Relations with the United Nations

  • Last updated: 07 Apr. 2016 17:32

NATO and the United Nations (UN) share a commitment to maintaining international peace and security. The two organisations have been cooperating in this area since the early 1990s.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon

NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept commits the Alliance to prevent crises, manage conflicts and stabilise post-conflict situations, including by working more closely with NATO’s international partners, most importantly the UN and the European Union.

UN Security Council Resolutions have provided the mandate for NATO’s operations in the Western Balkans, Afghanistan and Libya. They have also provided the framework for NATO’s training mission in Iraq. NATO has also provided support to UN-sponsored operations, including logistical assistance to the African Union’s UN-endorsed peacekeeping operations in Darfur, Sudan, and in Somalia; support for UN disaster-relief operations in Pakistan, following the massive earthquake in 2005; and escorting merchant ships carrying World Food Programme humanitarian supplies off the coast of Somalia.

Over the years, NATO-UN cooperation has been extended beyond operations to include consultations between NATO and UN specialised bodies and agencies on issues such as crisis assessment and management, civil-military cooperation, training and education, logistics, combating human trafficking, mine action, civilian capabilities, women, peace and security, arms control and non-proliferation, and the fight against terrorism.

The complexity of today’s security challenges has required a broader dialogue between NATO and the UN. In 2010, following the signing of the 2008 UN-NATO declaration on cooperation, NATO reinforced its liaison arrangements by establishing the post of NATO Civilian Liaison Officer to the United Nations, in addition to that of a Military Liaison Officer, established in 1999. This enhanced cooperation is an integral part of NATO’s contribution to a Comprehensive Approach to crisis management and operations.

  • Framework for cooperation

    In September 2008, building on the experience of over a decade of working together, the Secretaries General of the two organisations agreed to establish a framework for expanded consultation and cooperation.

    Cooperation is being further developed on issues of common interest, including in communication and information-sharing; capacity-building, training and exercises; lessons learned, planning and support for contingencies; and operational coordination and support.

    Cooperation continues to develop in a practical way, taking into account each organisation’s specific mandate, expertise, procedures and capabilities. There are regular exchanges and dialogue at senior and working levels on political and operational issues. NATO’s Secretary General reports regularly to the UN Secretary-General on progress in UN-mandated NATO-led operations and on other key decisions of the North Atlantic Council in the area of crisis management and in the fight against terrorism. In recent years, staff-level meetings and high-level visits have become more frequent. The UN is frequently invited to attend NATO ministerial meetings and summits, the NATO Secretary General participates in the UN General Assembly, and staff level meetings take place on an annual basis between the Secretariats of NATO and the UN. Similar meetings also take place with other UN organisations, such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and NATO experts participate in events organised by other UN bodies.

    As detailed below, NATO contributes to the work of a number of UN committees and bodies set up to address the challenges of terrorism; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery; promoting the rights and role of women in conflict; the protection of civilians, including protection of children affected by armed conflict; the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons; and disaster relief.

  • Key areas of cooperation


    NATO contributes actively to the work of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee (UN CTC) – established in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1373 in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States – and participates in special meetings of the Committee bringing together international, regional and sub-regional organisations involved in this process. NATO and the UN conduct reciprocal briefings on progress in the area of counter-terrorism, in their respective committees. NATO is also committed to supporting the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.


    NATO contributes to the work of the UN Security Council Committee established following the adoption of UNSCR 1540 (2004), which addresses the threat to international peace and security posed by the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery. In this context, since 2004 the Alliance has been organising a string of international non-proliferation seminars with the active participation of partner countries and international organisations. In addition, NATO addresses the implementation of UNSCR 1540 at regional and sub-regional levels in order to better identify the real needs of countries for assistance.

    Women, peace and security

    NATO remains committed to the full implementation of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and related Resolutions, which are aimed at protecting and promoting women’s rights, role and participation in preventing and ending conflict.  In line with the NATO/Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council Policy, the Alliance has together with its partners made significant progress in implementing the goals set out in these Resolutions.  In this regard, NATO has endorsed a Strategic Progress Report on mainstreaming UNSCR 1325 and related Resolutions into NATO-led operations and missions. Furthermore, in August 2012, the NATO Secretary General appointed a NATO Special Representative for these issuesIn this context and to further advance this work, the Allies have tasked the North Atlantic Council to continue implementing the Policy and the Action Plan; undertake a review of the practical implications of UNSCR 1325 for the conduct of NATO operations and missions; and further integrate gender perspectives into Alliance activities.

    Protecting children in armed conflict

    NATO also remains committed to the implementation of UNSCR 1612 and related Resolutions on the protection of children affected by armed conflict.  At the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, NATO leaders expressed their concern at the growing range of threats to children in armed conflict and strongly condemned that they are increasingly subject to recruitment, sexual violence and targeted attacks.  NATO-led operations, such as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, are taking an active role in preventing, monitoring and responding to violations against children, including through pre-deployment training and a violations alert mechanism.  This approach, based on practical field-oriented measures, demonstrates NATO’s firm commitment on this issue, as does the recent appointment of a NATO Focal Point for Children and Armed Conflict in charge of maintaining a close dialogue with the UN.  NATO-UN cooperation in this field is creating a set of good practices to be integrated in NATO training modules and taken into account in possible future operations.

    Small arms and light weapons

    NATO also contributes to the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in All its Aspects, adopted in July 2001 by nearly 150 countries, including all NATO member states. It consists of measures at the national, regional and global levels in the areas of legislation, destruction of weapons that have been confiscated, seized or collected, as well as international cooperation and assistance to strengthen the ability of states in identifying and tracing illicit arms and light weapons. Every two years, the UN holds the Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action. Through the Ad Hoc Working Group on SALW, established in 1999 within the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, NATO supports the implementation of the Programme of Action with outreach activities, including at regional and sub-regional level.

    Disaster relief

    NATO also cooperates with the UN in support of disaster-relief operations. Through the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC), NATO coordinates consequence-management efforts with UN and other bodies and shares information on disaster assistance. All the EADRCC’s tasks are performed in close cooperation with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), which retains the primary role in the coordination of international disaster-relief operations. The EADRCC is a regional coordination mechanism, supporting and complementing the UN efforts. In the case of a disaster requiring international assistance, it is up to individual NATO member states and partner countries to decide whether to provide assistance, based on information received from the EADRCC.

  • Evolution of NATO-UN cooperation in the field

    Working relations between the United Nations and the Alliance were limited during the Cold War. This changed in 1992, against the background of growing conflict in the Western Balkans, where their respective roles in crisis management led to an intensification of practical cooperation in the field.

    Bringing peace to the former Yugoslavia

    In July 1992, NATO ships belonging to the Alliance's Standing Naval Force Mediterranean, assisted by NATO Maritime Patrol Aircraft, began monitoring operations in the Adriatic in support of a UN arms embargo against all republics of the former Yugoslavia. A few months later, in November 1992, NATO and the Western European Union (WEU) began enforcement operations in support of UN Security Council Resolutions aimed at preventing the escalation of the conflict.

    The readiness of the Alliance to support peacekeeping operations under the authority of the UN Security Council was formally stated by NATO Foreign Ministers in December 1992. A number of measures were subsequently taken, including joint maritime operations under the authority of the NATO and WEU Councils: NATO air operations; close air support for the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR); air strikes to protect UN "Safe Areas"; and contingency planning for other options which the United Nations might take.

    Following the signature of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Dayton Agreement) on 14 December 1995, NATO was given a mandate by the United Nations, on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1031, to implement the military aspects of the peace agreement. NATO’s first peacekeeping operation, the Implementation Force (IFOR), began operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina to fulfill this mandate in December 1995. One year later, it was replaced by a NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR). Throughout their mandates both multinational forces worked closely with other international organisations and humanitarian agencies on the ground, including UN agencies such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN International Police Task Force (IPTF).

    From the onset of the conflict in Kosovo in 1998 and throughout the crisis, close contacts were maintained between the UN Secretary-General and NATO’s Secretary General. Actions were taken by the Alliance in support of UN Security Council Resolutions both during and after the conflict. The Kosovo Force (KFOR) was deployed on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 12 June 1999 to provide an international security presence as the prerequisite for peace and reconstruction of Kosovo. Throughout its deployment, KFOR has worked closely with the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) as well as with other international and local stakeholders.

    In 2000 and 2001, NATO and the United Nations also cooperated successfully in containing major ethnic discord in southern Serbia and preventing a full-blown civil war in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia¹.


    Cooperation between NATO and the UN is playing a key role in Afghanistan. The Alliance formally took over the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a UN-mandated force, in August 2003. Originally tasked with helping to provide security in and around Kabul, ISAF was subsequently authorised by a series of UN Security Council Resolutions to expand its presence into other regions of the country to extend the authority of the central government and to facilitate development and reconstruction.

    NATO and ISAF work closely with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and other international actors that are supporting governance, reconstruction and development. The close cooperation takes place in various settings, in Afghanistan as well as in UN and NATO capitals. It includes co-membership of the Joint Co-ordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB) overseeing the implementation of the internationally endorsed Afghanistan Compact, co-chairmanship together with the Afghan Government of the Executive Steering Committee for Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and other joint Afghan-international community bodies.

    NATO and the UN are also consulting closely on their respective postures in Afghanistan. NATO is keeping the UN well informed of the planning for the NATO-led train, advise, and assist mission that is set to begin in January 2015.


    Under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1546 and at the request of the Iraqi Interim Government, NATO provided assistance in training and equipping Iraqi security forces through the NATO Training Mission-Iraq (NTM-I) from 2004 to end 2011.

    Supporting African Union missions

    In June 2005, following a request from the African Union (AU) and in close coordination with the United Nations and the European Union, NATO agreed to support the African Union’s Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which is trying to end the continuing violence in the Darfur region. NATO assisted by airlifting peacekeepers from African troop-contributing countries to the region and also helped train AU troops in how to run a multinational military headquarters and how to manage intelligence.

    Following a request from the African Union in 2007, NATO accepted to assist the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) by providing airlift support to AU member states willing to deploy on this mission. NATO is also providing capacity-building assistance for the African Union via a Senior Military Liaison Office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Alliance also protects UN shipping in support of AMISOM.

    Deterring piracy

    In October 2008, NATO agreed to a request from the UN Secretary-General to deploy ships off the coast of Somalia to deter piracy and escort merchant ships carrying World Food Programme cargo.


    On 27 March, NATO Allies decided to take on the whole military operation in Libya under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. The purpose of Operation Unified Protector was to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. NATO implemented all military aspects of the UN Resolution.  Allies moved swiftly and decisively to enforce the arms embargo and no-fly zone called for in the resolution, and to take further measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas from attack. Operation Unified Protector was concluded on 31 October 2011.

    1. Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.
  • The North Atlantic Treaty and the UN Charter

    The Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco on 26 June 1945, establishes the overall responsibility of the UN Security Council for international peace and security. NATO’s North Atlantic Treaty signed four years later, on 4 April 1949, makes clear that the UN Charter is the framework within which the Alliance operates. In the Treaty, Allies reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter and commit themselves to the peaceful resolution of conflicts. They also commit themselves to the principle of collective defence, in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter which establishes the inherent right of individual or collective defence of all UN member countries. Collective defence is central to NATO’s founding treaty and commits Allies to protect each other, setting a spirit of solidarity within the Alliance.