the lost american INTERVIEW WITH MARK FROHARDT - EXCERPTS

Mark Frohart was a close friend and colleague of Fred Cuny's, working with
him in Sudan, Ethiopia, Northern Iraq and Sarajevo.  He recently returned to
the U.S. having spent two years in Rwanda. Since fall 1997,  he has been an
independent consultant in Washington, D.C., working on humanitarian and human
rights issues.

FRONTINE Producer Sherry Jones: What was it about Fred Cuny that made you want to work with him?

MF: What drew me to Fred was that he was somebody who was not involved in this line of work because he wanted to save the world. He was so passionate--at Mark Frohartleast, in my view--not only because he wanted to make a contribution, but more because he wanted to change the way that the world saved itself. Another way of saying that is to help give the world the skills that it needed to save itself, because it was doing such a poor job at it. When Fred was working in Biafra, one of the things that appalled him almost as much as the suffering of the Biafrans, was the ineptitude or the absolutely pathetic coordination and implementation of humanitarian relief operations there. There were very noble efforts. People were putting their lives on the line by trying to bring relief in to these areas. But there was absolutely no management. There was virtually no coordination and there was a lot of mistakes that were made. So Fred came out of that experience almost as upset about the way that the relief was delivered as he was with anything else that he had seen. And because of that, he became involved in trying to bring management capabilities to humanitarian operations.

What was the most amazing about Fred Cuny was that he knew everything from the nuts and bolts of how and why you build a pit latrine in a certain way to what are the geopolitical considerations of assistance to one faction in a conflict. He had it from one end to the other, and almost every stage in between, and this gave him insight that very few other people had, and also allowed him to develop a response that was very comprehensive and was very quickly developed, because he didn't depend on a lot of other people. It wasn't that he had the big picture and he needed several other people to put the other parts together. And this was the amazing thing about him. I mean, Fred often worked alone to a point where I was actually concerned that he was working too much alone, because that meant that too many things were falling on him.

FRONTLINE: Talk about the fact that humanitarian assistance was being used as a "fig leaf" in Bosnia, to make the rest of us feel better, feel like something real was happening.

MF: This is the problem with humanitarian relief, in general, and this is the reason why Fred felt strongly that the response to a disaster should be an analysis of why those people are suffering, and then to not only correct the way that people respond, but to correct the way things happen on a day to day basis to prevent the suffering.

After the end of the Cold War it was obvious that, increasingly, people in major donor countries especially, did not have the interest to remain involved in the politics of different countries, whether it be the security elements or the economic elements. Because of that, things that would have been checked before by the Cold War structure were allowed to go unattended without any type of intervention or assistance or attention, whether it be through diplomatic, economic pressure, whatever--until it gets to a point where you need humanitarian assistance. Already, by that time, you're in trouble. Already, many lives have been lost which should not have been lost, and, again, something that Fred tried to constantly point out, by the time you get to humanitarian relief, unless you're talking about a natural disaster, you should have never arrived there in the first place. And you should have been able to intervene much earlier.

Now, at the end of the Cold War, you have the beginning of a military intervention, and while the military does have the logistical means that are not possessed by most NGOs, and also many U.N. organizations--it is incredibly costly. .... and it does not necessarily remedy the problems. The problems are much more profound, and those can only be remedied through diplomatic or economic sanctions of some kind, or eventually, military intervention. And that level of military intervention is never going to be seen through a U.N. operation. It can't be. It virtually cannot be. Which means that when you get to a point where you are throwing massive amounts of funding at a humanitarian situation by having a military present, you are, essentially, responding too late, and you are not necessarily doing what needs to be done to address the situation. You cannot address a conflict situation through humanitarian assistance. All you can do with humanitarian assistance is to sustain those innocent victims or those populations who are being affected by it, but you cannot address the basic conflict itself.

And what we have seen in Somalia and what we will see elsewhere, is that humanitarian assistance--especially if is misdirected, especially if it is given in the absence of any savvy political players-- will be used to sustain principle actors within the conflict. And so, humanitarian assistance to address a situation such as Bosnia is a complete farce. And it is a waste. It is a waste of money, it is a waste of lives. It is done because that is the only thing that we're able to do. It's the only thing that we're ready to do. Humanitarians are always ready to go in. They're ready to go in to provide assistance. Now, that is great in a situation such as a natural disaster. You need that type of intervention. But to throw those types of people into situations of conflict is really a waste..

FRONTLINE: What is it about our political resolve in this country--or lack of political resolve in this country--that we're willing to send the humanitarians in, and arguably, lose some lives, but we're not willing to send the military in, because we're afraid of losing those lives?

MF: The argument shouldn't even be there. The argument should be much earlier. Why is there a lack of political will to intervene at a time when these types of disasters can be averted. Or the consequences of them can be somewhat mitigated. Or even once they do start, that they can be arrested in some fashion. We don't have the political will to do that? Most nations don't. And the reason why is because many people say that they won't intervene until they have to intervene, until there is political--public pressure that forces them to intervene. In other situations, people don't really pay that much attention to it. For example, we don't have really strong African analysts who can tell us what is going to be happening in different places, and what could be done to prevent certain types of disasters.

Rwanda is an excellent example of this. And people often talk about early warning. Well, it's a bit of a farce when you look at Rwanda where a genocide actually takes place. We're aware that the genocide is ongoing. You have a military force, a U.N. military force already present--you don't even need to meet the security council to decide whether to send one in, there's already one present--and still there is no intervention. And that military force is told to stand down. And then after they lose a few soldiers, their--numbers are actually reduced. And this happened in a situation where the U.N. military commander said, with an increase in number of troops, the genocide could have actually been stopped. And there was daily slaughter which was taking place, and there was no political will, so the whole idea of early warning, while it might be effective in situations such as famine relief, this type of thing--when it comes to situations of conflict, and the demand--that is military or very high level political intervention of some kind--we still don't have the will, and possibly, the understanding or the care, to really intervene when it's time.

FRONTLINE: Fred did understand all this, and he was increasingly frustrated and increasingly wanted to be part of the larger policy making?

MF: Fred definitely saw that. He understood the need for an early intervention. I think that it is only natural, when somebody finds oneself proven right in several situations, and believes that they have developed an analysis which will allow for a less costly intervention

Some people have said that Fred wanted to be a player. Fred was always a player. But when things shifted toward the end of the Cold War, he found himself increasingly in situations in which people were listening to him. And so, his expectations also rose to the point where he felt if things continued the way they were going, that he might be able to influence things--influence governments--to actually intervene earlier and earlier to prevent these types of situations from blowing up. One thing that has to be remembered is that Fred, especially in the early days, spent much more time on disaster preparedness and mitigation than he did on response to disaster situations. And it was only because people refused to spend time on that and really develop that and pay for that type of early intervention, that he was forced to go increasingly toward those situations where the response was later.

FRONTLINE: What's his legacy?

MF: I think that with regard to relief work his legacy is to continually ask how you can do this so that you don't have to do it anymore. That was what Fred was all about--is how do you stop delivering assistance? If you have to deliver emergency assistance, how do you get to the next phase--rehabilitation, reconstruction? How do you stop delivering assistance? That was the most important thing for him. And that's the thing that we all have to remember, is not developing a greater capacity to do something, but to develop more finely honed skills on how to get out of doing it.

One of the things that Fred understood better than most people, and, as usual, earlier than most people, was that at the end of the Cold War, when you had the principal political players stepping out, the relief organizations and humanitarian organizations often found themselves out there on their own. And they were on their own without any real background, or culture of political development, or understanding the issues of political development. And the reason why was most of theses groups are service-based organizations. And so the criteria that they use to determine when and where they intervene and how they intervene, are those which are related to or based on nutritional and medical issues, whether there is shelter.

They are not capable of taking the issues of political development into consideration. And, what makes that even more difficult is that those services are then sometimes used for political ends. Now, Fred saw that vacuum developing. It was not necessarily that he had great political aspirations, but in that situation, there were very few people who were developing that type of an analysis. And because of that, he got himself more involved in situations where he was actually negotiating directly with people to establish cease-fires. So, he basically filled a vacuum.



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