(The Humanitarian Social Network)
At a workshop with some military types last week, the concept of HA/DR (humanitarian assistance/disaster response) came up, as understood in the military (U.S. Marines) vs. civilian contexts. The "go get 'em" culture of the military came through loud and clear, as you can imagine. The civilian "we'll call you when we need you (like in tsunami-land or Haiti)" refrain came through as well. Given that we are looking at the "end" of two wars for the U.S. military, and Defense is looking hard at every dime it spends, what should be the future of the military's role in HA/DR? Is there a role? And if there is, in the nature of being a last resort option, what can be done to make sure that everyone is on the same page with regards to how to do aid (or HA/DR) in the hectic hours after a mega-disaster hits?
I absolutely see a role for "The Military" in establishing and maintaining humanitarian space. The challenge is that what this looks like in practice varies greatly from situation to situation, and - like most humanitarian work - defies generalization. For example, I was personally very grateful for USMC support and protection in Haiti where they were very good at establishing and maintaining safety perimeters during during relief distributions in Port-au-Prince. Aid workers, like myself, would have most definitely been in danger (as would beneficiaries) had there not been an active, visible military tour de force. On the other hand, in contexts like Afghanistan it is clear that while a foreign military presence in general is a crucial ingredient in maintaining the peace (such as it is), at the level of individual relief and development ops, the presence of uniformed, armed military actually puts relief workers (and beneficiaries) at increased risk in many instances. What this tells me is that while there is a role in principle, what that role is exactly is very highly context specific. Moreover, my sense - maybe I'm wrong - is that aid NGOs/Workers are generally better trained and more adept at reading those specific contexts.
I completely agree that the folks actually on the ground and with local contextual understanding are better than the fly-in's at sorting out what's happening on the ground from a security perspective. In the DC bubble I now inhabit, broadly speaking that principle is understood in uniformed circles. What's perplexing to see is that some military actors want to "get in on" the action of humanitarian assistance type work...and they can, given what they wield from a dollars, lobbying, and materiel perspective which dwarfs the civilian (government) stage. They will continue to be actors (and in the Asia-Pacific region in particular...). Wondering about what kind of NGO or non-government civilian coordinated outreach is out there to mitigate the behemoth that is the DOD, especially once a response/mission/action is "turned on."
I'm not aware of any specific, assertive coordinated outreach by the NGOs to The Military. My sense is that the aid community basically expects everyone to come to them via their own traditional mechanisms (so in DC, the vast range of InterAction working groups, meetings, briefings...)
I'm not based in DC myself, so perhaps there's a coordination mechanism or scheduled regular interaction setting where NGO and Military peeps mix it up that I'm not aware of. If not, it seems have something would be a clear, emerging need. Which leads me to:
1) What would it take to start such a thing? What would it take to make this happen?
2) Is there/does anyone know of a class or a session or something that teaches NGO staff about "military culture"? As I've dealt with The Military (of many different countries) in humanitarian contexts around the world, it seems clear to me that I basically don't understand how they think. I don't know ranks. I don't know the rules of social engagement... This kind of instruction would help me personally, and be of great benefit to NGO staff in general, moving forward, I'd think.
In Australia, the aid umbrella organisation ACFID has a dedicated liaison with the Australian Defence Force. I am not sure how well (or badly) this works, so perhaps a 'real' Aussie can jump in here.
RedR Australia had the great idea to include a session with an ADF medical platoon in their WASH course. I don't know whether they still do that (I really hope so), but I do know that some of this was a real eye-opener for many of the course participants. Perhaps an idea for other training organisations as well.
Further to Michael's point -the Australian Civil-Military Centre of Excellence (govt agency) houses the ACFID liaison person. The APCMCOE was started by a former CEO of an Australian NGO (who was a Major General before that), who has been really dedicated to improving the relationship between the military and NGOs. The ADF actively seeks engagement from NGOs in a number of their training courses (in the planning of scenarios and also in exercises) and in my experience presenting at such courses a few years ago (usually to major rank and above) the officers knew quite a lot about NGOs, but found the concept of humanitarian space confusing, and in a number of cases, questioned why they couldn't call the work they do humanitarian.
OCHA does (did?) joint civil/military trainings through UN-CMCoord. I have an info sheet somewherefrom 2009, no idea if that was the first or last time it was run.
I know a US-based professor/former practitioner interested in and teaching about this stuff. Don't want to post his details here, but I can ask him for info if you like.
This is a very interesting topic. I never gave this much thought, actually. I do have to agree that I tend to also see that NGOs/Workers are generally better trained and more adept in reading what to do contextually on certain situations. As for their role... my question, however, is how dependable are they to come when we need them to come in certain crisis?
The issue with the military is that they are typically given their mandate by the politics that are taking place in their respective capital. Having worked on the U.S. military response in Haiti, the issue was pressure for the military to do more and invade the humanitarian actors space versus recognition by the senior military officials that it was not what they were there to do. A lot of it really has to do with the miltiary leadership and the political leadership and how active and respected the leadership on the ground is as well as how much autonomy the leadership on the ground is given to make decisions independent of capital. In terms of making sure everyone is on the same page, one thing that was created that helped during the Haiti response was the statement of principles which outlined responsibilities between MINUSTAH and the U.S. miltary. In terms of the miltary's future role in HA/DR, I would recommend looking at the new directive which outlines the future of the military role including HA/DR which if I remember correctly was the last grouping priority including prevention of mass atrocities. The miltary in terms of humanitarian response is always a last resort because the funding is limited and the funding for those activities is limited in terms of the actions they can take.
It is definitely an interesting debate. I'm aware of some of the trainings, and principles, and workshops, etc. via OCHA or InterAction (in the U.S.) and various inside-gov "coordination" units and others are putting out there to try and put some boundaries on the mil role. @ Lauren I think you are spot on with regards to the politics of it all. It makes me wonder if the push from the broader humanitarian community should be more in advocacy of that "one the ground" mil leadership autonomy that you mention.
I guess more than looking at what is coming down or has come down from inside the mil world, I'm curious as to what practitioners are seeing as the role they would want from the military in HA/DR, and how to make that response of the standard needed/expected in each context.
Thanks for the great comments on this topic! Definitely a multifaceted one.
Pia I think it would be interesting but alot of it depends on the type of on the ground leadership you have in that particular situation. In the case of Haiti, it happened as mere accident that LTG Keen was in country for his visit with advisors when the earthquake took place and that he had attended war college with General Peixoto which helped navigate some of the politics involved when the U.S. military works alongside a UN operation. Keen and Peixoto actually wrote a joint article on lessons learned from the Haiti operation which should be used to inform more people as to what worked and what didnt including an understanding by all parties including those in Washington, DC as to what the military can and cannot do legally because of the type of funding for HA/DR activities. With the new Defense strategy having been articulated and published and the recognition that HA/DR is considered the final priority, I think it will be interesting to see how that is articulated into the budget requests.
These were the 10 observations LTG Keen made following his return to the States and having sometime to reflect.