menu comprising approximately 1,400 activities is accessible to all NATO partners.
  • Several initiatives are open to all partners that allow them to cooperate with NATO mainly focusing on interoperability and building capacity, and supporting defence and security-related reform.
  • Partnership tools for deeper bilateral cooperation with individual partners in specific areas include, for instance, the Planning and Review Process, the Operational Capabilities Concept and the Individual Partnership Action Plans.


Setting objectives for cooperation

Each partner determines the pace, scope, intensity and focus of their partnership with NATO, as well as individual objectives. Bilateral (NATO-partner) cooperation documents set out the main objectives and goals of that partner’s cooperation with NATO. There are three main types of bilateral partnership documents, set out below. Broadly speaking, the type of document chosen reflects the different nature and emphasis of the relationship.

The Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme (IPCP) is the standard document, developed usually every two years by the partner in close consultation with NATO staffs, and then approved by the North Atlantic Council (NAC) and the partner. It is open to all partners, and is modular in structure, adaptable to the interests and objectives of the partner and NATO.

The Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAP), which partners can take up instead of IPCPs, offer partners the opportunity to deepen their cooperation with NATO and sharpen the focus on domestic reform efforts. Developed on a two-year basis, these plans include a wide range of jointly agreed objectives and targets for reforms on political issues as well as security and defence issues. IPAP prioritises and coordinates all aspects of the NATO-partner relationship, provides for an enhanced political dialogue and systematic support to democratic and defence and related security sector reform, including through an annual Allied assessment of progress in reforms undertaken by each participating partner.

The Annual National Programme (ANP) is the most demanding document, focused on comprehensive democratic, security and defence reforms, developed annually by the partner in consultation with NATO. The ANP is open to Membership Action Plan (MAP) nations, to track progress on the road to NATO membership, in this case for Georgia and Ukraine. Unlike the IPCP or IPAP, the ANP is a nationally owned document and is not agreed by the NAC. However, an annual assessment of progress in reforms is conducted by NATO staffs, agreed by the Allies, and discussed with each participating partner at NAC level.


Building capabilities and interoperability

Partner countries have made and continue to make significant contributions to the Alliance’s operations and missions, whether it has been supporting peace in the Western Balkans, training national security forces in Iraq, participation in NATO missions in Afghanistan, monitoring maritime activity in the Mediterranean Sea, or helping protect civilians in Libya.

At the Wales Summit in September 2014, NATO leaders endorsed two important initiatives to reinforce the Alliance’s commitment to the core task of cooperative security: the Partnership Interoperability Initiative and the Defence and Related Security Capacity Building Initiative. The first initiative was designed to reinforce NATO’s ability to provide security with partners in future, through interoperability; while the second was more focused on helping partners provide for their own security, by strengthening their defensc and related security capacity. A number of tools have been developed to assist partners in developing their own defence capacities and defence institutions, ensuring that partner forces are able to provide for their own security, capable of participating in NATO-led operations, and interoperable with Allies’ forces.

They include the following:

The Planning and Review Process (PARP) helps develop the interoperability and capabilities of forces which might be made available for NATO training, exercises and operations. Under PARP, Allies and partners, together negotiate and set planning targets with a partner country. Regular reviews measure progress.  In addition, PARP also provides a framework to assist partners to develop effective, affordable and sustainable armed forces as well as to promote wider defence and security sector transformation and reform efforts.  It is the main instrument used to assess the implementation of defence-related objectives and targets defined under IPAPs. PARP is open to Euro-Atlantic partners on a voluntary basis and is open to other partner countries on a case-by-case basis, upon approval of the NAC.

The Operational Capabilities Concept (OCC) Evaluation and Feedback Programme is used to develop and train partner land, maritime, air or Special Operations Forces that seek to meet NATO standards. This rigorous process can often take a few years, but it ensures that partner forces are ready to work with Allied forces once deployed. Some partners use the OCC as a strategic tool to transform their defence forces. The OCC has contributed significantly to the increasing number of partner forces participating in NATO-led operations and the NATO Response Force.

Exercising is key for maintaining, testing and evaluating readiness and interoperability, also for partners. NATO offers partners a chance to participate in the Military Training and Exercise Programme (MTEP) to promote their interoperability. Through the MTEP, a five-year planning horizon provides a starting point for exercise planning and the allocation of resources.

In addition, and on a case-by-case basis, Allies may invite partners to take part in crisis-management exercises that engage the NAC and ministries in participating capitals, and national political and military representation at NATO Headquarters, in consultations on the strategic management of crises during an exercise.

Once a partner wishes to join a NATO-led operation, the Political-Military Framework (PMF) sets out principles and guidelines for the involvement of all partner countries in political consultations and decision-shaping, in operational planning and in command arrangements for operations to which they contribute.

Several tools and programmes have been developed to provide assistance to partner countries in their own efforts to transform defence and security-related structures and policies, and to manage the economic and social consequences of reforms. An important priority is to promote the development of effective defence institutions that are under civil and democratic control.

In particular, since 2014, the Defence and Related Security Capacity Building (DCB) Initiative reinforces NATO’s commitment to partners and helps project stability by providing support to nations requesting defence capacity assistance from NATO.  It can include various types of support, ranging from strategic advice on defence and security sector reform and institution building, to development of local forces through education and training, or advice and assistance in specialised areas such as logistics or cyber defence.

The Building Integrity Initiative is aimed at promoting good practice, strengthening transparency, accountability and integrity to reduce the risk of corruption in the defence establishments of Allies and partners alike.

In addition, a Professional Development Programme can be launched for the civilian personnel of defence and security establishments to strengthen the capacity for democratic management and oversight.

Through the Partnership Trust Fund policy, individual Allies and partners support practical demilitarization projects and defence transformation projects in partner countries through individual Trust Funds.


Supporting transformation through education, training and exercises 

NATO offers different means to access education, training and exercises, which can help partners to train and test personnel in the various areas relevant to their NATO partnerships.

Education and training in various areas is offered to decision-makers, military forces, civil servants and representatives of civil society through institutions such as the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany; the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy; and some 30 national Partnership Training and Education Centres.

NATO offers partners a Partnership Cooperation Menu (PCM) – an annual catalogue which comprises, on average, some 1,400 education, training and other events for partners across 37 disciplines, held in more than 50 countries, which cater to the needs of around 10, 000 participants from partner countries. In addition to NATO bodies, Allies and partners can offer contributions to the PCM.

To support education and training for defence reform, the Defence Education Enhancement Programmes (DEEPs) are tailored programmes through which the Alliance advises partners on how to build, develop and reform educational institutions in the security, defence and military domain.


Wider cooperation

The NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme promotes joint cooperative projects between Allies and partners in the field of security-related civil science and technology. Funding applications should address SPS key priorities -- these are linked to NATO’s strategic objectives and focus on projects in direct support to NATO’s operations, as well as projects that enhance defenc capacity building and address other security threats.

Disaster response and preparedness is also an important area of cooperation with partners. The Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) is a 24/7 focal point for coordinating disaster-relief and consequence management efforts among NATO and partner countries, and has  guided consequence-management efforts in more than 45 emergencies, including fighting floods and forest fires, and dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes.

The principles of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 and related Resolutions – that form the Women, Peace and Security agenda – were first developed into a NATO policy approved by Allies and partners in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) in 2007.  The Resolutions reaffirm the role of women in conflict and post-conflict situations and encourage greater participation of women and the incorporation of gender perspectives in peace and security efforts. Over the years, the policy has been updated, related action plans have been strengthened and more partner countries from across the globe have become associated with these efforts. Currently NATO’s UNSCR 1325 coalition is the largest worldwide with 55 nations associated to the Action Plan. In practice, NATO has made significant progress in embedding gender perspectives within education, training and exercises, as well as the planning and execution of missions and operations, policies and guidelines.