The Encyclopedia
of Differences

What's the Difference Between NATO and the UN?

Table of Contents

If I'm not mistaken, you have probably been hearing a lot about NATO these days as a sense of strain lives between Russia and Ukraine. With that being said, getting baffled over the aims, objectives of NATO and how it is different from the United Nations (UN) is a pretty common thing. The following write-up will help you resolve the query once and for all.

What are the differences between NATO and the UN?

The main difference between NATO and the UN is that NATO reflects an alliance formed by around 30 countries aiming to defend each other during the war and other similar unpleasant scenarios. At the same time, the UN strategizes to pack all the nations together by offering them a platform to fix various kinds of issues.

However, the differentiating factors aren't limited to that only. Please read all the way through as I uncover all the elements one by one but before that, let's understand what these organizations are.

What is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)?

flag of nato
Flag of NATO

With NATO, we're looking at an intergovernmental military organization formed by collaborating 27 European nations alongside 2 North American and one Eurasian country. Constituting a collective security system, NATO came into existence four years after the conclusion of World War II. Abbreviating to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO aims at maintaining peace and order over the Atlantic region by countering all forms of Soviet and communist power.

What is the United Nations (UN)?

flag of united nations
Flag of United Nations

Established on 24th October 1945, the United Nations (or the UN) is the successor to the League of Nations. Aiming for worldwide scope and membership for peace and integrity, the UN made into the scene right after the Second World War. Besides maintaining global peace and security, the UN operates to develop jovial relations among the countries while respecting self-determination and equal rights at a higher level of flexibility. Moreover, the organization strives to achieve worldwide cooperation for resolving international issues that form a part of the economic, social, humanitarian, and cultural lives.

Differences Between NATO and UN


The term NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization, while UN abbreviates to the United Nations.


It was 4th April 1949 when NATO was established. On the contrary, the United Nations became operational right after the Second World War, on 24th October 1945.


Although established in Washington, D.C., the United States, the headquarters of NATO is in Brussels, Belgium. The same for the UN is in New York City.

Number of Member Nations

As of 2022, NATO forms an alliance between 30 countries, of which 27 are in Europe, one country is in Eurasia, and the other 2 are in North America. Unlike NATO, the UN is more like a global organization and lists 193 countries together as its member nations.

Prime Objective

The main motive behind the existence of NATO is to help the member nations counter all forms of soviet and communist power. Meanwhile, the United Nations aims at offering ways to maintain peace between nations. While the former focuses more on securing peace and order in the Atlantic, the latter looks after resolving issues revolving around economy and international relationships.

First Secretary-General

The concept of Secretary-General for NATO made it to the scene on 24th March 1952, and Hastings Ismay, 1st Baron Ismay became the first person to get honored with the position. However, on 1st February 1946, a few months after the establishment, Trygve Halvdan Lie was elected as the first Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Operational Genre

In case you don't know, the operational genre is another factor that differentiates the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from the United Nations. Aiming to defend the member countries from war or similar activities, NATO tags itself under the military-based operational genre, while the same rests on the social end for the UN.

Type of Organization

NATO is considered a military organization. On the other hand, the UN makes you look at a political organization.

Comparison Chart: NATO Vs UN

Full FormNorth Atlantic Treaty OrganizationUnited Nations
Establishment4th April 194924th October 1945
HeadquartersBrussels, BelgiumNew York City
Number of Member Nations30193
Prime ObjectiveThe main motive behind the existence of NATO is to help the member nations counter all forms of soviet and communist power. It aims focuses more on securing peace and order in the Atlantic.The United Nations aims at offering ways to maintain peace between nations through socio-economic international relationships.
First Secretary GeneralHastings Ismay, 1st Baron IsmayTrygve Halvdan Lie
Operational GenreMilitarySocial
Type of OrganizationMilitaryPolitical

Similarities Between NATO and UN

Although not at the microscopic level, a few factors place NATO and UN under the same roof. Both the organizations are pretty similar in the way they are organized. They bear a structure that roots into several groups. Also, they have similar individual positions like a Secretary-General, Secretariat, and more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the UN a part of NATO?

No, the UN and NATO are two different organizations. However, according to the North Atlantic Treaty, which was signed four years after the UN came into force, it is clear that the UN Charter is the framework within which the Alliance works.

Which is stronger: NATO or UN?

On paper, indeed, the UN appears to be the most dominant and powerful organization as compared to NATO, primarily because it can impose any form of sanctions on any country worldwide. However, the perfect answer to this question depends on the prevailing situation.


And with that, I'm done walking you through the key points that positions UN and NATO on different boxes. Undoubtedly, both organizations reflect an alliance of nations; everything from the establishment to operational value hits different. While one focuses more on social integrity, the other packs an aim to defend and fight back when a member country suffers a military attack.


Feel free to comment and discuss about the article in the comment space below if you have any information or remarks to add. If you think we made a mistake, you can also report it there.
Share our Article on:

Table of Contents

About the Author: Tom Vincent

Tom Vincent graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics and social studies. He then started his higher education at the University of François Rabelais in Tours with a DUT Information Communication. To expand his knowledge, he also followed a professional degree in e-commerce and digital marketing at the Lumière University of Lyon. On this project, he is in charge of articles covering language, industry and social.
All Posts Written By Tom Vincent

One comment on “What's the Difference Between NATO and the UN?”

  1. Thank you Mr. Vincent for your clearly written and easily understood comparison of these two Post WWII-created organizations. Wish so very much that NATO received as much publicity and therefore support as the socially-purposed and frequently unproductive UN.
    Concerned and Financially-Supporting (current conflict) Naturalized U.S. Citizen,

    Lorna Piercy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

magnifiercrosschevron-downarrow-right linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram