Relations with the United Nations
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, in support of peace-support and crisis-management operations. The complexity of today’s security challenges has required a broader dialogue between NATO and the UN. This has led to reinforced cooperation and liaison arrangements between the staff of the two organisations, as well as UN specialised agencies.
- NATO and the United Nations were both founded in the 1940s, in the aftermath of the Second World War, to preserve peace and security. NATO’s North Atlantic Treaty operates within the framework of the United Nations Charter – including Article 51, which establishes the inherent right of individual or collective defence of all UN member countries.
- The two organisations began working together on issues of common concern in the 1990s, and signed a framework for expanded consultation and cooperation in September 2008. An updated Joint Declaration setting out plans for future cooperation between NATO and the UN was signed on 26 October 2018.
- NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept, the Alliance’s core policy document, commits NATO to preventing crises, managing conflicts and stabilising post-conflict situations by reinforcing its coordination and cooperation with the United Nations and the European Union.
- UN Security Council Resolutions have provided the mandate for NATO’s operations in the Western Balkans, Afghanistan and Libya, as well as for NATO’s first 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 in 2005; escorts for merchant ships carrying World Food Programme humanitarian supplies off the coast of Somalia; and airlift delivery of a field hospital to Ghana during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In support of UN peace operations, NATO launched in 2020 a defence capacity building initiative, which strengthens the UN Regional Service Centre in Entebbe, Uganda by providing peacekeeper training in key areas, like countering IEDs, medical care, IT/communications and performance evaluation.
- Practical cooperation between NATO and the UN extends beyond operations to include: crisis assessment and management; civil-military cooperation; training and education; tackling corruption in the defence sector; mine action; mitigating the threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs); arms control and non-proliferation; the fight against terrorism; Women, Peace and Security; and topics of human security.
- Framework for cooperation
- Key areas of cooperation
- Evolution of NATO-UN cooperation in the field
- The North Atlantic Treaty and the UN Charter
In September 2008, building on the experience of over a decade of working together, the Secretaries General of both NATO and the United Nations (UN) agreed to establish a framework for expanded consultation and cooperation.
Since the signing of the 2008 framework, cooperation has continued to develop in a practical way, taking into account each organisation’s specific mandate, expertise, procedures and capabilities. Regular exchanges and dialogue at senior and working levels on political and operational issues have become a standard feature of the inter-institutional relationship. 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, including in the area of crisis management and in the fight against terrorism.
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, covering the broad range of cooperation and dialogue, take place on an annual basis between the secretariats of NATO and the UN. In 2018, the Secretaries General agreed to renew this commitment for enhanced cooperation and dialogue in areas of common interest, including on countering the threat posed by improvised explosive devices; capacity building and defence sector reform; the protection of civilians; children and armed conflict; Women, Peace and Security; the Youth, Peace and Security agenda; and cyber defence.
In 2010, NATO reinforced existing 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.
Key areas of cooperation
NATO’s unique capabilities and experience can be a valuable source of support to the UN, whose peacekeepers operate in increasingly challenging and dangerous environments. NATO and UN staff have worked to build practical cooperation in this domain.
At the 2015 Leaders’ Summit on Peacekeeping, the NATO Secretary General pledged to enhance support to the UN, particularly in the areas of countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs), training and preparedness, supporting the UN’s efforts to deploy more rapidly, and working more closely on capacity-building in countries at risk, with both the UN and the EU. In 2020, NATO launched a defence capacity building initiative, which offers Allied expertise for peacekeeper training support in areas including countering IEDs, medical care, ICT/communications and performance evaluation. The package aims to strengthen the UN’s ability to mount and sustain peacekeeping operations by enhancing operational performance and the safety and security of UN peacekeepers. As the UN reforms its approach to peace operations, NATO will continue to look for where its support can make a difference.
The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, international conventions and protocols against terrorism, together with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions provide the framework for NATO’s efforts to combat terrorism. NATO works closely at staff and committee levels with the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee (UN CTC) and its Executive Directorate, as well as with the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and many of its component organisations. The Terrorism Prevention Branch of the UN Organisation for Drugs and Crime is also an important partner for NATO.
NATO is working closely with the UN and other international organisations to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to defend against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.
NATO contributes to the work of the UN Security Council Committee established following the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution (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. Since 2004, the Alliance has organised the Annual Conference on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation with the active participation of partner countries and international organisations.
The latest event, held in April 2023 and attended by UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu, explored how NATO Allies and partners could bolster the existing global arms control regimes, principally the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions, during a deeply challenging period for arms control. NATO Allies and partners face ongoing threats from Russia’s continued violations and withdrawals from international arms control agreements, China’s rapid growth of its nuclear arsenal without any transparency, challenges from Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes, as well as new technologies like artificial intelligence.
NATO has also addressed the implementation of UNSCR 1540 at regional and sub-regional levels, including through its Science for Peace and Security Programme, and will continue to address the need for assistance of partner countries upon request.
Women, Peace and Security
NATO remains committed to the full implementation of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and related Resolutions, which aim to promote women’s rights, increase women’s participation in preventing and ending conflict, and protect women and girls from conflict-related sexual violence. In line with the policy developed by NATO Allies, together with partners in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), significant progress has been made in implementing the goals set out in these Resolutions.
The NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security regularly addresses the UN Security Council on the occasion of the Open Debates on Women, Peace and Security, and on conflict-related sexual violence, highlighting the work undertaken by NATO to implement the resolutions.
Building on the UNSCR 1325 framework, NATO revised its policy on Women, Peace and Security in 2018, introducing policy principles of integration, inclusiveness and integrity. NATO has engaged on a regular basis with the UN on a number of initiatives, including NATO’s first Policy on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, which was endorsed by NATO Leaders at the 2021 Brussels Summit. The two organisations have also joined efforts to draft the NATO Policy on Combating Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, to support lessons learned and good practices, and to promote the development of national action plans for NATO member countries.
Protecting children in armed conflict
NATO is committed to the implementation of UNSCR 1612 and related resolutions on the protection of children affected by armed conflict.
At the 2023 Vilnius Summit, NATO Leaders endorsed the NATO Policy on Children and Armed Conflict to ensure the Alliance is sufficiently prepared to prevent, monitor, respond to and report on grave violations and other serious violations or abuses against children in all aspects of the Alliance’s operations, missions and activities. The policy, which drew upon the expertise of UN personnel in this area, seeks to align NATO’s political and operational considerations with advances in international best practices and guidance as well as progress in the UN Security Council related to children and armed conflict. It also ensures that the Alliance continues to engage with the UN throughout all stages of NATO operations and missions to identify and analyse possible threats.
The 2023 policy takes stock of lessons learned and best practices from the implementation of the 2015 NATO document “Protection of Children in Armed Conflict – Way Forward”, which was developed in close cooperation with the UN and other partners and approved by the North Atlantic Council in March 2015.
Small arms and light weapons
NATO supports the implementation of the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), adopted in July 2001 by nearly 150 countries, including all NATO member states. The Alliance also participates in UN experts’ meetings and review conferences. The NATO/EAPC Ad Hoc Working Group on SALW and Mine Action provides a key forum for sharing information with organisations such as the UN to enhance coordination and avoid duplication of work. NATO’s Trust Fund mechanism was established in 1999 to support partner countries in implementing provisions of the Ottawa Convention (also known as the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Convention) and now extends to areas including the disposal of ammunition, small arms and defence reform. Moreover, NATO supports nations in implementing the Arms Trade Treaty that entered into force in December 2014 through training and application of standards.
NATO has also worked closely with UN agencies to develop international standards for ammunition life-cycle management, such as the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines. NATO has published guidelines on gender mainstreaming in the area of SALW based on standards developed by the UN under the International Small Arms Control Standards and UNSCR 1325. The Alliance also strives to support regional and sub-regional efforts with the UN and partners beyond the EAPC area in managing SALW, ammunition and explosive remnants of war. In this context, NATO developed some capacities through its Science for Peace and Security Programme.
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 UN 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 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 that the UN 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 fulfil this mandate in December 1995. One year later, it was replaced by the 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 North Macedonia (then known as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).
Cooperation between NATO and the UN played 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 worked closely with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and other international actors supporting governance, reconstruction and development. The close cooperation took place in various settings, in Afghanistan as well as in UN and NATO capitals. It included co-membership of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB) overseeing the implementation of the internationally endorsed Afghanistan Compact, co-chairing together with the Afghan Government the Executive Steering Committee for Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and other joint Afghan-international community bodies.
NATO continued to keep the UN well informed during the follow-on Resolute Support Mission, which ended in early September 2021.
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 AU’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 helped train AU troops in how to run a multinational military headquarters and how to manage intelligence.
Following a request from the AU in 2007, NATO assisted the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) by providing airlift support to AU member states deployed on this mission. NATO is also providing capacity-building assistance for the AU via a Senior Military Liaison Office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
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 2011, 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 Security Council 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 concluded on 31 October 2011.
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 protecting each other, creating a spirit of solidarity within the Alliance.