European Affairs

As the authors point out, many European members of NATO are working hard to improve their cooperation on disaster-response by pooling resources in the European Union. (An EU plan is under discussion to create a 5,000-strong multilateral rescue force of firemen, medics and other technicians, called Europe Aid, which could react to terrorist strikes or natural disasters. But it reportedly will not be ready before 2010.) Many EU member-states are wary of seeing NATO take on police and other activities related to homeland security. Trying to take account of this sensibility, the authors make clear that their proposals focus on using NATO assets to reinforce and supplement the work of allied countries’ multinational civilian or other national agencies working in this sector.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) plays an essential role in defense of the transatlantic homeland from terrorism, but gets little public credit for its efforts. NATO could do even more to enhance its capabilities to support the individual and collective efforts of member and partner countries to enhance societal security. Alliance leaders have the opportunity to articulate a strategic direction for homeland defense at NATO’s summit meeting in Riga, Estonia, in November 2006. Such an initiative would complement – and, emphatically, not detract from – the efforts by allied governments and by the European Union. It would enhance NATO’s relevance in the eyes of the public on both sides of the Atlantic.

Combining transatlantic strengths to cope with this new mission is a challenge. Many governments in the alliance view control of homeland security resources as manifestations of their sovereignty. Europeans have diverse constitutional approaches to the domestic uses of their military and the lines of authority for civil-military cooperation in crisis situations. Among the 19 NATO allies and four Partnership for Peace nations that belong to the European Union as well, there is strong support for housing a growing number of common European capabilities related to societal/homeland security and emergency response (such as customs, police cooperation, environmental security and information-sharing) within the EU. Indeed, the EU has undertaken a range of activities and initiatives aimed at improving its military and civilian capabilities and structures to respond to crises spanning both homeland defense and homeland security, including crossborder cooperation on consequence-management after natural and manmade disasters. It has established a situation center in Brussels that provides threat assessments to national governments.

Recognizing that many EU activities are in their early stages, EU leaders agreed last year to examine a European Commission proposal for an integrated “rapid response and preparedness instrument” to react to all types of disasters (including terrorism) inside or outside the EU; a target-date to finalize crisis-coordination operational procedures is June 2006. Without impinging on this EU process, a positive step would be the creation of a joint clearing-house of capabilities: it would allow the EU and NATO to determine how best to meet requirements in a specific crisis.

Since 2001, the United States and European governments have made major strides to enhance their diplomatic, intelligence, financial, customs and law enforcement cooperation to combat terrorism and enhance homeland security. For example, most major European ports are actively participating in a plan launched by U.S. Customs, the Container Security Initiative (CSI), which seeks to identify and pre-screen high-risk seaborne containers before they are shipped. By the fall of 2006, it is expected that 90 percent of all transatlantic (and transpacific) cargo imported into the United States will be subjected to CSI pre-screening. Improvements can still be made. In May 2006, the United States and Canada agreed to renew their bilateral air defense cooperation under the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Agreement indefinitely and to initiate integrated surveillance of the continent’s maritime approaches and internal waterways to improve warning of terrorist and other threats.

But we recommend that NATO leaders go further and adopt a “Homeland Defense Initiative.” It is important to underscore that NATO would undertake this initiative in cooperation with national and EU efforts and with a view to developing a capacity that can be used to complement national and EU capacities and be available when these require specialized assistance or are overwhelmed.

Such an initiative fostering cooperation on homeland security would build on promising, but still modest, developments already under way in this field. The initiative would include two sets of homeland defense activities – offshore and border protection-missions for preventing terrorist attacks – and two sets of homeland security activities. These are:

  • guarding the approaches to the NATO region
  • enhancing collective missile defenses
  • improving counter-terrorism activities
  • strengthening transatlantic capabilities for managing the consequences of terrorist attacks (including weapons of mass destruction) or of large-scale natural disasters.

NATO’ s extensive air defense system, including airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft, were used to provide air surveillance at the Athens and Turin Olympic games in 2004 and 2006. To guard maritime approaches to alliance territory, allied warships and aircraft began patrols in the eastern Mediterranean in late 2001 in what became Operation Active Endeavor. These patrols, which now cover the entire Mediterranean and involve partners from outside the alliance, include legal boardings of suspect vessels. They help guard against terrorist activity in this vital and crowded maritime zone through which flows 65 percent of Europe’s energy supplies and a large percentage of other seaborne trade.

The NATO naval command in Naples, Italy, has developed the Joint Information and Analysis Center (JIAC), an experimental networking system that provides analysis, warning, and deployment information as actionable intelligence to appropriate authorities in the alliance. This center could be developed to provide a wider and more timely flow of information about threatening and illegal activities in the maritime domain. This information could be shared with coast guards and other appropriate authorities most able to make use of it in allied countries and partner nations.

At the 2002 Prague summit meeting of NATO, allied governments agreed to study options for protecting populations against ballistic missile threats. At this point, European governments are not prepared to deploy missile defenses for protection of populations. However, Iran’s ongoing development of missile delivery systems, if combined with nuclear weapons, would present a direct threat to Europe of the sort that could build support for fielding NATO missile defenses. At the Riga summit, alliance leaders could call for an accelerated assessment of possible “architectures’’ for protecting alliance territory and populations against missile threats.

Counterterrorism within the NATO region has remained primarily the responsibility of national interior and police authorities. NATO’s counterterrorism activities since 2001 have ranged from safeguarding allied airspace to command, since mid-2003, of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The alliance has established a Terrorist Threat Intelligence Unit to improve intelligence sharing and analysis. NATO nations are developing cutting- edge technologies to protect troops and civilians against terrorist operations – for example, in detection of "improvised explosive devices."

NATO should put particular focus on intelligence-sharing and protecting critical infrastructure. Procedures could be developed to ensure the prompt deployment of special operations forces – which are useful in disrupting some kinds of terrorist attacks – if national authorities ask for NATO assistance of this type. NATO has longstanding, well-institutionalized plans for securing pipelines, offshore platforms and ports to assure energy supplies in wartime; now these systems and the resources attached to them could be applied to the new challenge of anti-terrorist protection of such critical infrastructure.

In managing the consequences arising from terrorist attacks, pandemics or large-scale natural disasters, a range of alliance capabilities (planning, logistics, operations) could provide unique support to national and EU authorities in the NATO region. NATO countries are jointly developing five nuclear, biological, and chemical-defense initiatives. NATO has deployed a Czech-led multinational chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological (CBNR) defense battalion that has been fully operational since 2004 in offering sophisticated detection and defensive technologies against these weapons of mass destruction. In this area, NATO has developed a proposal on civil-emergency planning that calls for the development of non-binding guidelines and minimum standards for the protection of the civil population against these threats.

There are precedents for NATO’s involvement in disaster relief - Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Pakistani earthquake (2005-6), and Central European flooding (2004). Alliance capacity to conduct relief operations after a catastrophic incident would be strengthened by deliberate planning and coordination of relevant capabilities.

NATO should undertake a study of homeland defense requirements and capabilities. The formation of military disaster assistance-response teams with a chemical-biological decontamination capability should be considered. NATO defense ministers could expand their regular meetings, when appropriate, to include interior and health ministers in an effort to foster better understanding of transatlantic homeland security challenges and possible responses.

In this context, NATO headquarters would need additional assets focused on homeland defense missions, and it may be necessary to create an Assistant Secretary General for Homeland Defense. NATO authorities need to analyze the issue of how new homeland defense missions should affect the force posture. A new small, highly-ready force with capabilities oriented to homeland missions, especially consequence management, may need to be created.

Our recommendation is that NATO leaders at Riga should focus on homeland defense as a key part of their deliberations. Specifically, the Riga summit should:

  • adopt a statement of principles on a “Homeland Defense Initiative” aimed at complementing national and EU efforts and developing capabilities that can be available when these are overwhelmed.
  • undertake new homeland defense activities for all the countries in the Partnership for Peace designed to enhance their capabilities for homeland defense missions.
  • announce a few specific force and organizational changes aimed at producing improved homeland defense capabilities in the near term.
  • task NATO headquarters and military staffs to conduct a study of future homeland defense requirements, capabilities, costs, and improvement-priorities.

This article is based on a joint report, NATO’s Role in Transatlantic Homeland Defense, prepared by the Center for Technology and National Security Policy and the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. It was written by Neyla Arnas, Hans Binnendijk, Stephen J. Flanagan, Stuart E. Johnson, Richard L. Kugler, Leo G. Michel, Anne M. Moisan, Jeffrey Simon, and Kimberley L. Thachuk. The full report is available at


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 7, Issue number 1-2 in the Spring/Summer of 2006.