Is there a role for NATO Stability Policing in Environmental Protection?

By Stefano Bergonzini 

From "The CoESPU MAGAZINE" no. 1 - 2021

Section: "Environmental Protection in Destabilized Areas and Field Mission Environmental Sustainability", page 22

DOI Code: 10.32048/Coespumagazine1.21.4

What is Environmental Protection (EP)?

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary[1] defines “the environment” as “the natural world, especially as affected by human activity”, identifying the fundamental relation linking deeds by humankind with their effects on nature.

Human beings as individuals or members of a group may endanger and attack the environment, but they may also play a positive role resulting in the prevention, mitigation and the proactive contrasting of threats, violations, as well as damages and destruction. Two fundamental aspects can therefore be considered in EP, namely the compliance, when abiding to rules and norms, and its contrary (i.e. the non-compliance), when violations, transgressions and crimes are committed. The latter perspective encompasses law enforcement and therefore it is also a NATO Stability Policing’s concern, both when reinforcing and/or temporary replacing indigenous police forces (IPF).


Environmental Protection Global Players

            The United Nation Environmental Programme (UNEP)[2] is the most significant global initiative encompassing the United Nations Environment Assembly and Governing Council, the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment scene.[3] Seven broad thematic areas include climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, chemicals and waste, resource efficiency, and environment under review; all topics abide to an overarching sustainability.[4] UNEP also hosts the secretariats of many critical multilateral environmental agreements and research bodies, bringing together nations and the environmental community to tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time.[5]

Other active International Organizations (IOs) include the European Union (EU), INTERPOL and NATO.

The EU has a significant body of EP initiatives, including Article 3 of the Treaty on the European Union[6] and Articles 11 and 191-193 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.[7] Within the EU, key environment topics are related to actions.[8]

The EU has a range of laws to improve environmental standards for Europeans and protect their quality of life and it ensures that national governments correctly implement these environmental laws.[9]

Another global player in EP is the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), which dedicates one of its remits exclusively to combating environmental crimes. [10] Its website proclaims that borders do not restrict environmental crimes, which indeed range from ivory trafficking and overfishing of protected species, to illegal logging and the dumping of hazardous waste. Smuggling wildlife often follows routes used to trafficking weapons, cultural property, drugs and people, while environmental crime often occurs hand in hand with other offences. Unlike other illegally traded goods, natural resources are finite and cannot be replenished in a lab, hence there is a sense of urgency to combat environmental crime.[11]


Environmental Protection within NATO

The protection of the environment is primarily a responsibility of Nations, often enshrined in their constitution[12], due to their function as overarching entity endowed with rights and duties combining politics, population and territory. NATO, as a political and military organization was established[13] to defend its signatories and recognizes that climate change has a demonstrable impact on Allied security and shapes the security conditions under which NATO and its adversaries operate. In 2014, NATO adopted the Green Defence framework, which aspires to reduce the environmental footprint of its military operations and improve NATO’s resilience by investing in green technologies that reduce fuel consumption, energy dependencies, mission footprints and long, vulnerable supply lines. [14] In this regard, NATO defines environment as “The surroundings in which an organization operates, including air, water, land, natural resources, flora, fauna, humans, and their interrelations.”[15] Neither the Washington Treaty[16] establishing the Alliance, nor the NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)[17] or the Paris Protocol[18] mention EP. But the Wales Summit Declaration mentions “Key environmental and resource constraints, including health risks, climate change, water scarcity, and increasing energy needs will further shape the future security environment in areas of concern to NATO and have the potential to significantly affect NATO planning and operations.[19] Moreover, NATO acknowledges the need to step up many environmental challenges and climate change. In particular, the Alliance is working to reduce the environmental effects of military activities and to respond to security challenges emanating from the environment.[20]

NATO's current activities related to the natural environment include protecting the environment from damaging effects of military operations but also promoting environmentally friendly management practices in training areas and during operations as well as adapting military assets to a hostile physical environment. It encompasses preparing for and responding to natural and man-made disasters, addressing the impact of climate change, educating military officers on all aspects of environmental challenges as well as supporting partner countries in building local capabilities, enhancing energy efficiency and fossil fuel independence and finally building environmentally friendly infrastructures. All these activities fall under two broad categories, namely Environmental protection, consisting in protecting the physical and natural environment from the harmful and detrimental impact of military activities on one side, and Environmental security, which addresses security challenges emanating from the physical and natural environment, on the other.[21]

Furthermore, the Military Committee established NATO’s military EP principles and policies in support of all NATO-led military activities.[22] In particular, it defined the responsibilities of NATO Commanders, Commanders of units from all participating NATO Nations and non-NATO Troop Contributing Nations, for EP during the preparation for and execution of military activities.[23] In operations, the conundrum between operational imperatives and EP principles will result in the primacy of the former[24], while in exercises EP policies normally prevail.

EP standards may vary during missions and require an Environmental Management System.[25] The minimum EP standard is to hand back areas used by NATO in no worse environmental condition than they were received.[26] Further Allied EP publications cover EP best practices and standards for military camps in NATO operations[27], EP during NATO-led military activities[28], NATO environmental file during NATO-led activities[29], environmental sampling protocols[30] and best environmental protection practices for sustainability of military training areas[31]. These land-oriented NATO standards are mirrored by Allied Maritime Environmental Protection Publication (AMEPP from 1 to 9).

            NATO commanders and their staff should rely upon their LEGAD and environmental specialists to know the applicable environment protection laws and standards, to understand environmental issues, and recommend appropriate solutions. In order to implement EP properly, it should be incorporated in the commander’s policy and guidance, planning and the actual conduct of an exercise of NA5CRO[32]. Disregarding EP may lead to unnecessary environmental damage that might impact civilian populations, create bad publicity (i.e. jeopardize the Alliance’s battle of narrative) and lead to loss of public support of the mission.[33]

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg on the 17th of September of 2020 participated in a NATO seminar on security and the environment jointly organized by the delegations of Italy and the United Kingdom linking climate change and the security environment, NATO planning and operations. NATO Allies agree on the need to adapt to future threats and challenges over the next decade and beyond, issues that are part of the Secretary General’s NATO 2030 reflection process.  Climate change is already addressed by the Alliance in its 2010 strategic concept, which highlights it as one of the factors that will “shape the future security environment in areas of concern to NATO and have the potential to significantly affect NATO planning and operations”.[34] Moreover, during his address at the Human Security conference held on 25 February 2020, he stated that NATO will continually update its standards to better recognise the full range of threats and risks to populations, words that might equally be directed to dangers derived from or impacting on the environment as these directly influence populations.[35]


What is NATO Stability Policing?

Stability Policing (SP) is a concept developed within NATO[36], but applied also by other International Organizations[37], responding to the policing-related needs of a Host Nation’s population, if no other HN or external actor (IPF, IO etc.) is present or can intervene timely and/or effectively[38]. Overcoming a combat-only approach to crisis response, SP expands the reach of the military instrument into the policing remit[39]. Thereby it contributes in a comprehensive approach to win the war while aiming at building peace.

            The Allied Joint Doctrine for Stability Policing[40] defines SP as “Police related activities intended to reinforce or temporarily replace the indigenous police in order to contribute to the restoration and/or upholding of the public order and security, rule of law, and the protection of human rights” and envisions two missions. The reinforcement[41] of the IPF, consists in intervening on their capabilities[42] and capacity[43] to raise overall performance. When the IPF are missing or unwilling to carry out their duties, their temporary replacement by SP could be the only deployable solution until other actors from the International Community (IC) intervene and/or take over as a follow-on force.

A substitution[44] mission is likely to co-exist with a Police Capacity Building (PCB) one, to allow a disengagement of forces external to the HN. Executive SP missions require a North Atlantic Council (NAC) decision[45] endowing SP assets with an executive policing mandate. [46] In such a case, SP elements enforce international and applicable HN law to create effects on the adversary, conducting the so-called “legal targeting”. This may include the investigation or detention/arrest of irregular actors[47] such as war, organized and transnational criminals, terrorists and insurgents. It could consist in limiting their mobility and restricting their freedom of action, seizing their assets and financial means[48] as well as dismantling their networks and structures.

SP can be performed in all three NATO core tasks (collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security), within all operations themes (from peacetime military engagement to warfighting) and before, during as well as after (armed) conflicts and manmade or natural disasters. It is normally encompassed within NATO stability operations and consists of the performance of stability, enabling, defensive and offensive activities in the remit of policing.

Since irregular actors operate on land, sea and in the air, in cyberspace as well as in the information environment, SP does likewise, but it is generally “land -heavy”.

A key, if not formalised, SP principle proclaims, “Everybody can contribute to SP, but not everyone can do everything”. [49] This allows the Alliance to select the best suiting participants and to draw from a multitude of force providers from Allied Nations. SP actors include Gendarmerie-type forces, which are the first choice[50], the Military Police and other military forces; under a comprehensive approach, also non-military actors including police forces with civilian status, IOs, NGOs, and contractors[51]. Any trained and equipped unit or asset can conduct basic SP activities and tasks, while higher-level standards must be applied when considerable policing expertise and experience are required, e.g. for investigating international crimes and terrorism or advising the senior HN leadership.

Policing is very different from soldiering, but urban challenges may progressively blur police and military responsibilities; in fact, military operations in densely populated areas will require military personnel to have policing-like skills[52].


NATO Stability Policing contribution to Environmental Protection

The SP contribution to EP may consist in both the IPF reinforcement and/or temporary replacement in the specific remit. SP aspects concerning EP may contribute to an overall re-establishment of the Rule of Law (ROL)[53], support a frail Justice Sector (Police, Judiciary and Corrections) and improve the HN governance by following a number of Lines of Operation[54].

All executive law enforcement endeavours can and should be mirrored by suitable and HN-tailored capability/capacity building initiatives within the HN. Experience showed that planning, preparing, resourcing and executing PCB should as much as practicable respond and abide to HN requirements and culture. Co-designing is likely to yield positive results by wedding the HN local knowledge and understanding with outside expertise and innovative solutions.

There is a host of evidence[55] linking crimes against the environment to organized criminal groups. Also other irregular actors in fragile states may take advantage from the HN government’s reduced law enforcement action, capabilities and capacity, not only to expand their illegal activities, but also to spoil any stabilization, peace or development process. As such all these actors become adversaries for Stability Policing, which, when deployed, seeks to support stability before, during and after crises or conflicts, to foster peace and contribute to creating the conditions for social, cultural and economic improvements. This may take two avenues of approach, in accordance with the SP missions, namely replacing and reinforcing the IPF.

In performing executive law enforcement in the field of EP, SP tasks may fall within five activities.

Within these broad remits, specific tasks are accomplished in support of EP. In fact, SP assets, may patrol seeking to gather information about sites generating, stocking and treating waste, with a particular attention to hazardous or toxic materials. Surveillance of these locations might help developing an understanding of the modii operandi of criminal individuals, organized groups and networks. The analysis of such law enforcement information generates law enforcement intelligence that can be used by the whole Allied force to acquire a better situational awareness and to improve its common operating picture. If significant criminal activity is suspected, an intelligence-led policing approach can determine where and how to act best. Placing a cordon might in fact ensure the critical site security for a water purification plant or protect people from coming in contact with pollutants, toxic substances or radiations; it might also allow to conduct a search to seize evidence. If the presence of contaminants or poisons is documented, a crime scene investigation is conducted to determine the level of hazard for the surrounding populace. Immediate dangers might determine an evacuation, an escort to a safer area and in general operate a control of movement of populations, refugees, and IDPs to keep them safe. SP assets furthermore collect and ensure the custody of evidence, while forensic activities at the spot or at a deployed laboratory can reveal further information about the culprits. Biometrics can help uncloaking them from anonymity and lead to their detention/arrest also in support of war-crime tribunals and international courts. Trafficking waste, including toxic and radioactive, within countries but also across one or more national and even continental borders, can be validly contrasted by SP only through effective criminal investigations. Following and tracking the goods allows to identify the source, transit and destination areas or countries, but also means, ways and operating methods. Analysing the resulting illicit monetary flows generates information about white-collar actors, corruption, money-laundering and other related financial crimes. It furthermore allows to seize this sources of illegal revenue, depriving criminal organizations of these resources, which in turn is conducive to their dismantling. Should criminals pose a severe threat, high risk arrests can be executed by robust, specialised SP assets. If irregular actors such as terrorists or insurgents utilise improvised explosive devices in combination with biological, chemical or radiological agents, SP can support weapons intelligence teams with their technical expertise and authority as law enforcement operators. Conducting interviews, questioning, interrogation and recording voluntary statements, SP can collect and document grievances and testimonies. During traffic policing and implementing SP checkpoints, SP operators can control people and goods also to ascertain if and how dangerous materials, waste and pollutants are moved and by whom. By controlling public establishments, SP assets verify their safety and abidance to environmental parameters or may detect and tackle administrative violations.

In a non- executive mission. SP performs 7 activities.

In practise, monitoring might imply SP assets inspecting an IPF compound to verify their abiding to established emission levels (noise in a shooting range), observe the actions of IPF personnel within a training unit to acquire an understanding of their waste management or conducting a survey among EP inspectors to measure their professional background. In an interview, questions about EP policies may establish the current status of HN organizations, while audits may help identifying financial and budgeting perspectives also in relation to EP. Analysis and writing a report result in elaborating and transmitting data for further action. In generating forces, budgeting aspects should include the reduction of waste, recruiting could include EP specialists and experts and the selection of candidates might enhance environmentally sound individuals over EP-indifferent ones. The vetting process should include background checks for violations and crimes against the environment. In organizing, SP personnel might include EP subject matters in the analysis of training requirements and training needs, while designing and developing formation offers should include a general awareness about EP for all personnel and specific products for EP specialist and EP investigators. In the implementation and evaluation of trainings, EP-specific matters and courses need to be included in theory and practice, at individual and collective level, including in exercises. Enabling the IPF and HN might include developing EP policies, doctrines as well as tactics, techniques and procedures, provide specific services such as internship programmes or personnel exchange, build, rebuild and maintain facilities and infrastructure abiding to EP norms and principles, but also EP-specific ones, such as including recycling areas. Managing equipment and material delivery and maintenance should foster minimizing the production of waste and maximise the collection, reprocessing and reuse of resources. Sharing information about EP threats supports creating awareness, helps preventing wrong actions by HN personnel, but also protects them and the environment from hazards and dangers. Advising encompasses informing about EP best practises, but also recommending proper courses of actions and liaising to ensure a correct flow of information. Mentoring could mean coaching a police station commander to become more EP sensitive, but also guide his superior in presenting the topic correctly to his subordinates enforcing corrective measures for transgressions but also rewarding useful initiatives and actions. Developing an investigator’s skill in updating his professional knowledge in air or water sampling but also influencing his attitudes and views may foster self-improvement and enhance professional abilities. In certain cases, supporting IPF operators or governance personnel through funding, transportation or secure communication can mean the difference between their success or failure.


NATO Stability Policing Environmental Protection Teams

Specialized SP EP teams (SPEPT) can be deployed as part of a NATO Stability Policing Unit (SPU), to prevent and investigate the whole range of EP-related violations, transgression and crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. With an extensive background acquired in years of focused EP law enforcement in their own countries and abroad their expertise and qualifications encompass international and national legal instruments and a “culture” of environmental protection. SPEPT members often possess further degrees in environmental and other sciences such as geology, topography, ecology, chemistry, zoology and social or atmospheric science.

                   Trained and equipped to identify, understand, locate (GIS verification) and guarding Natural Heritage sites[56] or sites of EP significance, they may acquire EP and crime-related information to feed the intelligence cycle about environmental hazards. These specialists can contribute to the prevention, deterrence and investigation of EP-related crimes, terrorist and insurgent attacks, and identify and seize illicit revenue from trafficking waste or toxic materials. They may concurrently participate in EP-related capacity building of IPF and, if mandated, other actors within the HN. Creating an EP awareness is key and may involve political actors at all levels, members of the HN governance but should also be conducted holistically in civilian and military education and training facilities.

                   Showing children and teaching pupils correct behaviours and involving them in practical activities, including games may have extremely rewarding results. In different bilateral engagements, personnel of the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela dell’Ambiente (Carabinieri Command for the Protection of the Environment)[57] conducted EP enforcement and capacity building endeavours. Some major successes were registered in Djibouti, where a police capacity building activity trained 12 gendarmes as EP specialists in a newly established unit. At the same time, lessons to local school children resulted in the Minister of Educations’ interest and appreciation, leading to the introduction of a nation-wide monthly “day of the environment”. The Palestinian Authorities also required a similar training action. These activities were widely publicized by social, local and national media[58], contributing to the further dissemination of the EP message.


Conclusions and Key Takeaways

Current and future conflicts and crises may be caused by threats to and from the environment or affect the latter and require holistic approaches, which cannot disregard the contribution by law enforcement. Stability Policing can be a flexible and adaptable instrument to address capability and capacity gaps of HNs, particularly the IPF, but also the Judiciary and Corrections, as well as other institutions of governance including in the remit of EP.

Absence of or inadequacies in law enforcement may therefore be filled by SP reinforcement and/or temporary replacement activities and tasks. These seek to identify, prevent and punish EP violations, transgressions and crimes by irregular actors, including by HN forces and foster a widespread culture of respect for limited natural resources and heritage.

The deployment of SP EP specialists may provide the crucial expertise and experience necessary to defy threats and create HN capabilities and capacity improving resilience and contributing to sustainable and peaceful development.







Figure 1 UNEA symbol, taken from unep-celebrate-50-years-work-2022


Figure 2 NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, taken from


Figure 3 the emblem of the NATO SP CoE


Figure 4 Preserving a Crime Scene in NATO Operations Course at NATO SP CoE


Figure 5 Carabinieri for the Protection of the Environment in Djibouti during MIADIT 10 mission


Figure 6 Carabinieri for the Protection of the Environment in Palestine during MIADIT 11 mission


Figure 7 Guardia Civil SEPRONA


Figure 8 Carabinieri for the Protection of the Environment in Djibouti during MIADIT 10 mission


Figure 9 Carabinieri for the Protection of the Environment in Palestine during MIADIT 11 mission


[1] The NATO Terminology Directive PO(2015)0193-AS1 of 16 April 2015 identifies the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED) as the official basis for English NATO Terminology.


[3] 26969.199290943.1614184477-1095729201.1614184477



[6] Article 3 ‘high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment’

[7] Articles 11 “Environmental protection”, “policies, activities”,”sustainable development”objectives:” preserving, protecting and improving the quality of the environment”, “combating climate change.”


[9] Directive 2005/35/EC on ship-source pollution and on the introduction of penalties for infringements and EU law against environmental crime: EU law against environmental crime: SUMMARY OF: Directive 2008/99/EC – protecting the environment by means of criminal law.



[12] Art. 9 of the Constitution of the Italian Republic states “The Republic promotes the development of culture and of scientific and technical research. It safeguards natural landscape and the historical and artistic heritage of the Nation.”

[13] The North Atlantic Treaty was signed on the 04th of April 1949

[14] NATO United for a New Era, 25 November 2020

[15] NATO Agreed term


[17] Agreement between the Parties to the North Atlantic Treaty regarding the Status of their Forces, signed 19.06.1951, London.

[18] Protocol on the Status of International Military Headquarters set up pursuant to the North Atlantic Treaty, Paris 28 August 1952



[21] Adapted from

[22] MC 469/1, NATO Military Principles and Policies for Environmental Protection (EP), 14 October 2011

[23] MC 469/1, paragraph 4

[24] NATO Environmental Policy Implemented: on Land, at Sea and in the Air by Lieutenant Colonel Ben Valk, NATO Legal Gazette, Issue 40, page 46.

[25] See AJEPP-3 Environmental Management System in NATO Operations

[26] See AJEPP-3

[27] AJEPP-2

[28] AJEPP-4

[29] AJEPP-6

[30] AJEPP-6.1

[31] AJEPP-7

[32] Non Article 5 crisis response operations, also include peace support operations.

[33] NATO Environmental Policy Implemented: on Land, at Sea and in the Air by Lieutenant Colonel Ben Valk, NATO Legal Gazette, Issue 40, Conclusion page 54.



[36] Derived from the Multinational Specialized Unit (MSU) designed and led by the Italian Carabinieri and deployed to Bosnia in August 1998 within the NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR).

[37] EU, AU, UN, use different taxonomy and dedicated ways and means.

[38] This capability/capacity vacuum is often referred to as “security” or “policing gap”.

[39] MC 362/1 and MC 362/2 infer that civilian law enforcement may not be a NATO function, but NATO may support or conduct it, if so directed by the North Atlantic Council (NAC), see also AJP-3.22, the “Allied Joint Publication for Stability Policing”

[40] AJP-3.22 was promulgated in July 2016.

[41] SP activities: monitoring, mentoring, advising, reforming, training and partnering with (MMARTP); ATP-103 “Replacement and Reinforcement of Host Nation Police Forces” being drafted, seeks to adopt the MGOTEAM framework: monitoring generating, organizing, training, enabling, advising, mentoring.

[42]Capability, the ability to create an effect through employment of an integrated set of aspects categorized as doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership development, personnel, facilities, and interoperability” NATO Agreed term

[43] Capacity, for this paper intended as a capability expressed in quantitative terms.

[44] Substitution i.e. replacement.

[45] That may follow a UNSCR or an invitation by the HN

[46] See UNSCR 1244 Kosovo and UNSCR 1272 East Timor

[47] The use or threat of force by irregular forces, groups or individuals, frequently ideologically or criminally motivated, to effect or prevent change as a challenge to governance and authority. NATO Agreed term

[48] See MCM-0053-2019 “Capstone Concept – Joint Military Operations in Urban Environment” for further details.

[49] “All” may refer to forces, services, assets, Subject Matter Experts (SME) etc.

[50] AJP-3.21 “Allied Joint Doctrine for Military Police” para 2.6.3

[51] AJP-3.22 “on the basis of the mandate and the environment being permissive

[52] See MCM-0053-2019 “Capstone Concept – Joint Military Operations in Urban Environment” for further details.

[53] The rule of law refers to “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards” UN Security Council, S/2004/616, para 6

[54] LoO “A path linking decisive conditions to achieve an objective” NATO Agreed Term

[55],https://www.inte,,http ://

[56] 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage

[57] The Carabinieri Nucleo Operativo Ecologico (NOE) founded in Italy on 01.12.1968 is the first police unit in the world specialized in EP, in 1988 the Spanish Guardia Civil established the Servicio de Proteccion de la Naturaleza (SEPRONA);

[58] E.g. La Nation, Djibouti, 11.12.2018, page 3 and Il Corriere della Sera, 23.12.2018, page 11