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NATO’s relations with the United Nations

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

Over the years, cooperation has broadened to include consultations between NATO and UN specialised bodies on issues such as crisis management, civil-military cooperation, combating human trafficking, mine action, civil emergency planning, women and peace and security, arms control and non-proliferation, and the fight against terrorism.

In September 2008, the UN and NATO established a framework for expanded consultation and cooperation between the two organizations. This will help both organizations to address threats and challenges more effectively.

Close cooperation between NATO and the UN and its agencies is an important element in the development of an international “Comprehensive Approach” to crisis management and operations.

The UN is at the core of the framework of international organizations within which the Alliance operates, a principle that is enshrined in NATO’s founding treaty.

UN Security Council resolutions have provided the mandate for NATO’s operations in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, and 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.

Framework for NATO-UN cooperation

NATO’s Secretary General reports regularly to the UN Secretary General on progress in 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.

In September 2008, building on the experience of over a decade of working together, the Secretaries General of the two organizations agreed to establish a framework for expanded consultation and cooperation. This will include regular exchanges and dialogue at senior and working levels on political and operational issues. Increasing cooperation will significantly contribute to addressing the threats and challenges that the international community faces.

Within this framework, cooperation will be further developed between NATO and the UN 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 will continue to develop in a practical fashion, taking into account each organization’s specific mandate, expertise, procedures and capabilities.

Staff-level meetings also take place with other UN organizations, such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), and NATO experts participate in events organized by other UN bodies.

NATO also contributes actively to the work of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee (UN CTC) – established in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 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 organizations 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.

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 between the two organizations 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 organizations 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).

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 provide security in and around Kabul, ISAF has subsequently been authorized 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.

The practical close work also covers cooperation between UNAMA, ISAF and the NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Kabul on civil-military issues such as operational planning. Beyond Kabul city, close civil-military cooperation between UNAMA and ISAF is also being pursued in those provinces where both ISAF and UNAMA are present. This practical work is now being developed comprehensively in the context of UNAMA’s Integrated Approach to selected prioritized Afghan districts.


Under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1546 and at the request of the Iraqi Interim Government, NATO is providing assistance in training and equipping Iraqi security forces.

Supporting African Union missions

In June 2005, following a request from the African Union 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 expertise in the area of air movement coordination and military manpower management.

Deterring piracy

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

The North Atlantic Treaty and the UN Charter

The Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco on 26 June 1945 by fifty nations, provides the legal basis for the creation of NATO and acknowledges the overall responsibility of the UN Security Council for international peace and security.

The preamble to NATO’s North Atlantic Treaty signed in Washington on 4 April 1949 makes it clear that the UN Charter is the framework within which the Alliance operates. In its opening phrases, the signatories of the Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter.

In Article 1 they also undertake to settle international disputes by peaceful means and to refrain from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the UN Charter.

Article 5 of the Treaty makes explicit reference to Article 51 of the UN Charter in asserting the right of the Allies to take, individually or collectively, such action as they deem necessary for their self-defence. Moreover, it commits the member countries to terminating any armed attack and all measures taken as a result, when the UN Security Council has itself taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

Further reference to the UN Charter can be found in Article 7 of the North Atlantic Treaty. It states that the Treaty does not affect and shall not be interpreted as affecting in any way the rights and obligations of Allies under the Charter, and reaffirms the primary responsibility of the UN Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security.

And finally, in Article 12, a clause was included in the Treaty providing for it to be reviewed after ten years, if any of the Parties to it so requested. It stipulated that the review would take place in the light of new developments affecting peace and security in the North Atlantic area, including the development of universal and regional arrangements under the UN Charter.

  1. Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.