in: IMI/DFG-VK: Kein Frieden mit der NATO

How Ban Ki-moon subjugated the UN to NATO

UN Secretary-General praises NATO in secret maverick initiative

von: Christoph Marischka | Veröffentlicht am: 6. Januar 2009


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Largely unnoticed, bypassing the structures of the United Nations, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, signed an agreement with NATO back on 23 September 2008. The UN, it must be said, does not seem particularly proud of this document and has kept its content secret. Now, however, it has found its way into the public domain and has triggered fierce criticism, targeted primarily at the UN Secretary-General.

“The Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, welcoming over a decade of cooperation between the United Nations and NATO in support of the work of the United Nations in maintaining international peace and security, …”: these are the opening words of the agreement. The United States, France and Britain – all of them permanent members of the UN Security Council – had put pressure on Ban Ki-moon to sign the document. Russia, which is also a permanent member of the Security Council and is effectively the last remnant of an enemy that NATO still has, got wind of the agreement before the signing and called Ban Ki-moon to account but received only evasive replies.[1] After the signing, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, stated, “Before such agreements are signed, their drafts should be submitted to member states for reading. But in this case this did not happen and the agreement between the secretariats was signed secretly”.[2] “It is obvious that this agreement is an affront against China and Russia as well as against all the non-aligned countries” was the verdict of Alfred de Zayas, former Secretary of the UN Human Rights Committee.[3] The Secretary-General, he said, had exceeded his authority and had allowed the UN to side with a military alliance. It was precisely this partiality, which the UN had displayed on previous occasions, that Zayas blamed in part for the deaths of numerous UN staff in Iraq, since “the Iraqis had regarded the UN as an imperialistic branch of NATO and probably continue to do so even today”.[4]

A peacemaking military alliance armed with nuclear weapons?

Similar criticism was voiced by the Board of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, which stated that such an agreement made it even more difficult to distinguish between NATO and UN missions. The Board asked how likely it was, given the ‘special status’ NATO had now acquired through this agreement, that the Alliance, which already had three member countries with the power of veto in the Security Council, could ever be brought to book for any future infringements of international law. The same Peace Foundation also asked how, under this narrow agreement, the UN could still work for general and complete disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons, since the NATO member countries were responsible for 70% of the world’s military expenditure and since the Alliance reserved the right to use nuclear weapons, even in response to conventional attacks.
The agreement between the UN and NATO, moreover, had been concluded, according to the Board, as if between ‘partners of equal standing’. NATO, however, was a nuclear-based military alliance, whereas the UN was bound by Article 1 of its Charter “to maintain international peace and security, and […] to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace”. The Transnational Foundation also expressed irritation at the timing of the agreement, since the NATO members were currently “engaged in various very sensitive issues – sensitive also among the Security Council members”. These included the crisis in Georgia and the increasingly critical situation in Afghanistan.[5]

The UN as a new vehicle of the United States

Others, however, find the timing ‘significant’ and see a connection with the US elections. President Obama, like his predecessor, George Bush, seeks to preserve the position of the United States as the leading global power. Unlike Bush, however, Obama prefers to use the United Nations as a means to that end rather than bypassing the UN. Accordingly, Barack Obama’s staff of foreign-policy advisers contain numerous ‘ideologists of humanitarian intervention’.[6] One important shift towards this use of the UN as a policy instrument was made with the endorsement of the Responsibility to Protect concept by the World Summit devoted to reform of the UN which marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations and to which the UN-NATO Agreement explicitly refers. By identifying this ‘responsibility’, which is something between a definition and an international legal norm, some states have tried to circumvent the principle of sovereignty and thus the precept of non-interference, thereby establishing legitimacy in international law for nations and military alliances to wage wars of aggression on the pretext of rendering humanitarian assistance. This is exactly how NATO tried to justify its illegal bombing of the rump of Yugoslavia in 1999.

The EU model

If we consider a very similar agreement, the Joint Declaration which was signed almost five years earlier to the day, namely on 24 September 2003, between the EU and the UN, there is every reason to fear a future increase in NATO interventions under its own command but with a UN mandate. The 2003 declaration began as follows, with almost the same wording as the UN-NATO agreement:
“The Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Presidency of the Council of the European Union welcome the existing co-operation between the United Nations and the European Union in the area of civilian and military crisis management, in particular in the Balkans and in Africa”.[7]
The agreement with NATO emphasises “the importance of establishing a framework for consultation and dialogue and cooperation” between the UN and NATO secretariats in order to “further develop the cooperation between our organizations on issues of common interest, in, but not limited to, communication and information-sharing, including on issues pertaining to the protection of civilian populations; capacity-building, training and exercises; lessons learned, planning and support for contingencies; and operational coordination and support”. In this case too, the UN-EU document from five years earlier contains almost identical formulations. The important point, which is rather alarming in its implications for the UN-NATO accord, is that the undertakings made in the earlier document were far from being empty promises. Following the adoption of the Joint Declaration, an EU-UN Steering Committee was set up and drafted an ‘implementation programme’ in which the EU vaunted its conflict-resolution capabilities and made specific proposals as to how it could intervene in the framework of UN operations or complement or replace such operations. The EU, however, also made it clear during this process that it no longer wished to place any of its troops under UN command in future; if it intervened, it would do so itself – provided that such intervention served its interests.[8]
The close coordination that resulted between the EU and the UN was brought to bear for the first time barely two years later, when the EU decided to send its own mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to oversee the elections, parallel to the United Nations’ MONUC mission. The UN-mandated mission in Chad and the Central African Republic was also arranged between the two organisations on a somewhat informal basis. Since then, the word in Brussels has been that, at least as far as Africa is concerned, the EU can obtain a mandate quickly from the UN for any operation if it wants one. That may be rather presumptuous, but it clearly demonstrates the arrogance with which the EU has now come to treat the United Nations too. It does indeed seem to be true that the UN Secretariat-General can be prevailed upon at any time to make an ‘official request’ or an ‘official approach’ for assistance if the EU wishes to conduct a military operation. In November and December 2008, a letter from Ban Ki-moon to the Belgian Foreign Minister was universally categorised as such an approach, which provided the advocates of another EU intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with a powerful argument.

The UN as a cloak and Ban Ki-moon as a puppet

Another common feature of both declarations is their misrepresentation or embellishment of previous cooperation. The joint declaration with the EU praised the latter’s commitment in the Balkans and the Congo, while the agreement with NATO praises the Alliance’s missions in Bosnia and Afghanistan. In all of these cases, the UN did not exactly cover itself in glory by delegating responsibilities to the EU and NATO and giving its retrospective approval to wars of aggression, thereby allowing both the EU in Africa and the Balkans and NATO in the Balkans and Afghanistan to go on developing successfully into military intervention alliances. At least in Bosnia, but surely throughout Africa too, it may be said that member countries of the EU and NATO have weakened the United Nations by providing scarcely any support for the latter’s own missions and merely waiting for the call to act as firefighters.
The new agreement with NATO threatens to consolidate further the cooperation that has evolved between NATO, the EU and the UN. While the UN itself performs long-term missions in geopolitically uninteresting regions under its own command, NATO intervenes – with or without a UN mandate – in places where it can pursue its own interests. The EU follows these up with UN-mandated stabilisation missions and occasionally carries out exercise-type operations in Africa in order to develop its capacities for such missions. For this reason, many UN staff members and supporters are now demanding a thorough and open-ended debate on the document that has hitherto been kept secret. They are sharply critical of Ban Ki-moon, and rightly so, for with this agreement he is jeopardising the neutrality, and hence the legitimacy, of the UN, and he himself is being perceived as a puppet of the United States. “The unique importance of the United Nations” actually seems to have been reduced to “lending legitimacy in international law to a use of military force that is becoming necessary”, as the Federal Ministry of Defence put it in its draft for a White Paper on the future of the Bundeswehr back in 2006.[9]


[1] RIA Novosti, UN and NATO sign Secret Military Cooperation Agreement in Violation of UN Charter – Ban Ki-moon acting beyond his powers, 9 October 2008)

[2] RIA Novosti, Russia stunned by UN-NATO cooperation deal, 9 October 2008

[3] Alfred de Zayas, ‘Verstoss gegen Uno-Charta’, in Zeit-Fragen, No 48

[4] Karl Müller, ‘Geheimabkommen zwischen Uno und Nato kann nicht im Sinne der Weltgemeinschaft sein’, in Zeit-Fragen, No 48.

[5] TFF PeaceTips, Breaking News… Secret UN-NATO Cooperation Declaration, 3 December 2008.

[6] Jürgen Wagner, ‘Change We Can´t – Barack Obama, der Siegeszug der „War-Democrats“ und die Re-Vitalisierung der NATO’, in AUSDRUCK, December 2008.

[7] Council of the European Union, Joint Declaration on UN-EU Co-operation in Crisis Management (CL03-310EN)

[8] Christoph Marischka, ‘Battlegroups mit UN-Mandat – Wie die Vereinten Nationen die europäische Rekolonialisierung Afrikas unterstützen’, in Studien zur Militarisierung Europas, 31/2007

[9] Martin Kutscha, Abschied von der Friedensstaatlichkeit? – Stellungnahme zum Entwurf eines „Weißbuchs zur Sicherheitspolitik Deutschlands und zur Zukunft der Bundeswehr, 28 April 2006