North Atlantic Council is the most senior political governing body of NATO, thus it has effective political authority and powers of decision. It consists of Permanent Representatives of all member countries meeting together at least once a week. The Council also meets at higher levels involving Foreign Ministers, Defence Ministers or Heads of Government but it has the same authority and powers of decision-making and its decisions have the same status and validity, at whatever level it meets. The Council has an important public profile and issues declarations and communiques explaining the Alliance’s policies and decisions to the general public and to governments of countries which are not members of NATO.
The Council provides a unique forum for wide-ranging consultation between member governments on all issues affecting their security and is the most important decision-making body in NATO. All member countries of NATO have an equal right to express their views round the Council table. Decisions are the expression of the collective will of member governments arrived at by common consent. All member governments are party to the policies formulated in the Council or under its authority and share in the consensus on which decisions are based.
Each government is represented on the Council by a Permanent Representative with ambassadorial rank. Each Permanent Representative is supported by a political and military staff or delegation to NATO, varying in size.
When the Council meets in this format, it is often referred to as the “Permanent Council”. Twice each year, and sometimes more frequently, the Council meets at Ministerial level, when each nation is represented by its Minister of Foreign Affairs. Meetings of the Council also take place in Defense Ministers Sessions. Summit Meetings, attended by Heads of State or Government, are held whenever particularly important issues have to be addressed or at seminal moments in the evolution of Allied security policy.
At Ministerial Meetings of Foreign Ministers, one country’s Foreign Minister assumes the role of Honorary President. The position rotates annually among the nations in the order of the English alphabet. An Order of Precedence in the Permanent Council is established on the basis of length of service, but at meetings of the Council at any level, Permanent Representatives sit round the table in order of nationality, following the English alphabetical order. The same procedure is followed throughout the NATO committee structure.
Items discussed and decisions taken at meetings of the Council cover all aspects of the Organization?s activities and are frequently based on reports and recommendations prepared by subordinate committees at the Council’s request. Equally, subjects may be raised by any one of the national representatives or by the Secretary General. Permanent Representatives act on instructions from their capitals, informing and explaining the views and policy decisions of their governments to their colleagues round the table. Conversely they report back to their national authorities on the views expressed and positions taken by other governments, informing them of new developments and keeping them abreast of movement towards consensus on important issues or areas where national positions diverge.
When decisions have to be made, action is agreed upon on the basis of unanimity and common accord. There is no voting or decision by majority. Each nation represented at the Council table or on any of its subordinate committees retains complete sovereignty and responsibility for its own decisions.