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NATO’s relations with Contact Countries

In addition to its formal partnerships1, NATO cooperates with a range of countries which are not part of these structures. Often referred to as “other partners across the globe” or “Contact Countries”, they share similar strategic concerns and key Alliance values. Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand are all examples in case.

These countries have expressed an interest in deepening relations with NATO, or simply wish to be informed of NATO’s agenda. Some are troop contributors to NATO-led operations or contribute to these operations in other ways. Others simply seek to cooperate with NATO in areas of common interest. Over recent years, NATO has developed bilateral relations with each of these countries.

Significant steps were taken at the 2006 Riga Summit to increase the operational relevance of NATO’s cooperation with both its formal Partners and other partners across the globe. These steps were reinforced by decisions at the 2008 Bucharest Summit, which defined a set of objectives for these relationships and created avenues for enhanced political dialogue.

Annual work programmes have been developed with interested partner countries. Activities range from joint exercises and joint operations, through to language training and advice, and information exchange.

Individual Contact Countries choose in which areas they wish to be engaged with NATO, and the extent of this cooperation. Any inclusion of Contact Countries in Alliance activities requires approval of the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s principal decision-making body, except in certain cases. Cooperation with Contact Countries should be mutually beneficial and reciprocal.

Support for NATO-led operations

Contributions from partners across the globe to NATO-led operations have been significant and advantageous to international peace and security.

In the Balkans, Argentinean and Chilean forces have worked alongside NATO Allies in ensuring security in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Kosovo, Argentina has helped NATO personnel in providing medical and social assistance to the local population and cooperated on peace agreement implementation since 1999.

In Afghanistan, a number of other Contact Countries such as Australia and New Zealand work alongside the Allies as part of the International Security Assistance Force. Other countries, like Japan, support ISAF efforts of stabilization in Afghanistan without being involved militarily by funding various development projects and dispatching liaison officers.

The participation of partners in NATO-led peace support operations is guided by the Political-Military Framework, which has been developed for NATO-led Partnership for Peace operations. This states that the involvement of contributing states in planning and force generation processes takes place through the International Coordination Centre at Supreme Allied Headquarters Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium, and, where appropriate, through temporary liaison arrangements with the strategic commands.

Typically, forces from these countries are incorporated into operations on the same basis as forces from NATO members and Partners. This implies that they are involved in the decision-making process through their association to the work of committees, the posting of liaison officers in the operational headquarters or to SHAPE. They often operate under the direct command of the Operational Commander through multinational divisional headquarters.

Evolution of relations

NATO has been cooperating with countries which are not formal partner countries since the 1990s.  For example, a political dialogue with Japan began in 1990, and Argentina and Chile contributed forces to NATO’s missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, these cooperation were taking place on an ad hoc basis.

NATO’s involvement in areas outside of its traditional region – including Afghanistan and Darfur - has increased the need and the opportunities for enhanced interaction with these other partners across the globe. Similarly, the convergence of strategic priorities between Allies and certain partners, such as countering terrorism, has led these countries to seek greater cooperation with NATO.

The Allies established a set of general guidelines on relations with Contact Countries in 1998. The guidelines do not allow for a formal institutionalisation of relations, but reflect the Allies’ desire to increase cooperation. Following extensive debate, the term Contact Countries was agreed by the Allies in 2004; more recently, the term “other partners across the globe” is also being used.

At the 2006 Riga Summit, NATO pledged to increase the operational relevance of relations with interested Contact Countries. In particular, steps were taken to strengthen NATO’s ability to work with current and potential contributors to NATO operations which share NATO’s interests and values. This decision marked a policy shift for the Alliance, allowing Contact Countries to have access, in principle, to any of the activites offered under NATO’s structured partnerships.

Decisions taken at the 2008 Bucharest Summit defined NATO’s objectives for its relationships with partners across the globe. These include support for operations, security cooperation, and enhanced common understanding to advance shared security interests and democratic values.  To this end, various avenues were created to enhance political dialogue: meetings of the North Atlantic Council with ministers of the countries concerned, high level talks, and meetings with ambassadors. In addition, annual work programmes (referred to as Individual Tailored Cooperation Packages of Activities) were further developed. 

  1. The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the Partnership for Peace, the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative..