Australia and NATO

Australia and NATO


The larger part of Australian deployments to Afghanistan are under NATO-led International Security Assistance Force command. NATO and Australia have established a framework for counter-terrorism cooperation. These relationships are part of NATO’s wider exploration of a global partnership, particularly in East Asia and the Pacific.

Government sources

Australian government

Australia and NATO to Cooperate  on Counter-Terrorism, Media release, Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1 April 2005. 

“The NATO Secretary General Mr Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and I have today agreed that Australia and NATO’s newly established Terrorist Threat Intelligence Unit will exchange counter-terrorism information and assessments to boost our respective capacities to meet one of world’s most pressing challenges.”

Enhanced Cooperation with NATO in a New Security Environment, Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia, 19 May 2004


Video Background Briefing, James Appathurai, NATO Spokesman, 4 April 2005

“The Secretary General at the end of March spent a lot of time in the plane on a very long tour to the south, to Asia, to Australia, to New Zealand and to Japan. These are three countries that contribute quite a lot to peace and security in areas where NATO is heavily engaged as well–in Afghanistan, also in Iraq and in the Balkans.”

“The discussions in Australia and New Zealand as I mentioned focused on what all of us can do together, NATO and these countries, and can do alongside each other in these critical, strategically important areas of Afghanistan, the Balkans and in Iraq of course. Australia and New Zealand are countries with which NATO has what you might say are ad hoc relations.”

“With Japan, NATO has a slightly more structured relationship, a strategic dialogue, where there are biannual strategic level, high level discussions held alternately in Japan or here at NATO Headquarters and led generally from the NATO side by the Deputy Secretary General. NATO and Japan have a security agreement, in other words an agreement on the exchange of classified information.”

“The Secretary General signed a similar agreement with Australia when he was there so that we could, between Australia and NATO, exchange classified information.”


NATO and Australia

Australia’s Last Priority: Lessons for the future of NATO’s global partnerships, Stephan Frühling & Benjamin Schreer, IP Global, 2009

Despite the superficial attraction of a truly global NATO role, it is thus more credible and attractive for NATO to maintain the current “customer approach,” in which the alliance largely leaves it up to its partners to define their desired areas of cooperation. Moreover, the direct costs to the alliance of the current approach are small—in financial terms, and because it entails little commitment by the alliance to the partners. However, the political framework of NATO’s relationships based on a customer approach lacks a clear sense of purpose and strategy. If NATO wants to continue at the present level of cooperation, it needs to make the inherent limit of its ambitions explicit and clear. If it does not, mundane technical exchanges or cooperation on operations with countries like Australia will continue to elicit either a sense of lost opportunity, or of a dangerous slippery slope, and thereby perpetuate disagreements and mistrust within the alliance, with its partners, and with third countries.

Courted by Europe? Advancing Australia’s relations with the European Union in the new security environment, Nina Markovic, APH, 2009-07-14 [PDF, 560KB]

Australia and the EU’s cooperation on security in a broader sense is a way forward in overcoming mutual differences and focusing on common goals. In this regard, the inclusion of Australia as a strategic partner of the EU in the Asia Pacific region could only be of benefit to both parties. Australia might also need to adjust in the foreseeable future—diplomatically, strategically and politically—to the EU’s growing collective weight and global agenda in the international arena. 

NATO, Australia and the Future Partnership, Rod Lyon, ASPI, April 14, 2008

“Australia and NATO have to think harder about their emerging partnership. There are some big issues involved here, including the role that NATO might play in Asia. Australia would be keen to ensure that NATO’s partnerships in Asia support the transition to a regional security order where regional countries carry more of the weight.”

PM Frustrated Over Lack of NATO Self-Scrutiny, Michelle Grattan, Age, April 5, 2008

“Kevin Rudd has failed to win NATO’s agreement to put a firm timetable on measuring the effectiveness of its Afghanistan strategy – especially efforts to combat the production of opium. Mr Rudd announced $62 million more to help Afghanistan and reaffirmed Australia was there for ‘the long haul’.”

NATO Nations Vow Extra Troops for Afghanistan, Louise Yaxley with Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, ABC, April 4, 2008

“The NATO summit in Bucharest has agreed to send more troops to Afghanistan, but it’s not clear yet on just how many more. The largest new contribution will be from France which is sending a battalion of up to a thousand troops to eastern Afghanistan. Australia, which has the largest non-NATO troop commitment in Afghanistan, says it’s a good outcome.”

NATO needs long-term Afghan plan: Rudd, SMH, March 19, 2008

“Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says he will attend next month’s NATO summit in Bucharest to ensure it adopts a strategy for long-term success in Afghanistan. “The reason I am going to Bucharest to attend the summit is very clear-cut – I want to be confident that NATO collectively and the European contributors to it have embarked on a long-term strategy to secure success in Afghanistan and against fixed benchmarks,” he told reporters.”

Cooperation with non-member states, NATO, Wikipedia.

Canberra to sign security pact with NATO, David Nason, Australian, September 22, 2007

“Australia will sign a treaty with NATO in a move that will boost security and intelligence ties and assist the evolution of the 60-year-old Cold War alliance of democracies into a global force. The treaty is due to be signed in New York next week by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Australia is officially a NATO “contact country”, but the expression does not cover the depth of the relationship, which has strengthened considerably since Diggers deployed in Afghanistan began operating under NATO command two years ago.”

“A spokesman for Mr Downer said yesterday the treaty would give Australia access to NATO security assessments, including those on international terrorism, and to operational matters affecting Australian Defence Force personnel. He said the document would go before parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties for final ratification.”

Giuliani proposes Aust join NATO, PM, ABC Radio, 20 September, 2007.

“We should open the organisation’s membership to any willing state, that meets basic standards of good governance, military readiness, global responsibility, regardless of location. Just think of how helpful it would be if some of the countries that are vital allies of ours were able to participate in NATO. So I think we should consider countries such as Australia, Singapore, India, Israel, Japan, they should be considered for membership in NATO. And there are probably a whole group of others that we could put on that list.”

“SIMON SANTOW: Alan Dupont believes a move towards Europe and North America would only reinforce those feelings and risk alienating neighbours.

ALAN DUPONT: It does beg the question of why would Australia be joining? How would it be different form all these other organisations? And what about the principle of people in this region dealing with their own security problems? Why would it be necessary to have the Europeans buy into our problems and vice versa for that matter?

“SIMON SANTOW: The Foreign Minister’s office told PM Australia already has a working relationship with NATO and there are no plans to make that relationship any more formal by joining the organisation.”

NATO and Asia

NATO and Asia: An Emerging Relationship, W. Bruce Weinrod, Global Asia Vol.3, Number 3, Fall 2008

Over time, NATO and Asia can establish two separate but related relationships. On one track, NATO and interested Asian nations can develop increased security cooperation and prepare not only for military operations when necessary, but also for civil-military missions that address the challenges of failed states and failed territories within nations. On a second track, interested nations that share broadly the political values of NATO can join in a network of democracies that may be able to work together for common purposes. Given the fact that NATO already serves as a global security forum, one can envision NATO becoming the framework for a global democratic security community. Already, five Asian democracies participate with like-minded nations in NATO forums and discussions. Shaping this into a more formal structure is worth serious consideration.


Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Additional research: Arabella imhoff
Updated:12 January 2010