NATO provides a unique opportunity for member countries to consult and take decisions on security issues at all levels and in a variety of fields. All NATO decisions are made by consensus, after discussion and consultation among member countries.
A decision reached by consensus is an agreement reached by common consent, a decision that is accepted by each member country. This means that when a “NATO decision” is announced, it is the expression of the collective will of all the sovereign states that are members of the Alliance.
This principle is applied at every committee level, and demonstrates clearly that NATO decisions are collective decisions made by its member countries.
What does this mean in practice?
Consensus decision-making means that there is no voting at NATO. Consultations take place until a decision that is acceptable to all is reached. Sometimes member countries agree to disagree on an issue. In general, this negotiation process is rapid since members consult each other on a regular basis and therefore often know and understand each other’s positions in advance. Facilitating the process of consultation is one of the NATO Secretary General’s main tasks.
How did this policy evolve?
Consensus has been accepted as the sole basis for decision-making in NATO since the creation of the Alliance in 1949. This principle remains in place. The consensus principle applies throughout NATO.