International defence commitments


The Ministry of Defence (MOD), in accordance with UK government policy, contributes military and financial resources to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the EU to support their military operations. We do this to endorse multilateral security efforts (those involving countries acting together) and to help maintain the UK’s alliances. These commitments are outlined in our agreements with NATO and the EU.

We also work with like-minded partners to influence NATO and EU policies so that their members are better able to develop the military and civilian capabilities and the political will to respond to new issues, security threats and crises affecting all nations.



NATO will continue to be the main element of our defence policy and strategy, as confirmed in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

To meet our collective defence and security commitments in NATO, we will:

The EU

In order to support the EU’s Common Security Defence Policy (CSDP), the MOD will look to contribute to EU missions and operations wherever it is in the UK’s interest. Defence remains a sovereign issue within the UK; the UK retains an effective veto on any new EU CSDP activity and complete control over the allocation of UK personnel to EU activity.

The EU, through CSDP, has a range of capabilities (including political, financial, legal, military and developmental) that can be brought to bear in a comprehensive approach to crises, supplementing NATO’s higher intensity military activities and longer-term stabilisation and development work. For the UK, putting the Comprehensive Approach to work requires smarter missions and operations, harnessing the EU’s crisis management potential and working better with NATO.

EU and NATO operations to prevent and reduce piracy at sea

Since 2008, armed gangs from Somalia have been hijacking ships off the Horn of Africa and then demanding ransoms for their release. In response, the UK is playing a lead role in NATO and EU multinational operations aimed at stopping the pirates - read our policy about conflict prevention and resolution in fragile states and our piracy policy.



The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was established by 12 nations in 1949, at the start of the Cold War, by the Washington Treaty. It aims to safeguards the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means.

NATO’s membership has since expanded to 28 allies. Its purpose has evolved to include operations outside the original collective defence policy detailed in Article V of the treaty, including preventing and managing crises and emerging threats.

The primary areas of concern to NATO today include security assistance, security discussions and co-operation, international terrorism, cyber terrorism, and piracy. NATO remains a nuclear alliance, with deterrence as the main element of its strategy. All of these issues were agreed in the Strategic Concept at the 2010 Lisbon Summit.

NATO is also committed to reducing the instability in and around states undergoing a breakdown in their rule of law and by military conflict (known as ‘failed states’). This was agreed at the 2006 Riga Summit.

The period after 2014, after the end of combat activities in Afghanistan, will be very important for NATO. Following the 2012 Chicago Summit, NATO is working towards the NATO Forces 2020 initiative, which will lead to more interconnected and interoperable forces with rapid response capabilities.

NATO has also begun to reform its structure and organisation to provide better support for highly complex operations like those in Afghanistan.

NATO has also developed a series of wider partnerships, including Partnership for Peace, the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative. Operational partnerships, such as the one NATO established with Australia in Afghanistan, are an additional source of personnel and resources for NATO-led operations. Developing partnerships, especially after 2014, is an increasingly important part of NATO’s work and this was recognised at the Chicago Summit, NATO’s most recent meeting, in May 2012.

The EU

EU member states have a CSDP which covers the mutual defence and security interests of EU member states.

All 27 member states have to agree before a mission can be launched, and member states decide individually whether or not to contribute to each mission, and the extent to which they do so, just as they do in NATO and the UN. The UK decides whether to use our armed forces in each case.

Separately from the CSDP, the EU also considers using economic and diplomatic sanctions when countries violate international law or abuse human rights, and plays a major role in the fight against illicit holding and trafficking of small arms.


The UK ratified the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009. It amended the two treaties which form the EU, the Maastricht Treaty and the Treaty establishing the European Community (TFEU).