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The North Atlantic Treaty signed in Washington on April 4, 1949 established NATO, a defence Alliance (known as “North Atlantic Alliance”) which gave rise to the namesake Organization. It is  a fundamental instrument of collective defence and military cooperation among its Members, as well as a forum of political debate.

The Alliance’s cornerstone is the principle of collective defence, enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which reads as follows: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

To date, the only time Article 5 was invoked by the North Atlantic Council (NAC) was after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in 2001. This is indicative of the transformations that have swept across the international scenario since the end of the Cold War, which led the Alliance to make the adjustments that are mirrored by the Strategic Concept of 2010, which identifies NATO’s three main core tasks: deterrence and defence, crisis management and cooperative security.


The NATO’s executive body is the North Atlantic Council (NAC), which may be convened at the level of the Permanent Representatives of Member Countries, of State Ministers (meetings of the Foreign and Defence Ministers are scheduled periodically), and of Heads of State and Government, as recently happened with the latest NATO Leaders’ Summit held in Brussels on July 11-12, 2018 (see below).  NAC meetings are chaired by the Secretary General, an office that has been held by Norway’s Jens Stoltenberg since October 1, 2014.

The Military Committee, which is composed of Member States’ Chiefs of Defence, has the task of assisting the North Atlantic Council and implementing the political decisions taken thereby. The Alliance’s military command structure consists of two Strategic Commands: the Allied Command Operations (ACO) and the Allied Command Transformation (ACT).

The former is responsible for planning and carrying out NATO’s operations. It is headquartered at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons (Belgium). Since 2016 it has been headed by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Mike Scaparotti, a US General of Apulian origin. The latter is headquartered in Norfolk (United States) and is mainly responsible for enhancing the credibility and readiness of the actions undertaken by the Alliance.

An adaptation of the NATO Command Structure (NCS) was adopted at the Summit of the Heads of State and Government held in Brussels on July 11-12, 2018 (see below). It now also includes a CyberSpace  Operations Centre located in Mons (Belgium) and a third Joint Force Command located in Norkfolk, responsible for protecting transatlantic communication lines, as well as a Joint Support and Enabling Command located in Ulm (Germany), designed to favouring the fast movement of troops, equipment and material within  Europe.

Member States

Currently NATO counts 29 Member States. Italy is one of the 12 Founding Members, together with Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Great Britain and the United States. Later, as a result of an enlargement process, the following countries became members of the Alliance:

1952: Greece and Turkey;

1955: Germany;

1982: Spain;

1999: Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland;

2004: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia;

2009: Albania, Croatia;

2017: Montenegro.




Leaders’ Summits (meetings of the Heads of State and Government)

Summit held in Wales (2014)

Summit held in Warsaw (2016)

Summit held in Brussels (2018)


Italy and NATO

Italy has traditionally voiced the need for NATO’s role not to be confined only to the mere tasks of deterrence and defence. Proof of this is the so-called Report of the Three Wise Men (1956), a document of historical importance in which the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Italy (Gaetano Martino), Canada (Lester B. Pearson), and Norway (Halvard Lange) recommended to enhance the Alliance’s internal cohesion and solidarity, underlining the need for NATO to acquire an independent political dimension. This consideration, which sees the military and civil aspects of security as inseparable, still now represents the moral compass of Italy’s commitment within the Alliance.

NATO which, since the end of the Second World War has contributed to seventy years of peace in Europe, will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2019. It remains the cornerstone of our security system. Today as in the past, the centrality of the transatlantic link and our support for the Alliance are out of the question.

  • Priorities

We deem it appropriate for NATO to proceed swiftly on the already well-established strategy for adapting to the new security threats including hybrid and cyber attacks, terrorism, arms proliferation and illegal  trafficking, especially when they come from its Southern flank.

To this end, it is essential not only to enhance the Alliance’s readiness from a military viewpoint, but also to strengthen political dialogue, partnerships and cooperative security activities for the Mediterranean region, as well as assistance to the institutions of weak States – in complementarity with the action of the European Union – so as to strengthen the Alliance’s “projection of stability” onto the South and onto the Western Balkans. Italy has taken up a leading role in this pathway, which remains complex due to the different perceptions of threats among the Allied Governments, which in many cases keep on sticking to the conventional deterrence needs in the East – the traditional challenge that the Atlantic Alliance was structured to face.

The Brussels Summit (2018) marked significant progress by recording, among the various decisions, the full operation of NATO’s Hub for the South located in Naples, as well as the launch of “sets of proposals” featuring  cooperation targeted to crucial partners such as Tunisia and Jordan, and paving the way for starting military planning in the South. Italy wishes to pursue the path already undertaken and, in particular, to enhance the Naples Hub, which we are endeavouring to further develop – in terms of staff and tasks performed – so that it can make a real qualitative leap forward in the Alliance’s “projection of stability”, as well as contribute to the fight against terrorism.

With specific reference to the relations between the Atlantic Alliance and the Russian Federation , in the Summit held in Brussels in July 2018,  the Heads of State and Government reaffirmed the “dual track approach”, providing for a combination of deterrence and defence, but also a “substantial, targeted and periodic” dialogue, as decided in the Leaders’ Summit held in Warsaw in July 2016 . Considering the current problematic international situation, Italy supports the need for NATO and Russia to step up their dialogue with a view to finding common ground in terms of interests and responsibilities.

Italy supports the development of the North Atlantic Alliance’s Partnerships as one of the key formulas enabling to enhance NATO’s political projection. The Partnership for Peace – a cooperation programme for Euro-Atlantic partner countries including Russia, Ukraine and 21 countries from North-Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia – is particularly important.

Italy promotes the activities of the dialogue and cooperation forum known as “Mediterranean Dialogue” – established in 1994 – which at present includes 7 countries in the region (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia) and is based on the idea that the security of NATO also depends on the stability of the Mediterranean region. Italy also encourages the development of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, targeted on the Persian Gulf region (with the participation of Bahrein, Kuwait, Qatar and United Arab Emirates).

The initiative Partners across the globe includes geographically distant Partners (Afghanistan, Australia, Colombia, South Korea, Iraq, Pakistan, Mongolia and New Zealand ), with which common initiatives in the security field can be identified.

  • Missions

Italy is the fifth-largest contributor to NATO’s budget and has always ensured a very significant contribution to the Alliance’s operations, starting from NATO’s major “out of area” missions, namely the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan and the “Kosovo Force” (KFOR) in Kosovo.

With specific reference to Afghanistan, Italy plays the role of Framework Nation in the Western region where most of our contingent is deployed in Herat. It is one of the major contributors to the Mission designed to providing training and assistance to the Afghan Security and Defence Armed Forces.

With regard to KFOR, which has been operational since 1999, Italy is the second-largest contributor after the United States. Pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution No. 1244 of 1999 – such mission ensures security and freedom of movement in Kosovo, thus operating as “responsible third party” after the Kosovo Police and the EU EULEX Mission, respectively.

In general terms, Italy provides a multi-dimensional contribution to the Alliance’s many activities, ranging from participation in the measures adopted to reassure the North-Eastern Allies after the crisis in Crimea (including the enhanced Forward Presence) to the Air Policing activities carried out within NATO, as well as the engagement in sea operations (including Sea Guardian, in the Central Mediterranean area) and for the security of the South-Eastern flank of the Alliance, at the border between Turkey and Syria.

  • Scientific initiatives

Italy participates in the NATO Science for Peace and Security Program – which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2018 – aimed at promoting dialogue and cooperation between Allies and Partners in the fields of scientific research, technological innovation and exchange of know-how.

Italy is the Allied Country involved in several initiatives, including an important counter-terrorism project called DEXTER, aimed at detecting explosive materials in crowded environments in relation to citizens’ daily security needs. The test-cases of the project also include the Rome Subway.


One of the guiding principle of Italy’s action is that of complementarity between the actions of NATO and of the European Union. The need for a connection between the two actors – that Italy supports actively – has become increasingly evident in the light of the two Organizations’ post-Cold War enlargement to a partially overlapping membership (to date, 22 Countries are members of both Organizations). Cooperation between NATO and the European Union made good headway following the Joint Declarations adopted at the Warsaw Summit of July 2016 and at the Brussels Summit of July 2018 by the NATO Secretary General and the Presidents of the EU Commission and Council. In this framework sets of proposals have been developed, listing 74 concrete cooperation proposals.  The most significant interaction areas include the fight against hybrid and cyber threats, as well as military mobility to be conceived within a horizon including the North-South transport routes and those towards the Mediterranean region.

Office IV of the Directorate General for Political and Security Affairs (DGAP)

Office IV (NATO, Strategic Security and Political-Military Issues) of the Directorate General for Political and Security Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI) follows and coordinates all these issues jointly with the Italian Permanent Delegation to the Atlantic Council in Brussels. The Office deals with a very ample agenda, ranging from operational aspects – such as the ones connected to Italy’s participation in NATO strategic operations and counter-terrorism initiatives – to strategic issues (the enlargement of NATO, cooperation with Partner Countries, defining NATO’s position on the most topical international issues); cooperation in civil projects (including the role of the Alliance in building the resilience and the civil preparedness of the Member Countries); support to the candidacies of Italian citizens for staff vacancies published by NATO and of strategic interest for Italy); support to the Italian companies interested in NATO’s capacity-building programmes. Moreover, Office IV ensures the necessary coordination between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence – also through its participation in the Inter-Ministerial Technical Committee for Foreign and Defence Issues – and fulfils the procedures falling within the competence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in relation to the meetings of the Higher Defence Council.

The NATO Office performs all the above activities in close coordination with other Public Administrations of the State, including: the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Interior and the Inter-Ministerial Technical Committee for Civil Defence (CITDC).

Opportunities for students

Every year the NATO Secretariat publishes a paid internship programme giving University and post-graduate students the tangible opportunity of making an experience in a NATO work environment, with a view to making young people acquire in-depth knowledge of the Alliance and its activities.

The website of the Alliance contains further information on the procedure to submit candidacies.