Cooperation has become essential for NATO and the UN to cope with the complex demands of modern crisis management. However, the organizations remain uneasy partners. In Afghanistan, NATO and the UN are struggling to stabilize the war-torn country but have been reluctant to cooperate on critical issues. In Libya, the UN Security Council authorized a NATO air operation to protect civilians, only to witness the alliance stretching its mandate to promote regime change. Thus, despite pledges to increase unity of effort in joint missions, NATO and the UN remain keen to guard their independence and have frequently worked at cross-purposes in crisis management.
This study of NATO-UN cooperation in Afghanistan and in Libya suggests that NATO and the UN are likely to make meaningful efforts at cooperation only when both sides require their partner organization's resources to attain their goals. However, if either feasible alternatives to cooperation exist or resource dependence is one-sided, cooperative structures rarely work effectively and the organizations remain reluctant to bring their actions into alignment.
This analysis has important policy implications. Member states can facilitate more effective NATO-UN cooperation in Afghanistan by rebalancing tasks and resources between the military and the UN mission. After the withdrawal of ISAF forces in 2014, UNAMA should become the lead agency to coordinate the international civilian effort. In »stand alone« interventions such as in Libya, it is in NATO's strategic interest to use force only under a Security Council mandate. Mandates which set a clear time limit for interventions would moreover reduce UN concerns about extended NATO engagements and lower the threshold for non-NATO members to authorize allied operations.