The end of the Cold War -- and US Cold War administrations -- has created a
unique opportunity to make profound changes in the international humanitarian
system. At the same time, there will be new challenges, many resulting from
the collapse of the Soviet Union and a re-ordering of the international power
structure. It is unlikely that the vacuum left by Russia's withdrawal from
superpower competition will remain empty. Possible contenders to fill the void
include China, Japan, India, or a combination thereof. For the time being,
however, the absence of superpower rivalry will provide opportunities to
resolve many of the conflicts that were on the periphery of East-West
confrontation. Perhaps more important, there will be opportunities to make
fundamental changes in the international humanitarian architecture. Major
flaws in the United Nations system can be corrected, new organizations can be
created to reach groups of victims who heretofore have been untouchable, and
the larger powers can focus their energies on trying to stem the growing tide
of human rights abuses, separatist wars, and ethnic conflicts that have
proliferated in recent years.
This window of opportunity is not likely to remain open long, and, indeed,
there is some urgency to begin improving the international system, for the
forces that have opened the window have also added new stresses to the
international environment. The dissolution of the USSR has left a dozen
unstable countries in its wake and lessened the controls that kept
ethno-nationalism and racial and cultural prejudices under restraint. The
current relief system, which is already under major strain, could be facing an
increase in the caseload by as much as 50% by the end of the decade.
RECENT POLITICAL CHANGES AND DEVELOPMENTS
There are four international developments that will shape humanitarian
assistance in the next decade and beyond. These include:
1. the reordering of Western power resulting from the end of the Cold War;
2. the resurgence of Islamic power;
3. the reemergence of ethno-nationalism; and
4. the shift towards market-based democracies.
Each of these presents new opportunities, as well as posing new constraints on
international relief and development agencies.
The End of the Cold War
By far, the end of the Cold War is the dominate event of the decade and,
indeed, the later half of the twentieth century. From a geo-political stand
point, the most significant factor to emerge is the preeminence of the West
collectively as the dominant world power. In military terms, the West is the
coalition forged by the United States to confront Saddam Hussein in the Gulf
War. That war demonstrated the superiority of Western military technology and
ended America's self-imposed, post-Vietnam restraint from an active and
interventionist foreign policy.
There was another event related to the Gulf War that opened a new chapter in
relief operations: the humanitarian intervention to protect the Kurds in
northern Iraq. It was militarily only a footnote to the end of the Gulf War
but Operation Provide Comfort, as the intervention was dubbed, has major
implications for post-Cold War humanitarian crises. The use of Western troops
to create a safe haven to permit the repatriation of the Kurdish refugees and
the willingness of the US to forcibly impose restraints on the Iraqi government
to prevent it from killing its own people, demonstrated what could be done when
all the necessary pre-requisites converge.
Even as Operation Provide Comfort ended, there were calls for similar
military-civilian interventions in Yugoslavia, the Caucasus, and Somalia. It
is clear that if the Western powers choose to intervene, they have the
capability of doing so -- and doing it effectively. However, interventions of
this sort contradict the post-Vietnam military doctrines adopted by the United
States, elaborated first by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and
reiterated by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell.
This doctrine calls for non-intervention unless the government of the United
States is committed to total victory, that there is clear popular support for
the action as expressed by a resolution of Congress, and that there are clear
and attainable objectives. Prior to Operation Provide Comfort, few legislators
would have called for military intervention in a humanitarian crisis but the
fact that OPC proved successful and was accomplished without the loss of one
coalition soldier demonstrated that joint military and civilian operations
could be forged to give relief agencies a chance to accomplish their
humanitarian work safely.
The end of the Cold War came about as a result of the economic collapse and
implosion of the Soviet Union. The break-up of the Soviet Empire has several
secondary consequences. First is the realignment of vast geographic areas.
The eastern European states of the former Warsaw Pact have essentially jumped
from East to West, their economies moving ever closer to those of the European
Community. In the south, the newly independent Asian republics have yet to
find their way. They are actively being courted by Turkey, acting as a
surrogate for the West; Iran, hoping to extend its influence and power
northward; India and Pakistan, which are looking for new markets; and, of
course, Russia, which wants to maintain favorable trade relations with its
Russia itself is facing tremendous upheavals. Within a matter of months it
was transformed from power to pauper. Its massive military industrial complex
lays idle, its currency is regarded poorly by even its own citizens, and its
vaunted social welfare system, which offered at least some protection against
personal poverty for the vast majority of its citizens, is on the brink of
collapse. The decline of Russia has major consequences for the international
humanitarian system. As the Russian food and economic system is reoriented, it
is likely to require massive amounts of food aid from the West. Ethnic
divisions and rivalries - long suppressed by the Soviet regime - have
reemerged, not only in the former Soviet republics but throughout the Russian
federation, and dozens of conflicts have already displaced hundreds of
thousands of people. Ethnic Russians who relocated to the Asian republics
during the past century are finding that they are largely unwelcome in their
adopted lands and upwards of 20 million people have already left Central Asia
with more likely to leave in the immediate future.
The movement of millions of people inside Russia has put severe strains on the
Soviet social support system, contributed to the disruption of agriculture, and
slowed the integration of markets between Russia and her former republics.
Russia's massive aid requirements are likely to compete with those of the Third
World, especially for food, housing, agricultural development, industrial
reorientation, etc. Russia has not only tumbled from the position of an aid
giver, it has become a major aid receiver.
A important side effect of the collapse of the Soviet Union has been the
reorientation of former Soviet client states, especially those in the Third
World, from centralized to market economies. This in turn stimulated
disenchantment with centralized government and socialist government structures
were abandoned in favor of market-supported democracies. In essence, many
revolutionary movements were stripped of an ideology and doctrine upon which to
base their social revolutions and simply ran out of steam. Democracy movements
around the world gained momentum in the last decade and, as the global economy
expands, their chances for survival increase. In Latin America, the number of
dictatorships dropped from 14 to four in the last decade and as the superpower
rivalry fades, the Western donors have increased the pressures on authoritarian
regimes of all stripes to liberalize and share power.
This has two implications: First, there is less tolerance of pissant
dictators. What was once justified as strategic pragmatism in the Cold War is
now looked on with disdain. Human rights abuses are less tolerated and gross
misconduct of a government against its citizens is likely to be roundly
condemned. Second, with the lower level of tolerance has been a corresponding
increase in the West's willingness to take action to aid the victims and, in
some cases, to intervene. Intervention may take the form of sanctions but
increasingly there is a willingness to support operations inside the country or
to support measures that gain access for humanitarian operations -- measures
that constitute an intrusion in the internal affairs of the offending country.
This is largely possible because the Soviet Union no longer cares what happens
to its former client states, and even if it did, there would be little it could
do about it.
Resurgence of Islamic Power
The rise of Islamic influence as a major force in the post Cold War era has
also been accelerated by the collapse of the Soviet Union. As long as the
southern republics of the USSR were bound together as one nation, the Muslims
were a minority, albeit a large one. With the dissolution of the Union, six
new, and potentially powerful, Islamic nations have emerged: Kazakhstan,
Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgystan, and Azerbaijan. Five of those
republics sit on major oil reserves and all have important strategic minerals.
It is likely that even more Islamic states will emerge from the ruins of the
former Soviet Union and Islamic politics are likely to be an increasingly
important factor in Russian internal affairs.
An increase in the number of Muslim states affected by Islamic fundamentalist
movements is of major concern to the West since much of the fundamentalist
rhetoric is based on anti-Western sentiment and a rejection of Western values.
Even as their influence on world politics increases, the Islamic world is hewn
by the pro- and anti-fundamentalist sentiments that are swirling throughout the
Muslim community. The West is largely unable to influence these events and
trying to do so would be counter-productive. Yet, it is largely the Western
relief agencies that will have to pick up the pieces and deal with the
consequences of the internecine strife between Muslim and non-Muslim societies.
No one should underestimate the significance of this human fallout. In 1950,
Muslim refugees represented only 12% of the world's refugee population. In
1970, they represented 50%. In 1990, they represented almost 75%.
Furthermore, if one looks at the next decades potential trouble spots, the
total number of Muslim refugees could represent well over 90% of the world's
refugee and displaced populations.
In juxtaposition to Islamic instability, has been a phenomenal increase in the
power of many Islamic states - some singly and many collectively. Their power
goes far beyond their military means -- with the exception of a few Middle East
states, few Islamic nations have the ability to project power outside their own
borders. The Islamic nations gain their influence due to the oil resources
they command. Prior to 1991, Islamic nations controlled 60% of the world's oil
production. With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the
Islamic republics of Central Asia, that percentage has increased to 74%.
The long-term implications of the concentration of wealth within an area of
intense ideological competition and religious fervor has major ramifications
for the international community. While the Islamic world does not have the
military power to challenge the West, and, indeed, must rely on outsiders to
fuel its many arms races, the economic power they command will be a force to be
reckoned with in the post-Cold War environment.
Reemergence of Ethno-nationalism
As the superpower rivalry fades, the forces that helped hold multi-ethnic
nations together have begun to weaken. This is not only the case in the former
Soviet Union, but also in many Third World nations. The superpowers once saw
it in their interest to support one faction's national hegemony over rival
tribal and ethnic groups but today there is less adherence to the principle of
the inviolability of national borders and less tolerance of regimes which use
repression to hold their country's ethnic groups together.
Hundreds of ethnic minorities have realized that there may be a unique
opportunity for them to seek expression of their self identity. As recently as
1990, few international leaders would have supported the idea of a break-up of
Yugoslavia; today it is a done deal. In 1990, there was one Soviet Union.
Today, there are 15 independent states. In Africa, Eritrea has started divorce
proceedings from Ethiopia and may soon be followed by other regions. In
northern Iraq, the Kurdish areas are moving stealthily towards something
greater than regional autonomy.
The proliferation of separatist and ethno-nationalist movements is
increasingly accompanied by violence. The former Soviet republic of Georgia
has been troubled by ethnic clashes in its northern provinces and along its
border with Russia. Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war over the disputed
Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, a dispute which threatens to draw Russia, Turkey and
possibly Iran into the fray -- as either direct or indirect participants.
The establishment of each new ethno-state usually has consequences beyond its
borders. There are often large numbers of people of the same ethnic, cultural
or linguistic groups residing in neighboring countries. For example, Turkey,
Syria and Iran all fear that if Iraqi Kurdistan becomes independent, the large
Kurdish minorities in their countries will attempt to join it. The newly
independent states of Tajikistan and Turkmenia have offered hopes to Tajik and
Turkmen minorities in Afghanistan and Iran that they might somehow be united
with those new states.
Countries on every continent are faced with nationalities that have
aspirations that challenge the idea of the super nation-state. In South
Africa, the Zulus pose the biggest challenge to the post-apartheid government
and may yet rend that country apart in fratricidal warfare. Even Europe has
not remained untouched by these problems; Czechoslovakia is splitting in two
and in Spain the Basques continue their struggle for independence. In North
America, Canada is continuously challenged by both indigenous Americans and
One by-product of the emergence of ethno-nationalism has been the
corresponding rise in ethnocentricity and racial and cultural intolerance. In
recent years, much of this intolerance has been focused on foreign migrant
workers and refugees. National governments, anxious to stop the violence, have
begun closing the doors to asylum seekers and guest workers. This means that
Third World countries have to increasingly bear the burden of refugee problems
since resettlement possibilities are constricting to a mere shadow of what they
were during the Cold War.
This has likely two spin-off effects. First, more people will be held in
refugee camps for longer periods of time, thereby increasing the cost of care
and maintenance to the international community and host countries. Second, and
more important in terms of human rights, is that refugees are likely to be even
more ill-treated by host governments than in the past, largely on the theory
that if refugees find it uncomfortable to stay, they will go home. As a
result, there will be increasing pressures to try and deal with the problem in
the country of origin -- creating safe-havens or reasonably secure areas where
displaced persons can go and be assisted in relative safety. There is also
likely to be more emphasis on repatriation and relief agencies should expect to
find increasing pressures from host governments to encourage refugees to go
home at the earliest possible date.
Under these circumstances, relief agencies will find themselves working more
in conflict zones. The difficulties of working under these conditions without
the protection or umbrella of an organization such as the United Nations will
be one of the greatest challenges to the international relief agencies.
Ideally, the United Nations will respond by finally creating an agency to deal
with the victims of conflict in their home areas, or will extend the mandate of
UNHCR to include displaced persons and those trapped within conflict zones.
Since the super powers will be more willing to cooperate to control conflicts,
especially in their own regions, it may finally be possible to push through
some of the long-stalled structural reforms in the humanitarian assistance
system that are needed to help conflict victims.
A Shift Towards Market-Based Democracies
The perceived victory of the West and market-based democratic governments over
centralized, government-controlled economies has led to rapid abandonment of
socialist oriented economic and political systems in many Third World
countries. True, few of the "democratic" socialist republics were more than
dictatorships espousing a Marxist line in order to get support from the Eastern
bloc but the realization that centralized planning and controls were creating
havoc in their struggling economies convinced many leaders that the
post-colonial flirtation with Marxism had to end. As governments loosened the
controls on enterprise, democracy movements flourished. But the new
capitalists quickly found their operations limited by corrupt centralized
governments and realized that the old order had to go. On every continent
democracy movements have successfully challenged a variety of authoritarian
governments both on the left and the right.
For many of the remaining dictators time may be running out. No longer can
they play East against West to obtain weapons and undue influence. In some
cases there may be a relatively smooth transition, as was the case in the
Philippines in 1986, but, in cases where the strongmen will not step down
voluntarily, there is bound to be trouble. (It is likely that some democracy
movements may be suborned by other latent strongmen waiting to grab power on
the coattails of a popular uprising.)
On the whole, the shift away from centrally-directed to market-based economies
and the proliferation of democratic governments will open new opportunities for
relief and development agencies. For example, the establishment of new
democracies will permit long-standing refugee situations to be resolved.
Repatriation and reintegration of refugees and displaced persons is likely to
be one of the major roles of the humanitarian system in the coming decade.
What are the operational implications of these changes? The international
relief system is facing a major increase in the number of operational areas,
the number of governmental entities with which it must deal and the number of
people in the relief case load. Prior to 1991, emergencies in the Soviet Union
were, with a few exceptions, the exclusive domain of the Russians; now more
than half of the newly emerging states are likely to be seeking international
relief within five years. Many of the new states are unstable and are beset
with the same problems that faced African and Asian countries when they emerged
from years of colonial domination three decades ago.
Foremost among their problems is ethno-nationalism. In Kazakhastan alone
there are over 100 different ethnic groups, many of whom are demanding autonomy
and, several, independence. Some geographic areas are especially ripe for
trouble. For example, the Fergana Valley which lies between Uzbekistan,
Tajikistan and Kyrgystan contains over 50 different ethnic groups all vying for
the same economic resources. A conflict originating in that area, one of the
most densely populated zones of the former Soviet Union, could generate
millions of new refugees and displaced persons.
The international community is woefully unprepared to deal with crises in the
area. Much of it lies in the higher latitudes and winters are particularly
fierce. The relief system is largely oriented to providing assistance in the
South. Medical doctrines are aimed at tropical areas and the types of supplies
agencies have on hand are designed for warmer climes. If relief operations are
required in the region, the cost per capita would be much higher than in the
South. The people of the region are used to a much higher standard of living
and require a more robust diet to sustain them through the winter months.
Operations in cold climates will require more investment in some of the basic
relief materials: shelter costs will be higher since tents are not suitable for
the winter weather, sleeping bags would replace blankets, etc.
Another feature of a post-Cold War era is the challenge of assisting an
increasingly Islamic caseload. The international relief system is not prepared
for dealing with Islamic refugees and displaced persons, nor operating in an
environment of Jihad (or holy war). Well over nine tenths of the world's
relief agencies are based in the West. The body of international law and
doctrine that protects refugees and displaced persons originates from
Judeo-Christian heritage and legal principles. The concept of nations
interacting under rules of international law and principles of humanitarian
service does not always find a direct translation in the Muslim world. In the
1980s, agencies assisting Afghan refugees found themselves severely constrained
by the Islamic tradition of purdah and even in less restrictive Muslim
societies, relief agencies have often found it difficult to approach women and
children. Since they make up the largest group of victims and have proven to
be the most vulnerable to disease and human rights abuses in conflicts,
restricted access to them is a major obstacle.
An unstated, but even more serious problem, is the attitude of fatalism
inherent in Islamic religious doctrines. In some cases, fatalism has
manifested itself as a disavowal by political leaders of their responsibility
to ensure that war victims in their areas receive adequate food, water and
medical attention. Nowhere is this more evident than in Somalia where clan
leaders disclaim any responsibility for the widespread famine deaths that have
occurred because of their intransigence in allowing relief agencies to safely
deliver supplies to war and famine victims in areas they control. Not only
have they effectively denied their own people relief supplies, their
indifference towards security for relief agency personnel has created an
atmosphere in which NGOs must travel under armed escort to protect themselves
from bandits and armed factions among the society they are trying to serve.
In such an environment, demands that governments, or those in charge, adhere
to international principles of behavior and guarantee humanitarian access, have
met with few tangible results. As a consequence, relief agencies have had to
turn to new approaches to ensure that food gets to at least some of the people.
In the worst cases, they pay bribes to get supplies through; in the best case,
they resort to selling food to merchants and rely on market forces to deliver
food to areas that the agencies can't reach. The idea of selling food in
famines, especially to many of the same people who are creating the problem, is
hard for many humanitarian agencies to accept. Yet, increasingly, operations
in Islamic areas will require market-based interventions. The best way to
overcome fatalism, or the lack of concern by clan or factions leaders for their
own people, will be to make it profitable for someone to deliver the food to
those in need.
Some agencies have tried to adapt Western principles and conventions to
Islamic law. In one instance, the International Committee of the Red Cross
asked a group of noted Islamic scholars in Jeddha, Cairo and Istanbul to
identify commonality between Islamic law and the Geneva Convention. In each
case the scholars refused to do so saying that the conventions should originate
from Islamic law, not the opposite. The anecdote only serves to illustrate the
difficulties the international system is likely to encounter as reality and
religion come into conflict.
The Struggle for Leadership Among the Islamic Nations
The rise in prominence of the Islamic nations has sparked a competition for
leadership and influence, especially over the newly emerging Islamic republics
in the former Soviet Union. In the 1950s, the leadership of the Islamic world
was unquestionably in Cairo. Egypt was the premier military power and Gamel
Abdul Naser was the Islamic world's most dynamic leader. In the 1970s,
influence, if not power, shifted away from Egypt and the military states
surrounding Israel. With the 1970s oil embargo and the phenomenal rise in oil
prices, a significant portion of the world's wealth shifted to the Gulf states,
principally Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the focus of power in the Islamic world
shifted with it.
Saudi Arabia, the protector of the Holy Shrines of Islam, was able to use its
oil wealth to extend its influence far beyond the region. By offering
petro-aid to developing Islamic countries in return for strict compliance with
Islamic law, the Kingdom was able to substantially influence political
developments in such areas as Sudan, Yemen, and, recently, the Islamic
republics of the former Soviet Union. Because of their dependence on Gulf oil,
the Western powers have been reluctant to try to moderate Saudi Arabia's
influence, even where the regimes the Saudi's are influencing routinely engage
in massive human rights abuses in the name of Islamic purity.
Turkey is emerging as a leader for influence in the Islamic world, especially
in the countries that have emerged from the USSR. In that area they have a
distinct advantage: the majority of Muslims in five of the six new Islamic
states are of Turkish origin.(1) Both the United States and Russia have
encouraged Turkey to pursue this course in hopes that the Turkish model of
secular government will be emulated. This has brought Turkey directly into
competition with Iran, which also hopes to expand its influence in the region
and is promoting its Islamic revolution has a model for non-aligned
This struggle for leadership in the Muslim world has a variety of operational
implications for humanitarian agencies. Where the "Turkish model" is adopted,
relief agencies will have the same flexibility they have in non-Islamic
If, on the other hand, a more fundamentalist-based model of government or law
is adopted, agencies can expect the same difficulties they experienced in
Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In the rest of the Muslim world, access to disaster victims will largely be
determined by how the society comes to grip with modernity, what inroads
fundamentalism will make in the society and which Islamic donors the country
must rely on for development aid.
The Lessening of Concern About National Sovereignty
One of the features of the Cold War was that every dictator had a sponsor
among the superpowers. As long as the dictator voted in the right column on
international issues, especially at the UN Security Council, his sponsor was
likely to back him up if another superpower threatened to intervene in his
internal affairs. In this atmosphere, the most repressive regimes in the world
were able to carry out massive human rights violations virtually unopposed.
With China and Russia backing the Khymer-Rouge, the West ignored the situation
in Cambodia while the government there murdered as many as a quarter of its
In the 1980s, the equation changed somewhat. Rather than intervening to
extend humanitarian protection, the US and the Soviets began to support rebel
factions and conduct proxy wars to drain the other economically and militarily.
This simply increased the level of violence and produced millions more
displaced persons and refugees.
The end of the Cold War has changed that. The Soviets are no longer there to
back up every petty dictator that calls himself a socialist, and, for the time
being, the Chinese have little chance to extend their influence and protect
friendly regimes much beyond their borders. There are few nations willing to
protect a repressive regime. Furthermore, many of the great powers are
increasingly willing to ignore the national sovereignty of a nation controlled
by authoritarian leaders who violate international standards of decency towards
their own citizens. In sum, there is more willingness to support intervention
for humanitarian purposes. Mostly, intervention will be limited to supporting
relief operations in ares not controlled by the host government, but in some
cases, military force may be used to create opportunities for humanitarian
assistance, as was the case in northern Iraq in 1991. In the next decade,
relief agencies are likely to be able to gain much greater access to war
victims in areas outside of government control and will find donors
increasingly willing to support cross-border operations. It is also likely
that the international community will be more willing to impose sanctions on
outlaw governments. In some cases, this could lead to increased access to
displaced persons in government-controlled areas.
Intervention will not be uniformly applied. There will be more cases of
intervention in sub-Saharan Africa -- those countries have no credible patrons
to protest an international intervention. Conversely, interventions in the
Islamic world will be fewer and far more circumspect.
The consequences of this trend are that there will be more assistance to
displaced persons than before and an increased emphasis on trying to solve
refugee crises in the country of origin, i.e., to prevent people from leaving
and becoming a burden on neighboring countries. This should stimulate major
structural changes in the international humanitarian assistance system
mentioned earlier, especially in the UN.
Paradoxically, while opportunities to intervene and the willingness to do so
have increased, the fact that few conflicts figure into the strategic interests
of the West means that there will be less interest on their part to get
involved. In the past, even the most obscure conflicts were often elevated to
undeserved prominence when they were able to attract the attention of one of
the great powers. (2) No more. This has two operational implications. First,
a situation will have to be extremely bad before the international donors
respond. Remote struggles in far off corners of the world will have trouble
igniting international support.
The second implication is that NGOs are likely to be the only standard bearers
in many of these situations. Often, the first notice that the world will have
that a situation is deteriorating will be when an NGO working on site passes
the word. And in many cases, the NGOs will be left on their own to organize
the relief effort.
Inherent in this situation is an overall lessening of funds available for
humanitarian assistance. In the current world economic malaise, it will be
increasingly difficult for donor governments to rally support for massive
relief operations in remote areas. This, however, may have a positive side
effect. Many of the approaches used today have proven ineffective, and have
been continued simply because they are part of the conventional wisdom. As
funds become scarcer, caseloads increase, and cost-per-capita rises, relief
agencies will be forced to adopt more pragmatic and result-oriented approaches.
Massive, free feeding programs will decrease and there should be a shift to
more market-oriented approaches.
Increased Use of the Military in Relief Operations
As geo-political rivalry decreases, the political agendas of the donor nations
will become more transparent, and in many cases, far less threatening. This
will permit donors to deploy military forces to support relief operations at
unprecedented levels. The military has always supported peacetime humanitarian
operations providing planes, vehicles and soldiers in earthquakes, floods and
other natural disasters. However, the use of the military to support
humanitarian efforts in conflict areas has always been more circumspect. The
developing countries worry about the donors' hidden motives and relief agencies
of all stripes have worried about being painted as spies or surrogates of the
military. In the aftermath of the Viet Nam war, most relief agencies adopted
policies that kept their involvement with the military at an arms' length. As
recently has the Gulf war, only a few agencies were willing to work with
displaced civilians in Kuwait or southern Iraq because the US military was
That reticence is beginning to be tempered. Analysis of Operation Provide
Comfort, the joint military-humanitarian agency effort to rescue the Iraqi
Kurds in the aftermath of the Gulf War, has convinced many in the relief
community that military forces and resources can be successfully integrated
into humanitarian operations. The deployment of allied forces in Somalia in
1992 may signal greater involvement of Western military forces in humanitarian
There is extensive debate in Western military establishments, about whether
the role of the military in humanitarian operations should be expanded. NATO
has pushed to redefine its mission largely in terms of peace-keeping and
humanitarian interventions. In 1992, the US Department of Defense elaborated
its post-Cold War strategy which stated that a military priority is "ensuring
our forces provide needed levels of forward presence to influence emerging
security environments, as well as maintain our strategic deterrent."
(3 ) One way that forward presence was to be maintained was participation in
humanitarian operations in unstable areas.(4) In his address to the General
Assembly in 1992, President George Bush amplified his administration's
commitment to using the military in humanitarian operations and pledged to
introduce specialized training for peacekeeping operations into the curricula
of the US military academies, to develop humanitarian response doctrines and to
increase American support for humanitarian operations by making available a
wider variety of assets. Interestingly, prior to Bush's address General Powell
gave an interview to the New York Times where he responded to his critics in
the US government for his reluctance to commit American forces to support
humanitarian operations in Bosnia.(5) It is clear that there are sharp
differences of opinion about the issue in the Western foreign policy and
What will probably determine the military's role is its desire for
self-preservation. In an era of reduced super power tension, the allied
military establishments are having a hard time finding a role which will permit
them to have a presence outside their national boundaries. Ultimately, the
military will either have to commit forces to humanitarian operations or lose
much of their strategic deployment capability.
This leads to the question, will there be more Iraq- or Somalia-style
humanitarian interventions? The answer is yes, but not as many as one might
think. It is important that policy-makers understand the situation that
existed prior to the two most recent examples. The allied forces were facing a
conventional military force that moved in massive formations that were easy to
monitor and predict their behavior. And, having just been savaged in the Gulf
War, the Iraqi's knew what the allied powers could do and were understandably
reluctant to challenge them again. There was international willingness to
support the intervention; Saddam Hussein was still a pariah and no one cared
whether or not his national sovereignty was violated (after all, there were
still troops occupying a significant portion of Iraq's southern territory). In
Somalia, there was no government to object to the intervention.
These operations illustrate what can be done when all the right factors
converge, but to imply that all those factors will recur in the next
humanitarian emergency is not realistic. But despite problems, there are apt
to be more cases where national leaders will feel compelled to commit the
military to support humanitarian operations, and if necessary, to use force to
create opportunities for relief agencies to perform their work.(6)
IMPLICATIONS FOR HUMANITARIAN INSTITUTIONS
Despite the many changes and opportunities that have come about as a result of
the end of the Cold War, there is unlikely to be substantial change in the way
in which international humanitarian system functions. Donors will continue to
rely primarily on NGOs to reach the victims of conflict and the institutional
arrangements between donors and NGOs are likely to be strengthened and their
International NGOs will continue to bear the brunt of operations. While many
new local NGOs will spring up and some of the existing ones may expand and
become more professional, most will find it difficult to work in conflicts
because their governments can pressure their staff to comply with government
policies. While there have been some notable exceptions -- several Red Cross
societies and various church groups in Central America, for example --
generally international NGOs, supported by donors, can better stand up to
Not all NGOs welcome the donors' willingness to put them out front in every
conflict. NGOs active in Yugoslavia and Somalia are especially resentful that
their sponsoring governments were willing send them in harm's way without
providing adequate security, either by peacekeeping forces or direct
intervention. They were also resentful that the UN was unable to play a major
role as an intermediary between them and the factions in Somalia.
Despite their reluctance, NGOs still have the key strengths of flexibility and
on-the-ground experience that make them invaluable as aid providers. The fact
that they are less bureaucratic and can quickly gear up to respond to new
requirements makes them the ideal implementer for relief programs.
Even with the increased number of NGOs, there are still many technical gaps in
the relief system. While a few organizations such as OXFAM, CONCERN, Save the
Children (UK) and CARE are highly competent in this type of work, the fact
remains that many organizations are unprofessional and deliver assistance of
varying quality. Most agencies are still largely focused on providing medical
and nutritional assistance. Few, with the notable exceptions of the
International Rescue Committee and OXFAM, focus on such critical areas as water
Another problem that faces NGOs is that governments, and sometimes insurgent
groups, are highly suspicious of NGOs. And in some countries, host governments
have become bolder in hassling NGO staff. Many NGOs are well aware that they
are exposed and vulnerable, yet it is testament to their commitment that they
continue despite these pressures.
As more and more governments become democratic, there will be an increased
willingness of donor government nations to work through government
institutions. There is likely to be close cooperation in cases where newly
democratic governments are threatened by rebel movements.
The advantages of working with governments are many. Investments in training,
for example, can pay many dividends since government workers are likely to
remain on the job for many years (unlike NGOs which have high staff turnovers).
The primarily disadvantage, however, is that governments, whether they are
democratic or not, are always a party to the conflict and therefore are not
disinterested parties in matters dealing with displaced persons, refugees,
Just as donors are going to be more willing to work with democratic
governments, they are going to be less willing to cooperate with repressive
governments. In the past, donors such as the United States, often wasted
millions of dollars trying to prop up ineffective and corrupt ministries that
dealt with displaced persons simply because they wanted to put a good face on
the governments that they were supporting. Now, many of the functions that
were normally carried out by governments will be transferred to the larger
NGOs. For example, immunization programs, which are normally carried out by
ministries of public health, are more likely to be assigned to UNICEF or the
larger medical NGOs.
The UN system is likely to be the main place where changes occur as a result
of the end of the Cold War. As it enters the new era, the UN is unprepared for
the new world order. To begin with, the organization still suffers from many
major structural problems. Not only is no organization specifically tasked
with providing assistance to persons affected by war in areas outside of the
host government's control; no agency has been given a mandate to help people
who have crossed international boundaries as a result of famine or severe
economic crises (only refugees are afforded international protection when they
are fleeing from war); and no UN agency is prepared to deal with the expulsion
of resident guest workers, such as those who were forced to flee Kuwait and
Iraq immediately prior to the Gulf War.
Because agencies are not assigned responsibility for these groups means that
operations to help them are always addressed in an ad hoc manner, sometimes
effectively, as in the case of Operation Lifeline Sudan in 1988-91, but usually
not, as in Somalia in 1992. Putting together an ad hoc operation by drawing
resources from many different UN agencies takes time and is always hampered by
bureaucratic obstacles within the participating agencies.
Unfortunately, the UN is probably unable to fix these problems by itself;
bureaucratic inertia is too strong. However, the major member states have not
shown much sophistication in the way they've addressed the problem, either.
They have consistently tried to deal with the problem by making executive
changes at the top. Instead they have only created new layers of bureaucracy
and confusion. The establishment of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs,
which was supposed to improve coordination, has done just the opposite.
The problems of the UN are fundamental. They have to do with the way that
staff are hired, trained and promoted; how the organization is structured; the
mandates and responsibilities of each specialized agency; the way that
decisions are made; and the way that funds are raised, allocated and spent.
Until its foundations are repaired and strengthened, the UN house will continue
to teeter and changes on the upper floors will have little effect.
The end of the Cold War has provided a window of opportunity for making
substantive changes in the UN system. It's important that it be taken. The UN
does have tremendous potential. It can provide an umbrella under which NGOs
can operate in conflict zones and coordination at the local level could be
greatly enhanced with effective UN leadership.
The disadvantages of UN participation must be addressed, however. These
include: excessive bureaucracy; expensive operations; staff of mixed quality;
and the fact that it must work through the local government (which effectively
limits its coordination role). A major problem that must be addressed is how
to enable the UN to work effectively outside a (host) governmental framework.
Coordination of Humanitarian Response
Within the last few years, there's been much discussion about the need for
coordination of humanitarian response in the international system. As a result
of growing donor frustration and the inability of the United Nations to respond
effectively to the various crises surrounding the Gulf War, the UN was
encouraged to establish a coordinator at the executive level. In late 1991,
the Department of Humanitarian Affairs was established with broad
responsibilities for coordinating the various UN specialized agencies.
While the establishment of a inter-agency coordinating mechanism is certainly
laudable, the fact remains that without major structural reforms within each of
the UN agencies, true coordination, in the sense of filling the gaps, will
remain elusive. In essence, the donors tried to reform the system from the top
down. The emphasis on coordination, rather than structural reform, means that
in every operation the United Nations will always be throwing together ad hoc
structures to deal with problems. Opportunities for training teams that could
work together and improve with experience will be lost. In the recent reform
movement, the donors failed to properly address what they wanted. They pushed
for better coordination when what they really needed was more effective
delivery of services. The best coordination in the world will not overcome
Many observers believe that with the end of the Cold War it will finally be
possible to establish an information collection and analysis system within the
UN that can forewarn of developing humanitarian crises. The argument is that
since the West and East are no longer locking horns in the Third World, that
their combined intelligence assets can be pooled to alert the UN and other
humanitarian agencies to situations that are beginning to threaten peace. Then
presumably, the major powers could use their influence to mitigate or prevent
the conflicts from getting out of hand.
Accurate early warning is technically within reach today. The analytical
procedures do not require much more fine-tuning nor are many analysts required
to divine when problems are becoming acute. The problem, though, is not early
warning, it's early response. The international system is still not willing to
gamble resources until problems are fairly well advanced. Furthermore, the
mechanisms that the international community uses to raise money to respond to
crises, such as international appeals, only work once the problem is on the
front pages of the world's newspapers. Thus, we are unlikely to see any real
results from the establishment or improvement of early warning systems.
THE NEW ACTORS
In the post-war decade, there are likely to be a number of new players on the
international humanitarian scene while many of the old actors will adopt new
The governments of the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union are
likely to be an important group for the next few years because in the former
Soviet Union there are few credible NGOs and aid will need to be channelled
through government or para-statal organizations. For example, the Azeri
refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh are cared for almost exclusively by government
organizations. They are housed in a variety of camps and hostels owned by the
government or para-statal industries, are provided stipends from the
government's refugee assistance organization, food from government-run food
stores, and given government coupons for all their personal needs. The only
assistance received from NGOs is a small, supplemental stipend which is given
to widows with dependent children. In all the former Soviet states, the
tradition of government primacy in social welfare is likely to continue for
some time and in any humanitarian crisis, international agencies will be forced
by necessity to work largely with those governments. Church organizations,
with the exception of those in Armenia, are not strong and will take some time
Russia itself is a unique case. For the near term, the Russian government
will need a tremendous amount of assistance to meet the needs of displaced
persons and refugees within its borders. At the same time, improvements in
agriculture that are occurring as the result of privatization and the switch
from a socialist to a market economy could make the Russians a food exporter by
the middle of the decade. Furthermore, they will continue to be a major
provider of assistance to their former republics, largely because they want to
maintain good relations for trade, but also because there are still substantial
Russian minorities in each of the new states. To increase the effectiveness of
their aid and to provide a wide range of technical assistance, the Russians
will seek partners among international organizations.
Whether or not Russia becomes a major actor on the international scene is
still in question. The Russians have neither the experience nor a real
interest in working outside their immediate sphere of influence. However, they
do have assets to offer. Russian transport planes and cargo ships are showing
up in increasing numbers in relief operations. One half of all the aircraft
that ferried relief supplies to the Kurds in northern Iraq under contract from
NGOs were Russian planes operating under European charter companies. In
Africa, Russian Antonovs serve side-by-side with Western transports in Somalia
and southern Sudan.
National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are likely to play an
increasingly important role in disasters. There have been numerous moves to
improve the quality of emergency services through the Federation of Red Cross
Societies in Geneva, with particular emphasis on building more professional
societies in Africa. In the former Soviet Union, the Red Cross is undergoing
major transformation. In many countries they are becoming more independent and
are beginning to expand their services beyond the supplemental welfare support
that they have traditionally provided as a part of the Soviet social protection
system. Technical assistance is being provided by Western Red Cross personnel
and in the various ethnic conflicts that are erupting in the Caucasus and
Central Asia, the Red Cross/Crescent is likely to play a major role.
The proliferation of NGOs is likely to continue, especially at the national
level within the developing countries. There has been a movement within the
international NGO community to encourage "twining," or the linking of
international NGOs with local groups. Results have been mixed, largely due to
cultural and linguistic differences, but nonetheless the practice is likely to
Turkey and Saudi Arabia will become the most active new bilateral donors as
they compete for influence in the former Soviet Union. Saudi Arabia will seek
preeminence in other parts of the Islamic world as well. Both will be
influential in the sense that they can offer a wide array of technical or
financial assistance, but they are not likely to develop the clout of the US,
the EC or Japan.
Among the potential new actors, the biggest question mark is whether or not a
new UN agency for the displaced will be established. Most of the discussion to
date has focused on creating a new agency or expanding the role of the UNHCR to
include the displaced. The best route would be to identify the groups affected
by war and civil conflict not adequately served or protected by the
international system -- those who are dislocated as well as those who remain in
the conflict zone -- and prepare a new mandate for a "High Commissioner for War
Victims." This would permit the international system to have access to people
from the moment they are affected by strife. Early access could have a major
impact on mitigating the level of conflict and should serve to reduce
migration and refugee flows. There is now a unique period in which the
artificial and highly restrictive definitions of refugees can be put aside and
a more protective and expansive approach can be adopted, sans frontieres. The
question is whether or not the UN can make it happen. If it can't, it may be
necessary for the donors to establish an ICRC-like organization outside the UN
Old Actors, New Roles
Within the UN system, there are some moves to make the agencies work more
effectively. Among the more interesting are the efforts in the Horn of Africa
to establish a new working relationship between UNHCR, UNICEF and UNDP. In the
drought and famine zone that spans Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, the agencies
have agreed to participate in a "cross-border/cross-mandate" approach.
Essentially, every person coming into the program area of an operational agency
will be assisted by that agency. For example, if a person displaced by drought
in Kenya comes into one of the towns where UNHCR has established refugee camps
for Somalis, they could apply for food and rations equivalent to those given to
the refugees. All three agencies work together to establish basic minimum
standards for those in need in their theatre of operation, and each agency
provides assistance through its programs or centers. This approach has enabled
the agencies to establish single logistics systems and has improved
coordination in many areas.
UNDRO, which is now part of DHA, is being revitalized and plans to take on a
larger role in conflict situations. Two areas that are likely to expand are
logistics and communications support.
Within UNHCR, there are a number of changes that should substantially improve
its performance. It has been allying with NGOs to provide services under the
UNHCR umbrella. Groups such as the International Rescue Committee, Norwegian
Refugee Council and the Danish Refugee Council have been contracted to provide
stand-by cadres of relief workers so that UNHCR can rapidly expand when
emergencies arise. These agreements give the agencies a chance to recruit well
in advance of crises, train teams to deploy and stockpile the necessary
equipment to support them in the field.
UNICEF expanded its role in conflicts extensively during the 1980s. Because
of its flexible mandate and superb leadership at both the international and
regional levels, UNICEF was often designated the lead UN agency in conflicts.
Because of their excellent reputation, UNICEF will continue to play a central
role in many crises and will only lose its preeminence if the United Nations
finally creates an agency for the displaced.
UNICEF got to where it is professionally by focusing on a limited number of
areas and doing them well. Immunization, water and sanitation and
maternal-child health care are its main areas of expertise, all of which are
critical in emergencies, since women and children are the most affected. In
the next decade, UNICEF may expand in one or two additional areas, but they are
not likely to have the same impact as the ones that they currently master --
not because UNICEF is incapable of doing a good job, but because few other
technical areas lend themselves as easily to standard approaches.)
The World Food Programme is another UN agency likely to undertake new roles.
The wisdom of focusing exclusively on distribution of free food in emergencies
is increasingly being called into question. In several emergencies in the
early 1990s, WFP participated in programs that involved selling their food in
local markets and using the proceeds to finance cash-for-work and other income
support projects. These proved to be markedly successful, and, when carried
out in parallel with targeted feeding programs, provided a much speedier way of
breaking famine conditions. As a result, some of the restrictions that
prevented WFP from selling donated food are being relaxed, permitting WFP to
initiate changes in the way it operates.
Two other institutions bear mention: the International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The ICRC
has been justly praised for its recent work in Africa, especially Somalia.
Many observers see a new openness in the organization and a willingness to
cooperate with other groups, especially NGOs. The ICRC has been forced to
assume wider responsibilities in many countries because NGOs and the UN system
were unable or unwilling to go into some of the hotter conflict zones. In
Somalia, ICRC was engaged in major food relief operations on a scale that
dwarfed the other organizations. They also helped repatriate refugees, managed
a major airlift that supported both NGOs and the UN agencies. While providing
assistance to civilians in conflict areas lies within their mandate, in the
past they have tended to focus more on medical assistance and providing
protection for displaced persons.
Despite their openness in recent operations, the ICRC is more likely to return
to its normal activities and remain secretive in most future operations. The
nature of its work in protection, family reunification, prisoner visitation,
and counseling combatants on the rules of war, requires confidentiality in
order to maintain the trust of all sides. Thus, the role of ICRC is not likely
to expand significantly beyond its present-day mission.
The International Organization for Migration is one group that is well
positioned to expand its efforts. An inter-governmental organization, it can
focus on a wide range of issues dealing with migration and spans the gap
between refugees and displaced persons. Its constitution gives the president
of the organization the latitude to address many of the problems that have been
disregarded by the UN system. It was IOM that organized the repatriation of
third-country nationals from the Gulf region before and after the 1991 war and
initiated the repatriation of the Kurds along the Turkish border while the UN
was sorting out its role. IOM has been quietly working on the problems of
displaced persons in many African countries. If the UN system does not change
rapidly, IOM is likely to expand and fill the gaps.
1. The Tajiks originate from Persia.
2. See Kirkpatrick, Jeane J.; "The Problem with the United Nations" in The
Reagan Phenomenon - and Other Speeches on Foreign Policy, Washington, D.C.,
American Enterprise Institute, 1983 pp.92-98.
3. Cheney, Richard, Annual Report to Congress, 1990, January 1991, page V.
4. Koll, Eduard; "Strategic Planning and the Role of Civil Affairs," a
presentation at the annual US Army Civil Affairs Association Conference, New
York City, 1992.
5. Gordon, Michael, " U.S. Military Chief on Bosnia: Stay Out," New York Times,
September 29, 1992.
6. In situations where the US military is asked to perform a security role, it
is likely that they will insist that a) all forces be put under American
command and; b) that the military commander be put in overall charge of both
military and civil operations as was the case in Operation Provide Comfort.
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