Historical Background

The Alliance's 1999 Strategic Concept already identified terrorism as one of the risks affecting NATO's security. The Alliances response to September 11, however, saw NATO engage actively in the fight against terrorism, launch its first operations outside the Euro-Atlantic area and begin a far-reaching transformation of its capabilities.

Response to September 11
On the evening of 12 September 2001, less than 24 hours after the attacks, and for the first time in NATO's history, the Allies invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the Alliance's collective defence clause.

The North Atlantic Council - NATO's principal political decision-making body - agreed that if it determined that the attack was directed from abroad against the United States, it would be regarded as an action covered by Article 5, which states that an armed attack against one or more of the Allies in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.

Earlier on the same day, NATO Partner countries, in a meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, condemned the attacks, offering their support to the United States and pledging to "undertake all efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism”. This was followed by declarations of solidarity and support from Russia, on 13 September, and Ukraine, on 14 September.

On 2 October, Frank Taylor, the US Ambassador at Large and Co-ordinator for Counter-terrorism, briefed the North Atlantic Council on the results of investigations into the 11 September attacks.

As a result of the information he provided, the Council determined that the attacks were directed from abroad and shall be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

Two days later, on 4 October, NATO agreed on eight measures to support the United States:

  • to enhance intelligence sharing and co-operation, both bilaterally and in appropriate NATO bodies, relating to the threats posed by terrorism and the actions to be taken against it;
  • to provide, individually or collectively, as appropriate and according to their capabilities, assistance to Allies and other states which are or may be subject to increased terrorist threats as a result of their support for the campaign against terrorism;
  • to take necessary measures to provide increased security for facilities of the United States and other Allies on their territory;
  • to backfill selected Allied assets in NATO's area of responsibility that are required to directly support operations against terrorism;
  • to provide blanket overflight clearances for the United States and other Allies' aircraft, in accordance with the necessary air traffic arrangements and national procedures, for military flights related to operations against terrorism;
  • to provide access for the United States and other Allies to ports and airfields on the territory of NATO nations for operations against terrorism, including for refuelling, in accordance with national procedures;
  • that the Alliance is ready to deploy elements of its Standing Naval Forces to the Eastern Mediterranean in order to provide a NATO presence and demonstrate resolve; and
  • that the Alliance is similarly ready to deploy elements of its NATO Airborne Early Warning Force to support operations against terrorism.
Shortly thereafter, NATO launched its first ever anti-terror operation - Eagle Assist. On request of the United States, from mid-October 2001 to mid-May 2002, seven NATO AWACS radar aircraft were sent to help patrol the skies over the United States; in total 830 crewmembers from 13 NATO countries flew over 360 sorties.

This was the first time that NATO military assets were deployed in support of an Article 5 operation.
On 26 October, the Alliance launched its second counter-terrorism operation in response to the attacks on the United States, Active Endeavour. Elements of NATO's Standing Naval Forces were sent to patrol the eastern Mediterranean and monitor shipping to detect and deter terrorist activity, including illegal trafficking. On 10 March 2003, the operation was expanded to include escorting civilian shipping through the Strait of Gibraltar.

In addition, although it is not a NATO-led operation, most of the NATO Allies also have forces involved in Operation Enduring Freedom, the US-led military operation against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
Reykjavik – end of "out of area" debate
NATO's immediate response to September 11 was further strengthened by a decision, at the Reykjavik meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in May 2002, that the Alliance will operate when and where necessary to fight terrorism.

This landmark declaration effectively ended the debate on what is and what is not NATO's area of operations and paved the way for the Alliance's future engagements with ISAF in Afghanistan. It also was a catalyst for a broad transformation of the Alliance's capabilities that was launched at the 2002 Prague Summit in November.
Prague Summit - adapting to the threat of terrorism
At the 21-22 November 2002 Prague Summit, NATO Heads of State and Government expressed their determination to deter, defend and protect their populations, territory and forces from any armed attack from abroad, including by terrorists.

To this end, they adopted a Prague package, aimed at adapting NATO to the challenge of terrorism. It comprised:
  • a Military Concept for Defence against Terrorism: this underlines the Alliance's readiness to act against terrorist attacks or the threat of such attacks; to lead or support counter-terrorism operations; provide assistance to national authorities in dealing with the consequence of terrorist attacks; support operations by other international organizations or coalitions involving Allies on a case-by-case basis; and to conduct military operations to engage terrorist groups and their capabilities, as and where required, and as decided by the North Atlantic Council;
  • a Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism (PAP-T);
  • five nuclear, biological and chemical defence initiatives: a deployable nuclear, biological and chemical analytical laboratory, a nuclear, biological and chemical event response team, a virtual centre of excellence for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons defence, a NATO biological and chemical defence stockpile, and a disease surveillance system;
  • protection of civilian populations, including a Civil Emergency Planning Action Plan;
  • missile defence: Allies are examining options for addressing the increasing missile threat to Alliance territory, forces and population centres in an effective and efficient way through an appropriate mix of political and defence efforts, along with deterrence;
  • cyber-defence: efforts are underway within the Alliance to better protect against and prepare for a possible disruption of NATO and national critical infrastructure assets, including information and communications systems;
  • cooperation with other international organizations;
  • improved intelligence sharing;

In addition, they decided to create the NATO Response Force, streamline the military command structure and launch the Prague Capabilities Commitment, to better prepare NATO's military to face new challenges, including terrorism. . The NATO command structure was be supported by a network of Centres of Excellence (COE). Currently, there are 17 COE's in NATO. Of these, 12 centers have been fully accredited by NATO. Several of them have a link to defence against terrorism, however one of these, the Center of Excellence Defence Against Terrorism in Ankara, is exclusively focused on DAT.

Riga Summit – reaffirming the threat of terrorism
In endorsing the Comprehensive Political Guidance at the Riga Summit in November 2006, NATO's Heads of State and Government recognised that "terrorism, together with the spread of weapons of mass destruction, are likely to be the principal threats to the Alliance over the next 10 to 15 years.”