NATO: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization

by Allison Bartlett and Eric Wuestewald [ Center for International Stabilization and Recovery ]

The excess accumulation and illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons stockpiles are tremendous problems around the globe. SA/LW are relatively easy to acquire and these weapons help give rise to and prolong conflicts.1 SA/LW leakage is often due to poor security and negligence in both the state and civilian sectors. Unfortunately, the people who suffer most from this problem are civilians. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with the assistance of the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency, has established initiatives to combat excess stockpiles and improper stockpile maintenance through the implementation of physical security and stockpile management practices.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an intergovernmental military alliance that came into being in 1949. The main goal of this organization is to safeguard the freedom and security of member nations. The creation of NATO helped standardize allied military terminology, procedures and technology. The organization started with 12 member nations and has grown to include a total of 28 member nations with 22 partner nations.

NATO’s Role in Arms Control

When the Cold War ended, a sharp increase in accessible weapons and European armed conflicts demanded a comprehensive agreement to curb the growing threat of violence. As a result, NATO and Warsaw Pact countries came together for a series of negotiations known as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. During the CSCE, both alliances came to an agreement and signed the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. The CFE Treaty created greater transparency in European arms control, imposed legally binding limits on five categories of equipment—battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft and combat helicopters—and included provisions for comprehensive information exchange and notifications.2

Since the implementation of the treaty, NATO has removed or destroyed more than 50,000 pieces of equipment. Under the reformed CSCE—now known as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe—NATO has also supported the implementation of security-building measures such as the Vienna Document,3 which emphasizes the importance of regional cooperation and transparency of a state’s military activity, and the Open Skies Treaty, which permits observation flights over national territory. NATO’s main role in arms control has further evolved from a reactionary measure into a forum for decision-making and consultation to all of its members. The 1999 Strategic Concept of the Alliance emphasizes this transformation, detailing the tactical importance of arms control to achieve security objectives and NATO’s continued commitment to develop arms trade agreements.4

Organizations Working in Consort with NATO

The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Conference of National Armaments Directors Ammunition Safety Group are important organizations that work with NATO to control and eliminate small arms and light weapons stockpiles. The EAPC brings together NATO Allies and its Partner nations5 in a forum for discussion on political and security-related issues. Monthly meetings are held at the ambassador level to discuss a wide range of topics, including crisis-management and peace-support operations, regional issues, arms control, issues related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, armaments cooperation and scientific cooperation, among others. In addition to providing a forum, the EAPC promotes and coordinates cooperation and the exchange of expertise in areas such as security and the proliferation of SA/LW and weapons of mass destruction.6

The council also provides the political framework for NATO’s cooperation with Partner countries in the Euro-Atlantic region and the individual Partner countries under the Partnership for Peace Programme, thereby enhancing and strengthening the relationships among these nations. In creating these partnerships, EAPC allows for a free exchange of views during conferences and seminars, a condition which is vital to ensuring long-term cooperation, consultation and cross-party consensus on international security issues.

In 1999, EAPC furthered its conversations on excess and illicitly trafficked SA/LW into an Ad Hoc Working Group to promote discussion, understanding and coordination. Since then, the AHWG has worked with NATO’s international staff to develop a series of workshops on physical security and stockpile management, destruction technologies and techniques, promotion of regional security, and illicit brokering in SA/LW, among others.7

In addition to the EAPC, NATO works with the Conference of National Armaments Directors Ammunition Safety Group. The CNAD established the CASG in 2003 to be responsible for munitions and explosives.8 This group provides a forum for NATO, Partner, and Mediterranean Dialogue9 Nations to discuss guidance on munitions and explosive safety, as well as to develop standards for munitions. The forum also provides procedural guidance in order to foster interoperability in NATO-led operations. Under the CASG, six subgroups deal with specific munitions and explosive goals and guidelines: energetic materials, initiation systems, munitions systems, transport logistics, logistic storage and disposal, and operational ammunition safety.

NAMSA and the Partnership for Peace Trust Fund

In 1958, NATO established the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency as its principal support management agency and gave the agency the task of assisting NATO nations with the procurement and supply of parts and repairs for weapons systems. In addition to assisting NATO nations, NAMSA has taken the lead in many demilitarization projects for the destruction of conventional munitions, light weapons and anti-personnel landmines. NAMSA has also made a number of important agreements to support nations under the Partnership for Peace initiative, which promotes arms control outside of NATO nations and is a necessary step toward eliminating the threat of excess or illicitly trafficked SA/LW.

Another important step toward eliminating the threats posed by excess or illicitly trafficked SA/LW was the establishment of the Partnership for Peace Trust Fund in 2000 under the Ottawa Mine Ban Convention to assist PfP nations with the destruction of landmine stocks. The scope of the Trust Fund has since expanded to include the destruction of SA/LW and surplus munitions and improving physical security and stockpile management. The Trust Fund provides a legal framework and practical mechanisms for projects dealing with the removal of surplus weapons and ammunition. These projects are funded on a voluntary basis by NATO nations.10 In addition, PfP nations can request external help with their projects from other nations or organizations, but host nations are expected to provide the maximum project support that is within their financial means. The host nation is also responsible for appointing an Executive Agent to handle the technical and financial aspects of the project; NAMSA is often the Executive Agent.

Between 2000 and 2010 alone, Trust Fund projects have helped destroy 105 million small arms ammunition, 220,000 small arms and light weapons, more than 4.1 million landmines, 2 million hand grenades, 550,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance, 8,700 tonnes of munitions, 2,300 tonnes of chemicals, 1,000 man-portable air defense systems, and 530 high-altitude anti-aircraft missiles.11

Leading the Way

NATO and its many associate organizations play an integral role in reducing SA/LW and munitions stockpiles. Through NATO and its many programs, a wide range of nations come together to discuss the issues, problems, and potential solutions relating to excess, unstable, or otherwise at-risk SA/LW and munitions stockpiles, working toward the elimination of such threats. NATO is setting a positive precedent for the rest of the world to follow in terms of SA/LW and munitions surpluses and stockpiles. j


Allison BartlettAllison Bartlett was an Editorial Assistant for The Journal of ERW and Mine Action from October 2009 until July 2010. She graduated from James Madison University in May 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs and minored in Business Spanish and Latin American Studies.

Eric WuestewaldEric Wuestewald has worked for the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery since May 2009 as an Editorial Assistant for The Journal of ERW and Mine Action. In August 2010 he was hired as Content Editor for The Journal. He graduated from James Madison University in May 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in creative writing.


  1. “Small Arms and Light Weapons and Mine Action.” North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Accessed 23 April 2010.
  2. “Chapter 6: The Alliance’s Role in Arms Control. Developments Relating to Conventional Arms Control and Disarmament. The Adaption of the CFE Treaty.” NATO Handbook. Accessed 23 April 2010.
  3. “Vienna Document.” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Accessed 23 April 2010.
  4. “Chapter 2: The Transformation of the Alliance. The Strategic Concept of the Alliance.” NATO Handbook. Accessed 23 April 2010.
  5. NATO Allies are all of the nations that are members of the organization while Partner nations work with NATO but are not members of the organization. More information can be found at
  6. “The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.” North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Accessed 23 April 2010.
  7. “Report of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council on its Activities in Support of the Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects.” 2006 UN Review Conference. Accessed 5 August 2010.
  8. “Introduction.” CNAD Ammunition Safety Group (AC/326).
    . Accessed 23 April 2010.
  9. NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue was created by the North Atlantic Council in 1994 to link security in the Mediterranean with Europe. Member nations include Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. Additional information can be found at
  10. “Background.” NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency.  Accessed 23 April 2010.
  11. E-mail interview with Erin de Glanville, Arms Control and Coordination Section, Political Affairs and Security Policy Division. NATO. 14 July 2010.

Contact Information

Allison Bartlett and Eric Wuestewald
Editorial Assistants
The Journal of ERW and Mine Action
Mine Action Information Center
Center for International Stabilization and Recovery
James Madison University