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This is NATO


NATO is an intergovernmental organisation with both a political and a military dimension. The Alliance has 32 member countries. The North Atlantic Treaty is a cornerstone of NATO.

The principle of collective defence is at the very heart of the North Atlantic Treaty. According to this principle, NATO member countries have collective defence obligations and collective defence planning. NATO’s foremost purpose is to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its members through political and military means, and to guarantee the freedom and security of all member countries.

In 1949, twelve states acceded to the North Atlantic Treaty: two in North America and ten in Europe. NATO was established in 1951 as a permanent organisational application of the North Atlantic Treaty. The North Atlantic Treaty, also referred to as the Washington Treaty, is NATO’s founding document. The member countries’ collective defence is at the heart of the Treaty. This collective defence is based on the right to individual and collective self-defence that every country has in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter.

Principles and articles of the North Atlantic Treaty

The North Atlantic Treaty also contains other principles that the member countries undertake to follow, such as the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and the desire to live in peace with all peoples and governments. The Treaty also declares its Parties’ determination to secure the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, which are based on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. The Parties seek stability and well-being in the North-Atlantic area.

  • In Articles 1 and 2 of the Treaty, the Parties undertake, as set out in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international disputes by peaceful means and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. The Parties will contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations. They will seek to eliminate conflicts in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration.
  • In Article 3, the Parties under take to, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.
  • Article 4 stipulates that the Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or Article 5 sets out the collective defence obligations that are the core of NATO’s collective defence. Under the Article, an armed attack against one or more of the Parties in Europe or North America will be considered an attack against them all.

The North Atlantic Treaty consists of 14 articles and can be read in the Government bill on Sweden’s NATO membership (Govt. Bill 2022/23:74). 

NATO’s work and organisation

NATO is an intergovernmental organisation with both a political and a military dimension. NATO’s core tasks consist of deterrence and collective defence, civilian and military crisis prevention and management and security cooperation.

NATO’s member countries have undertaken to cooperate on these three core tasks so as to resolve security challenges, build trust and prevent conflicts. If diplomatic efforts for peace are inadequate or fail to achieve the desired effect, NATO can carry out crisis management operations.

All decisions in NATO are taken by consensus, which means all NATO member countries must agree unanimously to take decisions.

The North Atlantic Council is NATO’s highest decision-making political body

NATO’s highest decision-making body is the North Atlantic Council. For Council’s ordinary business, the member countries are represented by their Ambassadors to NATO. The Council meets several times a year, with meetings of defence ministers, foreign ministers and heads of government or states. Normally, one NATO Summit, two Meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs and three Meetings of NATO Defence Ministers are held each year. The Secretary General is the Alliance’s top international civil servant and Chair of the Nordic Council.

Several bodies and committees have been established under the Council.

NATO has a special Nuclear Planning Group that is responsible for its nuclear policy.

The Resilience Committee is the senior NATO advisory body for resilience and civil preparedness. The Committee is responsible for strategic and policy direction, planning guidance, and general coordination of resilience activities at NATO. 

NATO’s organisational structure

The Military Committee is the senior military authority in NATO

The Military Committee is an essential link between the political decision-making process and the military structure. It is responsible for military planning, advising the Council on military matters and translating Council decisions into military planning. The Military Committee also gives direction to the Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR), NATO’s top military officer.

The Committee answers directly to the North Atlantic Council and is made up of senior military officers from NATO member countries. For ordinary business, the member countries are represented in the Committee by military representatives. 

The responsibilities of the military leadership structure, from the strategic level down to the higher tactical level, include NATO capacity planning, operational planning and generating forces. NATO’s two strategic military headquarters, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and Allied Command Transformation (ACT), are located in Mons, Belgium and Norfolk, Virginia.

NATO does not have its own military forces. The member countries contribute forces for readiness or operations at the request of SACEUR and following necessary political decisions in the relevant member country.

NATO headquarters in Brussels

NATO headquarters is located in Brussels. International civilian and military personnel work there. NATO headquarters is the Alliance’s top political and administrative centre and the seat of the North Atlantic Council. All member countries have a permanent representation at NATO headquarters.

About the Swedish NATO representation – on Sweden Abroad

Frequently asked questions

NATO does not have its own military forces. Each member country decides over its own defence resources and military forces. The Allies decide for themselves which resources and units can be made available to NATO. The Alliance’s collective defence is based on military forces from individual member countries being placed under NATO’s command. NATO has a joint command structure, planning resources and means of communication that enable swift action when the situation requires it. Thanks to NATO’s permanent command structure, the Alliance has capability and resources to plan and lead demanding territorial defence and crisis management operations. These are resources and capabilities that the UN and the EU do not have to the same extent.

NATO does not own any nuclear weapons. Three Allies (the US, the UK and France) have nuclear weapons and those are national assets that contribute to the security of the Alliance as a whole. The fundamental purpose of NATO’s nuclear capability is to preserve peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression against the Alliance. 

In its nuclear doctrine, NATO states that circumstances where nuclear weapons may have to be used are very remote. However, as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance. 

At the same time, NATO has the stated objective of working to create conditions for a world that is free of nuclear weapons and is strongly committed to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. All Allies are party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), a cornerstone of the multilateral framework for global disarmament and non-proliferation. 

NATO is a defensive Alliance whose foremost tasks are collective defence and preservation of the peace and security of its member countries. NATO’s measures for deterrence and defence aim to prevent war and thus build peace.

NATO promotes democratic values and encourages consultation and cooperation on defence and security issues between Allies and NATO partner countries. This cooperation aims to build trust and, by extension, prevent conflicts. Through the North Atlantic Treaty, the Allies have undertaken, as set out in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international disputes by peaceful means and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. The Allies must also contribute to the continued development of peaceful and friendly international relations.  

In addition to the traditional duty to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Allies, NATO’s activities now comprise several different areas. Together with its many partner countries, the Alliance participates in international crisis management. NATO also works on Defence Capacity and Defence Institution Building in many partner countries. This may involve support for reforms in the security sector, military medical training and Counter-Improvised Explosive Device training. The Allies have also undertaken to strengthen national and collective resilience.

The aim of NATO’s civil preparedness efforts is to strengthen the Alliance’s resilience, i.e. society’s capability of resisting and recovering from major disturbances and crises such as hybrid attacks, armed attacks, disruption of critical infrastructure and natural disasters.

These civil preparedness efforts focus on three fundamental capabilities for society to function:  

  • continuity of government;
  • continuity of essential services to the population; and
  • civil support to military operations

Resilience and civil preparedness are a national responsibility, but are at the same time considered a collective undertaking within NATO. This is regulated in Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Each individual Ally’s measures to maintain and strengthen national resilience reduce the vulnerability of the Alliance as a whole and raise the threshold for a potential attack.

The North Atlantic Treaty is included in Swedish and English in the NATO bill: Sweden’s NATO membership (Govt. Bill 2022/ 23:74).

NATO has identified seven Baseline Requirements, which are prioritised areas for national civil resilience:

  1. assured continuity of government and critical government services;
  2. resilient energy supplies;
  3. ability to deal effectively with uncontrolled movements of people;
  4. resilient food and water resources;
  5. ability to deal with mass casualties and disruptive health crises;
  6. resilient civil communications systems; and
  7. resilient transport systems.

In case of civil crises, the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination (EADRCC) is NATO’s principal civil emergency response mechanism. It is responsible for coordinating civil emergency response within the Alliance. The EADRCC plays a facilitating role in coordinating offers of support and requests for assistance between NATO Allies and partner countries. This means that Sweden can both provide and receive support via NATO in the event of an emergency.

Since March 2020, the EADRCC has coordinated requests for and offers of international assistance from NATO Allies and partner countries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The EADRCC has helped to facilitate the transfer of medical necessities to countries that have requested assistance. The mechanism was also used in connection with the earthquakes in Türkiye in February 2023.

The EADRCC’s tasks are carried out in close cooperation with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), which retains the primary role in the coordination of international disaster relief operations. The EADRCC aims to function as a regional coordinating mechanism that supports and complements UN and EU operations.

NATO member countries

Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Türkiye, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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