Varying cultures and ideologies have a significant impact on the degree of civil-military cooperation, a problem which has been emphasized by past and present relief workers and by military personnel. In general, relief workers see themselves as nonviolent people who have dedicated part of their lives to assist those who are less fortunate, while in most cases peacekeepers are soldiers trained for war. These different mindsets and ideologies contribute to the negative perceptions that many members of these groups have of the other.
Some military personnel perceive relief workers as peace activists left over from the 1960s, and they tend to underrate the importance of NGOs in humanitarian crises. This has been manifested by military personnel through chauvinistic attitudes, arrogance, and the dismissal of information and opinions offered by relief workers. This disrespect for relief workers can easily destroy the already fragile level of cooperation and coordination existing on the ground. In turn, some relief workers view military personnel as macho machine-gun-toting cowboys.
The organizational structures of UN forces and NGOS are for the most part polar opposites. The field command and control structure of a UN peacekeeping force is vertical. Authority flows from top to bottom, from the Force Commander to the commanding officers of national contingents to platoon commanders to the individual soldier in the field. By contrast, the operational structure of most professional NGOs is horizontal and fluid, with significant decision-making authority lodged at the site with the most information, usually in the field. Many NGOs follow a consensus-based approach. These varying structures hamper cooperation and coordination on several grounds. For example, because some NGOs and peacekeepers are unfamiliar with the other's organizational structure, they have difficulty establishing a compatible communications link with the appropriate contact or decision-maker.
Many NGOs refuse to accept military assistance, believing that it undermines their independence or compromises other principles. Some such NGOs have accepted limited military assistance in the form of logistics and security support in situations of extreme violence. Some, however, refuse military assistance in almost any circumstance. One such organization is the ICRC, where "only on direct order from ICRC headquarters will delegates even converse with any military force, let alone work with them operationally." Many NGOs oppose military assistance in the belief that being seen with any military organization, including peacekeepers, can increase the chances that the NGO will be attacked and/or denied permission to travel freely.
The use of force is one of the most contentious elements in the civil-military relationship. The threat or use of force, whether appropriate or not, can singlehandedly terminate civil-military cooperation and coordination. In many situations, UN peacekeepers and civilian components of joint humanitarian operations have very different attitudes and interpretations regarding the use of force.