A NATO-accredited Centre of Excellence (COE) is a multi-nationally or nationally established and sponsored entity, which offers recognized expertise and experience within a defined subject matter area to the benefit of the Alliance within the four pillars of NATO's COE program. A COE is not a part of the NATO Command Structure (NCS) or of other NATO entities, but forms part of the wider framework that contributes to the functioning of the Alliance.
The idea for NATO-accredited COEs originated in MC 324/1, "The NATO Military Command Structure," dated 14 May 2003. The Military Committee (MC) refined this idea into the MCM-236-03; "MC Concept for Centres of Excellence (COE)" dated 04 December 2003. Once the idea and the concept were firmly established, the accreditation criteria were defined. In 2004, IMSM-0416-04, "NATO COE Accreditation Criteria" was agreed on and the first NATO COE was formally accredited on 01 June 2005. MCM-236-03 has been superseded by MC 0685 (Military Committee Policy for Centres of Excellence) dated 04 December 2019; the NATO COE Accreditation Criteria policy is currently under review.
• No cost to NATO;
• Conform to NATO procedures, doctrines and standards;
• No duplication with existing assets;
• Relationships with Strategic Commands through Memorandum of Understanding agreements;
• Relationships with partners are supported and encouraged.
Not every organization can become a NATO-accredited COE. In order to become a COE, expertise must be demonstrated in at least three of the four transformation pillars.
There are many reasons why a nation or nations, as Framework Nation, decide to offer a Centre of Excellence to NATO. One of the most common reasons is to contribute to NATO whilst at the same time directly benefiting one or more Nations. The number of NATO COEs is growing. Through the MC Concept and the NATO accreditation criteria, COEs have proven to be a successful and enduring model for strong multinational solutions. As a result, the NATO Command and Force Structures are supported by a robust network of COEs, which are nationally or multi-nationally managed and funded and open for participation by NATO and Partner Nations.