The end of the Cold War marked the beginning of an
adaptation path for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). After the
crisis in Syria and the birth of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
(ISIL), many European and Middle Eastern countries have perceived the danger of
the terrorist threat, fostered by the increasing number of migratory waves
arriving in the countries of the Alliance through the central Mediterranean and
Turkey. After the attacks on the Twin Towers, NATO began a long process of
adaptation, implementing a comprehensive
and supporting member countries and its partners, especially those
of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Stability in that area is a
priority. This is why NATO, during the Brussels Summit in 2018, has launched
its mission in Iraq, under the request of the Iraqi government, in order to
develop security structures and help the country’s forces protect their
territory against ISIL. In this article, firstly, the path that NATO has
followed to deal with international terrorism will be presented. Secondly,
expert advice on NATO’s ability to provide support in order to develop security
will be shown. Finally, the specific case of the NATO Mission in Iraq (NMI)
will be highlighted, exploring its purpose and modalities.

NATO’s path in the fight against international terrorism

In 2002, during the Prague Summit, NATO leaders
adopted a package of measures aimed at adapting the Alliance to fight terrorism.
These measures included a Military Concept for Defence against Terrorism , the
Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism (PAP-T), nuclear, biological and chemical
defense initiatives, a Civil Emergency Planning Action Plan, a cyber defense
strategy, cooperation with other international organizations and the
improvement of intelligence sharing[1].
However, the first Strategic Concept came
only to 2010 when, during the Lisbon Summit, Allies pledged to strengthen their
capabilities in order to counter international terrorism, also by developing
adequate military capabilities and basing on a comprehensive approach capable of bringing together political,
civil and military instruments[2] by
cooperating with partner countries and organizations such as the United Nations
(ONU), the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)[3]. Within
the framework of the counter-terrorism policy, NATO has benefited since 2017
from greater information sharing thanks to the cooperation between the
intelligence services of its member states. Information sharing between NATO
and partner country agencies is active through the Terrorism Intelligence Cell
at NATO Headquarters in Brussels which improves the way the Alliance cooperates
to meet the challenges by enhancing its ability to respond to them, also
through the Hub for the South, based in Naples[4].

In concrete terms, the way in which NATO opposes
international terrorism is based, on the one hand, on the Defence Against
Terrorism Programme of Work (DAT POW), that aims to protect troops, civilians
and critical infrastructures[5];
on the other, on the Center of Excellence for Defense Against Terrorism
(COE-DAT), which acts as an advisory body to Allied Command Transformation
(ACT) on matters related to terrorism and establishes relations with numerous
NATO bodies and other entities. Located in Ankara, its mission is to provide a
global understanding of the terrorist threat in order to adapt NATO (but also
other countries involved) and allow it to face future challenges while also
improving counter-terrorism capabilities. Indeed, since its inauguration in
2005, the Center has collaborated with over 2503 professors, conducted 217
education and training activities or through mobile training teams and hosted
over 12,456 participants from 108 countries[6].

Over the past 10 years, NATO made considerable progress
and the approach to counter terrorism is listed in the NATO’s Policy Guidelines on Counter-Terrorism. The latter, adopted
in 2012 during the Chicago Summit and published in 2016, provides a strategic
direction to the counter-terrorism activities underway within the Alliance,
identifies the principles to which NATO adheres, identifies the key areas in
which it has to strengthen prevention and resilience and provide support for
the development of adequate capabilities to address the terrorist threat both
within the Alliance and out thanks to cooperation with partner countries and
other international actors. In outlining these guidelines, NATO complied with
international law, especially the principles of the United Nations Charter and
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the same time, considering the
solid legislative basis, this allows NATO to support, on request, member states
even if it is their primary responsibility to protect their citizens from
terrorism. Therefore, NATO wants to avoid any forms of duplication of competences
and presents itself as a complementary organization capable of coordinating and
exploiting its competences and resources to strengthen the actions of the Allied
nations and other international actors. For this reason, the Alliance focuses
fundamentally on three main areas: the development of awareness to deal with
the terrorist phenomenon, the improvement of capabilities and the engagement to
be able to stem the terrorist danger[7].

On the 11th and 12th  July 2018, during the Brussels Summit, Allies
reaffirmed their commitment to the fight against terrorism, by confirming the complementary
role of NATO in supporting international efforts but also its member countries
through an approach at 360 degrees based on deterrence, defense and projecting

Expert opinions

Several experts and academics have recently shown
their interest in NATO’s ability to adapt to international changes and
therefore also to the new types of threats that require a comprehensive approach based on cooperation with countries that
require Alliance support. NATO’s ability to project stability, for instance by
strengthening the development of a country’s security structures, is confirmed
by Colonel Ian Hope (who had an operational experiences in the first Gulf War,
in the Balkans, Africa, Afghanistan, and domestic operations, and he is now
serving on faculty at the NATO Defense College in Rome), which in the
introduction of the essay “Projecting
Stability: Elixir or Snake Oil?
” emphasizes that the crises in different parts
of Africa and the Middle East have encouraged the Alliance to engage in the
management of the fragility of some countries[9]. Also
Benedetta Berti (Head of the Political Planning Unit at the Office of the
Secretary General at NATO Headquarters) and Ruben-Erik Diaz-Plaja (Senior
Policy Adviser in the Policy Planning Unit in the Office of the Secretary
General at NATO HQ in Brussels) in their essay “Two ages of NATO efforts to Project Stability – Change and Continuity
showed that NATO adopted a so-called 360 degree approach, in order to adapt
itself to a scenario where threats are increasingly hybrid and to be able to
respond effectively to the challenges arising from the Middle East and the
North African region[10].
According to them, NATO’s approach based on the projection of stability by
training local forces rather than deploying troops has shown the Alliance’s
ability to adapt quickly and effectively in order to ensure the security of its
borders: training missions through bilateral partnerships in the Ukraine,
Georgia, Jordan, Tunisia, Iraq and Afghanistan they are a prime example[11].
Always Ruben Díaz-Plaja in another publication “Projecting Stability: an agenda for action” confirms that NATO is
increasingly interested in the Middle East region and it is precisely for this
reason that the Allies, in Warsaw, underlined the importance of developing a
sustainable approach to stabilize neighboring countries where internal crises
could have direct repercussions on the Alliance. The effectiveness of the
approach, according to the author, is based first of all on the sustainability
of the policies that NATO provides: any mission is planned to produce effects
even after the Alliance decreases or ends its support to a country partner.
Secondly, the approach is based on durability: helping a country to develop
institutions is potentially a long-term project that aims at strengthening its
capabilities and then be able to face challenges independently[12].

Also according to Karen Donfried, President of the
German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), the secret of NATO’s longevity
was its ability to adapt and remain an actor capable of managing an
ever-changing international scenario. In his publication “NATO At 70: A Strategic Partnership For The 21st Century” she
points out that although the Alliance was created to avert the Soviet threat,
after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it remained the only organization capable of
providing a credible and stable support for the development of security both
inside and outside its borders. The proof is its ability to present itself as a
transatlantic organization able of dealing with the terrorist threat. According
to her, NATO’s most significant operational commitment to date (in addition to Iraq) is the mission in Afghanistan,
started with the International Security Assistance Force under NATO leadership
from 2003 to 2014 and followed by Resolute Support to train and assist the
Afghan security forces[13].

The emblematic support for the development of security in Iraq

As part of its comprehensive
to strengthen the security structures of partner countries and
develop local capacities thus projecting stability, during the Warsaw Summit on
8th and 9th July 2016, Allied leaders decided to provide
support to the fight against ISIL, through AWACS aircraft (to provide
information to the Global Coalition through the optimized use of multilateral
platforms) and starting to train Iraqi officers in Jordan[14].
Already in July 2015, in response to a request from the Iraqi government, NATO
had agreed to provide support to strengthening the security capabilities and hold
a series of training courses in Jordan. Only after the Warsaw Summit it was
decided to support Iraqi military forces in Iraq.

In October 2016, NATO Secretary General Jens
Stoltenberg welcomed Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, in
Brussels. During the meeting, Secretary General praised the success of Iraqi
security forces in the recovery of key territories from ISIL,  by emphasizing both NATO’s commitment to
develop Iraq’s capabilities and putting into practice what was decided at
In January 2017, NATO began deploying a core of eight civilian and military
personnel in Baghdad and the month after Jordan-based training was transferred.
NATO Mission in Iraq (NMI)[16] was
officially launched at the Brussels Summit on 11th and 12th
July 2018, at the request of the Iraqi government and in coordination with the
Global Coalition to defeat ISIL. The aim is to help Iraqi forces protect their
country from terrorism thanks to the support of NATO trainers and to prevent
the ISIL from resuming the already liberated territories. Hence, the NATO mission
helps Iraq strengthening its security forces as well as advises military
institutions by training instructors who depend on the Iraqi government. This
mission wants to make security structures more stable and operational and deals
with combating corruption, guaranteeing the rule of law and protecting
It is therefore a non-combat mission based on respect for the sovereignty,
independence and territorial integrity of Iraq. NATO training activities are
carried out in Iraqi military schools in the Baghdad, Besmaya and Taji area,
and it is under the authority of the Allied Joint Force Command (JFC) of Naples[18].

In September 2019, during his visit to Iraq, NATO Secretary
General underlined the importance of NMI which is providing advice to Iraqi
officials, mainly at the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the Councilor
for National Security. In addition, the visit represented the opportunity to
thank also Australia, Finland and Sweden for their first commitments as
operational partners in this mission[19].
On 20th November 2019, during the meeting of NATO Ministers of
Foreign Affairs it was also approved the updated action plan on strengthening
NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism. This includes sharing more
information on important terrorist activities and attacks in foreign countries.
Finally, it was decided to continue to training missions in Iraq but also in
Afghanistan in support of the Global Coalition to defeat ISIL[20].

After 11th September, the Alliance saw a
new challenge emerge that forced it to change its perspective. For the public
opinion, after the end of the Cold War, NATO had lost its “raison d’être”
because the Soviet threat had been eradicated. However, the ever-changing
global order, the emergence of new hybrid threats and institutional crises
within neighboring and partner countries have deeply influenced the Alliance’s
approach as well as its ability to face new challenges. In a world where wars
are no longer fought at the front between two well aligned armies but where the
threat is changeable and flexible, NATO has become an actor able to adopting a comprehensive
and effective approach in order to develop security and capabilities, sources
of future stability, in an unstable state like Iraq hit by a hybrid threat such
as terrorism.

Maria Elena Argano

[1] NATO Website, Countering terrorism:

[2] NATO Website, A “comprehensive approach” to

[3] NATO Website, Brussels Summit Declaration, art.68:

[4] NATO Website, Countering terrorism:

[5] NATO Website, Defence Against Terrorism Programme of Work (DAT POW):

[6] Centre of Excellence Defence Against Terrorism
Website, What is COE?:

[7] NATO Website, NATO’s Policy Guidelines on Counter-Terrorism (2012), pp. 6-7:

[8] NATO Website, Brussels Summit Declaration, art. 10:

[9] Hope (2018), Introduction – Projecting Stability: Elixir or Snake Oil?, NDC
Research Paper, p.1:

[10] Berti, Diaz-Plaja (2018), Two ages of NATO efforts to Project Stability – Change and Continuity,
NDC Research Paper, p. 19:

[11] Ivi, p. 22

[12] NATO Website, Diaz-Plaja (2018), Projecting Stability: an agenda for action,
NATO Review:

[13] German Marshall Fund Website, Donfried (2019), NATO At 70: A Strategic Partnership For The
21st Century:

[14] NATO Website, Countering terrorism

[15] NATO Website,
Secretary General: NATO stands in support of Iraq

[16] NATO Website, NATO Mission in Iraq:

[17] Ivi

[18] NATO Website, Factsheet NATO Mission In Iraq:

[19] NATO Website, NATO Secretary General in Iraq: training national forces is a key tool
in fighting terrorism:

[20] NATO Website, Foreign Ministers take decisions to adapt NATO, recognize space as an
operational domain:

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