Thursday, 27 January 2022
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A review of NATO Defence College Forum Paper No 2

The paper's author is currently a researcher on the staff of the NATO Defence College but previously she was a senior civil servant in the French MoD. The paper demonstrates her comprehensive understanding of this subject in all its complexities, interactions and perceptions and can be regarded as a reference work on the topic.

The initiative for this paper is drawn from the Riga Summit Declaration in November 2006:
'Peace, Security and Development are more interconnected than ever'. That declaration was
to a large extent an admission that relations between NATO and the Non Governmental
Organisations (NGOs) in crisis response operations were in need of significant improvement.
This paper suggests the stabilisation and reconstruction phase as being the most fruitful and
problematic challenge for the relationship.

It starts by considering whether cooperation between NATO and the NGOs is a step in
NATO's transformation given that the concept of security is no longer confined to the military
domain and has expanded to embrace all the principal characteristics of a nation state. In
this context the author reflects on the UN view of the increasingly complex humanitarian
intervention operations and provides evidence that the old 3-phased approach to such
conflicts no longer works.

It is widely recognised that the stabilisation and reconstruction phase is critical to the success
of an operation but NATO has no definition for stabilisation despite stressing its importance
for the success of intervention. For the US stability operations are a core mission equal in
importance to combat operations. An interesting observation by the author is that in
intervention operations NATO and associated governments assume that actors should
behave in a rational manner, which in contemporary times is a very questionable

Many readers may be surprised to learn that there is no definition of an NGO, it being
mentioned for the first time in Article 71 of the UN Charter. There are tens of thousands of
such organisations but there are only 260 major Western NGOs that specialise in
humanitarian assistance. The paper considers the institutional culture of NGOs and explains
their move towards more professionalism and accountability in the need for legitimacy and

The use of the term 'humanitarian' brings its own difficulties in this context and can be
interpreted quite differently by military and civilian actors depending upon the circumstances
and the aims of the respective organisations. According to International Humanitarian Law
(IHL) relief for a population can only be described as humanitarian if it meets all the
principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality. It is the application of these fundamental
principles that creates the main difficulties in the NATO-NGO relationship. Whereas these
principles apply to all actors there is a fourth principle, that of independence, that is specific
to NGOs and stipulates that NGOs cannot be directly subordinate to any government or
inter-government organisation.

The author quite rightly points out that both military and civilian actors are very critical of
each other in other ways, some due to circumstances, others arising from differences in
culture. It is these difficulties that have led the NGOs to attempt to codify the
humanitarian/military relationship and recognises that interaction is both inevitable as well as
a source of difficulties. In particular, the principle of liaison and interaction is normally seen
as desirable, if only to differentiate NGOs more clearly from the military. The important point
that is repeated later in the paper is that while many NGOs are willing to coordinate with
military forces, no NGO would agree to be coordinated by the military.

The relations between NGOs and military forces are complex and different depending on
whether those forces are UN, US or NATO. There are two existing cooperation frameworks,
one UN and the other US that the author helpfully explains in some detail prior to addressing
the particular NATO problem. The UN has taken a 3-step approach starting in 1991 up until
2006 and has a very solid relationship with NGOs. However, in the effort to provide a
coherent structure for both civil and military resources for aid, development and
peacekeeping, the UN has imposed a system of integration that restricts the independence
of the NGOs. The paper explains these steps in some detail leading up to the 'Cluster
Approach' of 2005 and has resulted in NGOs being highly critical claiming that it
subordinated them to the UN agenda. The result is that the framework is under more stress
than ever before that is undermining the good work previously achieved on common
principles and codes of conduct.

The framework developed by the US is somewhat different. US NGOs enjoy a degree of
legitimacy and freedom that comes with a better status and are often directly asked to pursue
US economic and international policy objectives. Furthermore, US aid is frequently only
offered to 'friendly' nations and is conditional, normally today in terms of supporting the war
on terrorism. The US is adopting the same approach to stabilisation and reconstruction
operations and its application can be seen clearly in Iraq. There are a number of proposals
under consideration or development by the US to improve the US-NGO framework but in all
of them the NGOs are regarded as the instruments of policy that has been decided without
consulting them.

NATO's Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) doctrine was reviewed post Balkans operations in
2003. The point about CIMIC is that it is directly concerned with creating and sustaining
conditions in support of Alliance objectives in operations. It recognises the desirability of
common goals and the integration of military/civil planning but acknowledges that the NGOs
may pursue other goals. Within the CIMIC framework there exists interaction at all levels
and specific agreements are in place as well as mutual training and education opportunities.
Before putting forward proposals for more effective relations between NATO and NGOs, the
paper examines three aspects that must be defined and understood before progress can be
made. Firstly, NATO's mission in stabilisation operations, secondly, the objectives of
improved interaction and lastly the criteria for interaction/cooperation. The author analyses
these aspects quite rigorously.

From this it is clear that at any level NGOs are reluctant to enter into a process of integration
and that from NATO's perspective the best they can probably achieve is enhanced
cooperation. It is suggested that such enhanced cooperation is most likely to be achieved in
fields where the NGOs fields of competence are close to military issues e.g. mine clearance.
Therefore NATO's objective in the relationship should be to recognise the complementary
value that each brings to the table.

The paper concludes by arguing a pragmatic 3-pronged approach of: developing cultural
interoperability through dialogue and training, making full use of the UN mechanism of
cooperation with NGOs and establishing a consultative and advisory cell at HQ NATO level.
For anyone who is involved or working in the civil/military cooperation field this paper is a
very useful reference work. It describes in detail the complex framework developed by the
UN, US and NATO in their separate relations with NGOs, albeit there is an 'alphabet soup'
that is almost inevitable in any description of UN or NATO organisation. The paper is well
structured and despite the complexity of the topic, it is written with a degree of clarity that
helps the reader's understanding. Equally useful are the 3 annexes that describe the NGO
networks at the UN; the Main Codes of Conduct and Principle; and the Red Cross and
Crescent Movement.

All NDC papers can be viewed through the NATO Defence College website: (under 'knowledge portal' + publications).
Copies of papers may be obtained direct from the NATO Defence College, Academic
Research Branch, Via Giorgio Pelosi, 1-00143 ROME, Italy.
Tel: 00 39 06 50525 241/732; fax: 00 39 06 50525 797; or by e-mail to
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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