What follows is that presentation, which draws not only on Cuny's experience
in Sri Lanka but on virtually all of the history of military-assisted
INTERTECT Relief and Reconstruction Corp.
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Use of military forces for humanitarian purposes is a long- established
tradition in all corners of the world. In the public mind, there is an
association between disaster relief and military involvement; indeed, there is
often an expectation that military units will assist the civilian population in
the immediate aftermath of wars and large-scale emergencies. The earliest
recorded instances predate Alexander the Great. The assistance of armies to
the populations they had conquered was seen as a humane gesture to the
vanquished -- and, not inconsequentially, a means of winning some degree of
loyalty to the new regime.
Initially, humanitarian assistance was simply logistical. Soldiers provided
an interim administration to ensure that food and other vital supplies reached
the population. There was an element of self-interest involved; if the people
were producing food and goods, the army's own logistics were simpler.
By the Napoleonic period, this use of military forces had become so
well-established that it was seen as an adjunct to military science. The
concept of establishing martial law over civil populations was developed as a
means of structuring this involvement in a post-conquest period. While most
European armies of the period pursued only a limited security objective with
martial law, Napoleon and the French revolutionary armies saw it as a means of
changing the social structure and bringing the benefits and new social order of
the French Revolution to the occupied territories. (That they failed is a
lesson to be learned.)
Post-World War II Europe witnessed what was perhaps the most extensive use of
the military in civil affairs. It is important to recognize the influence this
had both on military doctrines of civil involvement and on development of the
international relief system and the approaches that relief agencies have used
since that time. The task that faced the Allies in the aftermath of the war
was enormous. Virtually an entire continent had to be administered. Vestiges
of the Nazi regime had to be eradicated, whole populations had to be reunited
or resettled and economies rejuvenated. Civil government and the rule of law
had to be reestablished and entire civil administrations restructured.
The role of the military was expanded as never before. The public
administrative function was perceived as so important by the Allies that
special attention was given to recruiting civil administrators, city planners,
urban development specialists, and hundreds of persons skilled in operating the
systems of modern cities and their governments.
From the beginning, the objective was to establish martial law in the occupied
territories, then quickly rebuild indigenous capacity to manage the cities, the
provinces and, ultimately, the national governments. In Germany, the process
took longer but the goal was the same -- the military role was to shift from
security and management to strictly security as quickly as possible.
At the time this was happening, the international relief system as we know it
today was in the process of being established. Prior to the war, there were
few non-governmental agencies (NGOs). The humanitarian agencies of the old
League of Nations had generally been very limited in scope and had not survived
the war. The United Nations was just getting underway; agencies such as UNICEF
and the World Food Programme were just starting and others such as UNHCR were
only in the talking stages.
As the new system was being put together, the military was still very much
involved in civil affairs and therefore played a major role in humanitarian
operations. The military had the resources and controlled the logistics, so
that a natural association developed between humanitarian assistance and
military involvement. Many of the strategies and approaches that have been
used since that time evolved from this post-war association.
Let's examine the nature of the problem that they faced. Not only were many
people homeless, but millions had been moved far from their homes. Large camps
were set up to provide temporary assistance until people could be relocated or
until their homes and jobs had been reestablished. Due to the transitory
nature of the situation, the disruptions in local markets, chaos in the
transportation systems and many basic shortages, relief efforts relied heavily
on temporary measures and goods supplied from outside the affected region.
Food, blankets, tents and clothing all were needed and were useful to the
refugees and displaced persons.
The Allied armies were in the process of demobilizing and many of the needed
materials were conveniently on hand. General Lucien Clay once remarked that,
to a large degree, the civilian relief agencies were in the business of
military surplus disposal. The goods were on hand, they were cheap and little
additional effort was needed to transport them to the people in need. Thus, an
entire set of relief approaches became fixed in both doctrine and public
perception. Think for a moment of some typical relief measures: construction
of refugee camps; distribution of food, blankets and cots; massive inoculation
of people against typhus, typhoid and cholera -- these were all approaches
employed by the occupation forces to assist the civilian population. To a
large extent, they were dictated by the nature of the problem and by the
resources that were on hand.
There was one other event seared in public memory that stimulated military
involvement in humanitarian relief, literally in another dimension. The Berlin
Airlift of 1947 was an incredible feat wherein an entire city was totally
supplied from the air. Probably in no other case has the military played so
vital a humanitarian role. More than any other event, the images of those
planes delivering everything from food to coal fostered acceptance of the link
between air forces and humanitarian assistance and, more importantly,
acceptance of the costs incurred. No matter that airlift is the most expensive
means of delivering a commodity; in emergencies, planes have become almost
mandatory means of delivering emergency assistance.
In the late 1940s, the relief system began to expand to other areas of the
world: the trouble spots of decolonialization (India, Palestine, et al), then
the flash points of the Cold War (Korea, Greece and others). Military
involvement continued and a new form was added, the international peacekeeping
forces of the United Nations and regional organizations. Peacekeeping
commanders found that relief agencies still turned to them for assistance from
materials to logistics support.
In the 1950s, the relief system began to expand into the newly- emerging
nations, focusing first on the displaced persons that so often resulted from
liberation struggles and then on natural disaster relief. For the most part,
the system continued to use the techniques used in post-war Europe, adapting
them to needs in the developing countries.
Or so they thought. The problem was that these responses were often
inappropriate and counterproductive. There were many differences between
displaced people in Europe and civil war and famine victims of the Third World.
Provision of tents to victims of an earthquake or hurricane often delayed
reconstruction and failed to address critical land issues. Construction of
refugee camps for famine victims drew people away from their land, making
agricultural recovery nearly impossible and creating an even larger relief
requirement. Massive inoculations were not only inappropriate but, when
applied incompletely, they often broke down the people's natural immunities,
actually increasing their risk to disease.
The military forces committed to these operations also continued to use the
same modes and doctrines. Planes are used in ever-increasing instances to
deliver food and supplies; engineers are still committed to build refugee
camps. Yet there is increasing concern that these uses are not without costs.
For example, a number of specialists have pointed out that the use of military
aircraft to deliver food in Sudan in 1985 delayed vital decisions on
alternative methods and obscured the fact that there was no onward delivery
system from the airports out to the rural populations. When the rains came in
the middle of the operation, it was necessary to bring in helicopters to
shuttle the food outward. With proper planning, the food could have been far
more effectively delivered and distributed by land.
The inappropriate use of military resources is part of a broader problem as
well: the scarcity of humanitarian assistance funds. The public perception is
that the costs of military participation in humanitarian operations are borne
by the respective military establishment; but in most countries, the defense
ministry is reimbursed by the foreign ministry/overseas aid department. Even
in those countries where the military is not reimbursed, the usual practice is
to develop an overall assistance program for the operation and allocate funds
among emergency, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. Within the
program, military operations and humanitarian assistance compete for the same
Military commanders might respond to these criticisms by reminding us that the
decisions are usually in the hands of civilian authorities but, in reality, it
goes far beyond this. Few civilians are knowledgeable about military
capabilities and many harbor unrealistic expectations about what the military
can and cannot do effectively. Furthermore, the nature of the relief system
itself is such that there are few professional relief managers and many relief
workers are first-timers -- to them, an army colonel with a helicopter, a jeep
and an efficient staff with radios and other equipment looks heaven-sent.
Today the military is more heavily engaged in humanitarian operations than
before. In the past five years, military aircraft have air-dropped food into
Ethiopia, helicoptered aid into remote villages in Sudan, rescued flood victims
(and often their animals) in Bangladesh, rushed pharmaceutical to earthquake
sites, and delivered medical teams to hundreds of major and minor disasters.
Engineers have helped rebuild roads and bridges (in some countries, to the
point where there are more Bailey bridges than normal bridges!) and have
supervised the construction of major flood control works in some regions.
In many cases this involvement is vital, but in others it may be at a hidden
cost and more counterproductive than is generally realized. A key objective
must be to define workable doctrines for this involvement and to make
commanding officers aware of the social, political and economic impact they may
have with different modalities of commitment. Among the questions that must be
How are military forces and their assets deployed in humanitarian
What models of deployment are commonly used and what doctrines need to be
developed for each?
Are the current roles effective and, if not, what roles are effective?
How can military units be committed to peacekeeping or humanitarian
operations without violating their neutrality?
How can foreign military commanders best coordinate with civil relief
To help answer these questions, we will look at reasons for military
involvement in humanitarian operations, scenarios under which the military may
be deployed, and configurations or models of deployment. We will then examine
several cases to identify some of the key lessons and issues. To help
understand the complexities of the relief environment and the constraints it
presents, the nature of disasters in the Third World will be explored.
Finally, the dilemmas facing military commanders in humanitarian operations
will be identified and discussed, and specific recommendations for overcoming
or avoiding the pitfalls will be presented.
REASONS FOR INVOLVEMENT
Civilian authorities turn to the military for help in humanitarian operations
for several reasons, among which the most obvious may be their physical assets.
The military is often regarded as a cornucopia of assistance. Among the most
sought-after assets are transport (land, sea and air); fuel; communications;
commodities including food, building supplies and medicines; tools and
equipment; manpower; technical assistance (especially logistics and
communications) and facilities. Requests can run the gamut from the arcane,
like delousing equipment, to the mundane, like maps; from cheap items like
soap, to highly-sophisticated items like bulldozers; from off-the-shelf items
like tents, to items that must be specially produced such as aerial
photographs. Relief authorities know the military has the capability of
providing these on request and, in a resource-poor post-disaster environment,
it is not unreasonable for authorities to request them. Since many of the
items are commonly stockpiled and since civil disaster agencies have few
stockpiles of their own, especially in the developing countries, demands can be
Of these assets, several are particularly attractive to emergency managers.
For example, communication is critical in emergencies but in most countries
there are severe restrictions that limit civilian access to radio/telephonic
systems. Thus, in the aftermath of a disaster, it is not unreasonable for
civilians to turn to the military for these services.
The vast, disciplined and generally self-supporting manpower of the military
is the other key asset coveted by civil disaster authorities. Most disaster
victims will be looking after their own needs at a time when civil works and
repairs may require large commitments of personnel. Again, it is not
unreasonable for civilian authorities to want to put the army to work clearing
rubble, patching roads, etc.
These last two assets help to explain the second reason why civil authorities
often seek military assistance: communications and discipline -- what the
military refers to as chain-of-command -- are important elements in managing
the post-disaster environment. For the most part, civil administration will be
severely limited; their communications are likely to be affected and staff
members may be among the victims requiring assistance. On the other hand, few
indigenous military organizations will be affected to any great extent;
military facilities usually weather storms and earthquakes well and personnel
are unlikely to be affected by famines or food shortages. In cases where local
forces have been affected or have been ordered back to their barracks while an
international peacekeeping force guarantees disengagement, the internal
communications and command-and-control systems of the outside force are likely
to be even more sophisticated and secure. To a civil relief official in the
midst of post-disaster chaos, a disciplined, ordered system is just what is
needed to get things out to the affected population.
Finally, there is the element of history and past experience. As mentioned
earlier, there is a long association of the military with relief operations and
an expectation of some degree of involvement on both sides. After the 1985
Mexico City earthquake, the government was severely criticized by the public
for not bringing in the army for more than routine security, despite President
de la Madrid's stated reason that he wanted to employ large numbers of the
victims in civil works projects rather than use the army to restore services
and clear the rubble.
Five distinct types of deployment can be identified for foreign military
forces, each with its own set of prerequisites, operational modalities, and
1. Deployment after natural disasters: In this scenario, foreign military
forces may be deployed as the result of a request from their own foreign
disaster assistance agency or from the affected country. The usual intent is
to provide logistics support for rapid delivery of relief supplies or to
provide technical support to the host government, often complementing the host
country's own forces and capabilities.
2. Deployment at the conclusion of a conflict: In this case, the deployed
force is either a component of the victorious armies now turned into
occupation/martial law forces (e.g., the Allied Forces in Europe 1945-50), or a
close ally that is supporting the outcome of the conflict (e.g., the Caribbean
forces that took part in the post- invasion administration of Grenada, 1983).
Its principal role is as a police force, with a public administration/martial
law role equally as important. Logistics and technical support play lesser,
but still important, parts in the overall operation.
3. Peacekeeping: The primary role of a peacekeeping force is to intervene
between two opposing sides. The prerequisite is a formal cease-fire or
disengagement agreement and concurrence that the peacekeeping force will be
permitted to enforce the disengagement (although enforcement may not
necessarily mean use of force). In many, if not most, cases, both sides will
remain armed but inactive. The principal role of the peacekeepers is
disengagement verification. There may also be agreement that the forces may
play a limited police role.
It is as peacekeeper that a military commander will face a new humanitarian
assistance role, that is, as guarantor of access to relief and reconstruction
assistance. To meet this task, the force may be required to use its military
capabilities to ensure that people are able to secure their entitlements. For
example, it would not be unusual for relief agencies to request escorts for
relief supplies in the initial phases of the relief operation, especially to
areas that have just been opened as a result of the cease-fire. Logistics and
technical support may also be requested but, if a cease-fire is in effect and
humanitarian agencies have the right of passage throughout the conflict zone,
requests for use of the force's logistics and other assets should be minimal.
One key role that should be mentioned is bomb and mine disposal. Presumably,
the terms of the disengagement will permit increased access to the conflict
zone. As humanitarian agencies begin to undertake expanded relief efforts,
there may be a request for minesweeping and other munitions removal. If the
opposing sides are only disengaged and have not laid down their arms, it will
be necessary to negotiate safe passage routes for relief agencies and the terms
and conditions under which they may operate.
4. Point relief (during active conflict): In this scenario, the two warring
factions have not agreed to total disengagement or to a general cease-fire that
will permit relief operations, but they have agreed, usually through diplomatic
back channels, to permit neutrals to deliver humanitarian relief supplies to an
affected civilian population (usually threatened by famine) at designated
points in the conflict zone -- thus the term "point relief". This scenario is
becoming more common, especially in Africa (e.g., the Ethiopian famine in
1985-6 and currently southern Sudan). To date, the most common deployment of
military units has been in an air support and logistics role, with military
assets (usually planes, crews, and fueling and maintenance support) being
placed under the command of a neutral international relief organization such as
the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or the United Nations.
Point relief requires that both sides agree that the delivery sites are
off-limits to military action. This is the key prerequisite for the commitment
of military units. Without this concurrence, the participating forces and the
operation itself can be placed in jeopardy.
In most cases, agreements have been observed. However, recent violations have
led to calls for an expanded role for foreign military forces operating under
this scenario, that is, as guarantors of the neutrality of the relief points.
It is argued that, when the sites are agreed upon, an international military
detachment would travel to the site (by the same route or method to be used by
the relief column or aircraft), sweep the site for mines, and verify that the
locale and access routes are safe for civilians. The theory is that the
opposing forces would not risk killing neutrals, especially representatives of
a major donor or military power. This mode of deployment is receiving more
attention and has the advantage of forcing contacts between the opposing forces
which could lead to a broader dialogue.
5. Humanitarian interventions and cross-border operations: In recent years,
the relative success of many cross-border relief operations has led to
suggestions for a more interventionist approach to humanitarian relief during
conflicts. Some groups have spoken of disaster victims' "right to assistance"
and some have advocated that military forces representing the world community
be committed under extraordinary circumstances to guarantee safe passage for
relief commodities. Cross-border operations have supplied food and medical
supplies to rebel provinces in northern Ethiopia for years, airlifts are
currently underway in southern Sudan, and humanitarian supplies have routinely
been slipped across the border into rebel-held areas of Afghanistan. Probably
the most dramatic operation was the Biafran airlift of 1968-70. To date, no
multilateral humanitarian intervention has actually been carried out by regular
military forces representing neutral nations. However, in 1987, the Indian Air
Force executed an air drop of relief supplies to the Jaffna peninsula of Sri
Lanka where Tamil minorities were under siege by the Sri Lankan forces. While
the Government of India claimed the drop was humanitarian in nature, the
mission was seen more as a warning to Sri Lanka that India was prepared to
intervene militarily on the side of the Tamil rebels.
The Sri Lankan incident demonstrates the problems related to an intervention;
no matter what the motives, the perception will be that the intervenor has
chosen sides and is prepared to use force. For this reason, it is highly
unlikely that military forces will be called upon to join a multilateral force
for a humanitarian intervention. However, it is not unlikely that military
assets (such as logistics capacity, commodities and perhaps technical
assistance) would be requested to support a civilian cross-border operation up
to the point where supplies or services cross the border.
The manner in which military forces are deployed in a humanitarian role can
affect overall success and performance. Several distinct models can be
1. Detached deployment of military assets: This is the most common model --
the military establishment simply donates commodities or lends equipment and
the necessary personnel to man them. Civilian control over deployment is
inherent in this model and the most successful applications of military assets
2. Use of military units to augment civil manpower: Use of military units to
provide additional manpower usually occurs during or immediately after a
disaster. Popular roles are flood and fire fighting, debris clearance,
post-disaster security and control. The guiding principle here is that
military personnel should be used only to provide extraordinary services during
the emergency and/or to supplement civil work brigades if there is a manpower
shortage. The military should never be used to do work that large numbers of
disaster victims could be paid to do. Survivors, especially low-income
families, need alternative work opportunities and large-scale public works
programs are a major source of post-disaster employment.
3. Use of military units as a substitute for civilian workers: In crises, it
is often proposed that the military take over certain functions from civil
authorities, ranging from operating municipal water systems to delivering mail.
As a general rule, this is an unsuitable role for the military, especially for
foreign forces. Few officers have the proper training and military take-over
may only delay a return to normalcy.
4. Use of the military in security and police roles: Perhaps the most common
role for national military units in civil emergencies is as an extension of
local police forces. With proper training and subordination to civilian
authority, this is an effective role for national units. The keys are training
and subordination. Undisciplined and overly-threatening forces can
inadvertently create their own sets of problems. Foreign forces should never
be used to augment local forces in this role; the local population will see
this as a provocation.
As peacekeepers, foreign military forces play a number of other roles that may
become critical to the overall success of the intervention. As mentioned, they
may become guarantors of the peoples' right and access to relief assistance.
This may involve keeping roads open, ensuring public order around distribution
sites, or guaranteeing that forces have disengaged to permit people to reach
distribution sites in safety.
The police function in peacekeeping is highly-debated. The peacekeepers must
walk a fine line between guaranteeing order and taking over routine criminal
and civil police work. Many people imagine the military serving in the role of
a "London bobby", gently restoring law and order to a violence-torn area. In
some cases, this may work, especially if the population has been effectively
disarmed. However, if the warring parties have only disengaged but remain
armed, many experts believe that a foreign force should not be placed in the
position of having to arrest and detain civilians other than when exercising
their peacekeeping functions (although in practice it has often happened).
Taking over routine police work may alienate the population and may give the
impression that the peacekeepers favor the government. In most civil conflicts
in the Third World, policemen in any uniform represent repression to the
opposition. It should be remembered that the primary role of peacekeeping
troops is to separate or disarm combatants, not to conduct routine criminal
suppression. A better way may be to support the police effort indirectly by
taking over security and guard duties normally performed by local police in
order to release them for other duties.
5. Secondment or release of personnel to special relief units: In the late
1970s, the government of Sweden created a special Standby Force for Disaster
Relief, as a civilian branch within the Defense Ministry. It was composed of
military personnel temporarily released from active duty in order to perform
duties in disaster relief without loss of rank or pay, and a cadre of civilians
who volunteered for a period of twelve months. The Standby Force was organized
along military lines, drawing most of its equipment from military materiel. In
short, the Force was an attempt to build an organization with military-like
capabilities, but avoiding direct military involvement and its connotations.
Several observers have noted that the makeup of the Force and its military
orientation reduced its effectiveness. With large numbers of personnel being
sent to a disaster area, all trying to find an appropriate role for
"militarized civilians", the Force has had difficulties in providing meaningful
and appropriate assistance. There have been some notable successes, especially
in projects dealing with refugees; in 1985, their engineers built and
maintained a refugee camp in eastern Sudan that was considered a model for its
layout and systems. But overall, the unit has been characterized as an "over-
response", and some feel that the Swedes have only managed to transfer the
limitations of the military to civilian clothes. It is the military doctrines
that are inappropriate, not the people. In other words, they have developed a
response before defining the problem.
With all these assets, and the ability to command and direct them, there is
still much concern about the commitment of military forces to humanitarian
affairs. To understand these concerns, we will look briefly at some recent
1. The Ethiopian Airlift and Airdrops (1985-6)
Operational scenario: Point relief
Commitment modalities: Logistics support, technical assistance
It was hailed as the greatest humanitarian airlift of modern times. In 1985,
responding to international concern about the plight of starving people in
Ethiopia's northern provinces of Eritrea and Tigray, an international airlift
-- composed of C-130s from Sweden, Britain and Belgium (and later Canada);
C-160 Transalls from the Federal Republic of Germany; and Anatov An-12s from
the USSR, combined with helicopters from Poland -- began delivering food to
remote areas of the famine zone. Ostensibly, the operation was to supplement
the capabilities of the Ethiopian air force (which also operates An-12s).
Technically, the operation was a huge success. At the high point of the
operation, 10,000 metric tons of food were delivered per month. Most of the
food was airlifted to remote airstrips, then trucked to distribution points in
nearby communities. To reach the more remote villages, and to permit people to
stay in place and not migrate to relief camps in search of food, RAF and
Luftwaffe planes airdropped grains using free-drop delivery. The effort was
remarkable, for only minimal food losses resulted.
Yet there are haunting questions, cost concerns being among the most obvious.
Even the mighty Hercules, which often carried 15-ton loads during the
operation, can only carry a load equivalent to half that of a grain lorry (some
grain trucks could carry up to 65 MT). The average cost of one flight equalled
the cost to purchase a grain truck and fuel it for 6 months. Surely an
investment in land transportation would have been of more lasting benefit in
Some have justified the airlift on the basis of a need for speed -- an
argument that does not stand up. It took two Hercs operating 6 days to deliver
what one convoy could deliver within the same period. Remember, the big
planes were used to shuttle cargoes that were already in-country, not to
deliver them to Ethiopia.
Another reason given was that many airstrips were inaccessible by road. This
argument begins to get at the heart of the matter. A civil war was being waged
throughout the air support effort. Two things should be pointed out about the
situation. First, many of the airstrips used in the shuttle portion of the
operation could be and were being reached by lorries at the same time that the
airlift was underway. Second, the planes operated from government-held areas
in full cooperation with Ethiopian authorities.(1) This had several results.
The airlift was viewed with some suspicion by the two principal insurgent
fronts: the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Tigrayan People's
Liberation Front (TPLF). In their minds, the international community had taken
sides. Thus, the mantle of neutrality was lost.
An even more important issue was that vital negotiations between the rebels
and the government over safe passage for relief convoys were lost because the
government had an "out" with the airlift. The negotiations could have opened
more roads and made the food relief effort far more effective; in the case of
Eritrea, a cease-fire for relief would have had even more benefits and possibly
led to further peace discussions. So long as the planes were there, they did
not feel as much pressure to negotiate.(2)
Another concern was the scale of the airlift and the fact that it was carried
out during various offensives by the Ethiopian forces. It has been pointed out
that the airlift permitted the Ethiopian Air Force to continue to use its own
resources for the war effort (and even a controversial forced resettlement
program). Critics point out that the Ethiopians (and the Soviets) had the
transport capacity to undertake the operation, but again the pressure to do so
was alleviated by the international effort.
For the international relief community, the airlift was also the easy way out
of a major dilemma. They had been experiencing great difficulty negotiating
with the Ethiopian government on relief in the war zone. When the government
failed to negotiate a safe passage agreement with the rebels, it was easier to
ask for air support than to continue to badger the government. Again, a move
towards peace was lost. This was not a failure of the military; it was a
failure of civilian relief authorities and diplomatic missions. But the mere
availability of the airlift capacity reduced the necessity of taking a hard
line with the Ethiopians. (It is interesting that the fund-raising media used
by the agencies during the period rarely mentioned the fact that a war was
It has been claimed that the air drop effort had some impact on reducing
population migration during the famine. (Migration is one of the worst results
of famine and significantly prolongs relief efforts.) Unfortunately, there is
little evidence to support this claim one way or the other. By the time the
air drops were regularly delivering supplies, migration was beginning to taper
off. (Indeed, by the time the overall air operation got into full swing, death
rates among the affected populations had already begun to decline, a sign that
the most of vulnerable people in the population had already died.) However, it
is likely that the operation did have some effect on both migration and what is
called residual mortality, helping to save malnourished people who could not go
to the relief centers. It is doubtful that the Ethiopian forces would have
been able to accomplish this feat (air drop) with their own air assets even had
a cease-fire been in effect. While more attention should have been devoted to
developing a better distribution system in Ethiopia prior to the famine, it was
not; and the remarkable efforts of the airdrop crews are to be commended.
One thing that contributed to the success of the air drops was a tacit
agreement between the relief authorities and the rebels that the insurgents
would not shoot at the aircraft. Without this, the Hercs and Transalls would
have not been able to operate, and it is doubtful whether their respective air
ministries would have committed them.
Aircraft should only be used for operations that cannot be carried out by
other means, i.e., they should not be seen as an end in themselves.
Military forces should not be committed without a clear agreement from both
sides of the conflict.
Commanders should ascertain whether the commitment of assets will help or
undermine negotiations between warring parties.
Equal access to relief supplies should be guaranteed before the relief effort
Military detachments should operate under neutral humanitarian aid authorities
(and, where possible, from neutral bases).
2. Deployment of Medical Teams to Sudan (1988)
Operational scenario: Deployment after a natural disaster, in support of local
military humanitarian assistance operations
Commitment modalities: Medical support, technical assistance
In the aftermath of heavy rains and flooding in Sudan in August 1988, the U.S.
Army sent a team of medical personnel to assist the Sudanese army working with
the civilian population. It was feared that the floods, which had inundated
hundreds of thousands of latrines in the slums of Khartoum, would spread
disease throughout the population. That concern was mirrored by civil disaster
relief authorities; the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control, among others, had sent teams of experts to assist the Sudanese
In such a situation, the doctrine of the military is straight- forward:
immunize everyone at risk against all possible health threats. Therefore, the
Army team began an extensive campaign to inoculate the population of their
assigned areas. The problem with the doctrine is that, while it works well for
a controlled population (like soldiers or citizens of an educated,
medically-sophisticated society), in the Third World where people have little
previous contact with modern medicine, other approaches are needed. Few people
understand the nature of the health threat, few will return for their booster
shoots (if they even understand they need them), and in many cases the
medicines cannot be given effectively for myriad reasons. In short, the
doctrines applied were not only ineffective; in many cases they were
counter-productive and, in some situations, dangerous. Again, this is not to
take anything away from the hard work and dedication of the military medical
personnel. They were just inappropriately trained for the situation. Their
medical doctrines were appropriate for the people they normally serve, but not
for civilians under these circumstances.
Military medical teams operating in the fields of public health, preventive
medicine or primary health care need to observe health protocols and doctrines
developed for civilian populations after disasters.
Local military medical units may not be any more aware of civilian health
needs than are foreign detachments. For this reason, foreign military health
personnel should operate in close coordination with local health ministry and
World Health Organization experts.
3. Construction of Refugee Camps in India (1971)
Operational scenario: Deployment during a civil emergency, in support of
Commitment modalities: Technical assistance, manpower
To escape the Pakistani civil war in 1971, an estimated 8 million refugees
flooded into India from what would become Bangladesh. Indian army engineers
were called upon to help construct refugee camps as temporary places for these
people to live in the region around Calcutta. For the most part, the engineers
concentrated on provision of water and sanitation, but in one instance they
were assigned to design and build a large refugee camp on a sandy tidal flat
and landfill known as Salt Lake.
The engineers began the work in June 1971. The original design was for 35,000
refugees. Construction teams laid out the camp, dug drainage ditches,
installed batteries of latrines and began sinking tubewells. As soon as the
basic infrastructure was complete, building materials for self-help shelters
were brought in and the camp was opened. On the first day, over 100,000 people
The camp and its systems quickly broke down. Overcrowding was partly to
blame; by the time the authorities were able to control access, 700,000
refugees had entered. But the designs of the camp and many of its systems were
also at fault. The camp had been laid out in a grid following lines similar to
that of a military installation. From the air, it resembled a division base
camp. Administrative and medical facilities were highly centralized and, as
the camp grew, the people at the edge were farther and farther away from
clinics, food stores, etc. In practice, the greater the distance, the less
people avail themselves of services no matter how great the need. Shelters
resembled squad tents; they were all multi-family and were placed in long,
orderly grids. Experience has shown that this is the worst possible
arrangement for shelters. People are isolated and left visually unprotected.
The result is depression, a lack of the social bonding needed for people to
cope in such a situation, and an increase in social problems in the camp such
as theft and rape.
Again, not everything was bad. The engineers did provide one important
element: community organization. In order to build all the necessary shelters
and camp systems, refugee manpower had to be mobilized. The engineers set up
schemes for mass-producing shelters, digging ditches, sandbagging low-lying
areas, and for hundreds of other routine tasks. This organization commenced
from the minute a person entered the camp. After medical screening, those who
were fit were immediately sent to a work gang and given an assignment. Several
observers have commented that this immediate involvement helped overcome many
of the psychological problems that the people faced; with something productive
to do, they had less time to worry about their situation.
Physical order along military organizational lines is usually inappropriate
for civilian populations. Refugee camps are not bases; they are communities
whose residents have special social problems and needs.
Services for refugees must be brought to them. They are not in a state that
encourages them to seek the services.
Social organization can play a significant part in helping people cope.
(However, efforts to organize the people should not be overbearing or
4. Evacuation of Earthquake Victims in Guatemala (1976)
Operational scenario: Deployment after a natural disaster, to complement local
military relief efforts
Commitment modalities: Logistics support
Thousands of people in remote rural villages in the rugged Guatemalan
highlands were injured in the massive earthquake of 1976. The United States
immediately offered to send a detachment of helicopters to aid in bringing the
injured to hospitals in the capital. The helicopters, manned for the most part
by English-speaking crews, went into operation within days of the first shock.
In a short period of time, they airlifted almost 700 people, more than 75% of
whom were children, to hospitals located an average of 120 kms from their
The areas where the helicopters operated were heavily populated by descendants
of the Mayans. Until the earthquake, rural farmers and villagers in the remote
highlands had little contact with the outside world. The vast majority of
residents spoke one of the more than 20 Indian languages in one of the scores
of dialects within each. A few miles from the capital, few people spoke
Spanish, the national language. Thus, for many families, the nightmare of the
earthquake was only the beginning of their tragedy. For few people had any
idea where the helicopters were taking their children. Even if the crew had
known the eventual destination of the patients, there was no way to communicate
this to the parents. For their part, many of the parents assumed, quite
naturally, that the helicopters would bring the children back -- this was their
first exposure to the machines -- and it was several days before they realized
that this would not happen. For months afterward, there were pathetic rituals
of bands of people going from hospital to hospital trying to find their lost
children. While many were recovered, many others, especially infants, were
not. It had never occurred to the military crews that such a thing was
happening. They had even taken the precaution of having Guatemalan military
medical personnel along on some of the flights, but they too were unprepared
for the situation, as the Guatemalan military is drawn largely from the Ladino
population rather than the Indian community.
Preparations for any humanitarian operation should be just as thorough as for
a military operation.
Foreign commanders cannot always rely on local military authorities to know
the situation better than expatriates.
There are many other cases that could be used to illustrate situations where
the military was inappropriately committed to a civil relief operation. What
is important to note is the common thread that runs through each one: the
military forces were not properly trained for their roles, the doctrines under
which they operated were inappropriate for the mission, and the realities of
the emergency environment were not known or understood prior to their
commitment. In the cases of outside military involvement, there was a failure
on the part of civil relief authorities to alert the military to the
operational issues and, in the case of Guatemala, failure of the local
counterpart forces to provide the necessary orientation about operational
THE NATURE OF THIRD WORLD DISASTERS
Perhaps at this point it would be appropriate to discuss the nature of
disasters in the Third World and why military units, especially those from
industrialized countries, often find it difficult to undertake civilian relief
roles. Only by understanding the environment in which the military operates
can we understand the limitations of the military establishment and the
pitfalls that may be encountered.
Until recently, disasters were seen as temporary events that could be resolved
with relief aid. But some unsettling facts have emerged. Countries on the
road to development, experiencing a disaster, suddenly lost momentum.
Resources grew scarce, and development programs had to compete with
reconstruction activities for available funds. In the aftermath of wars, the
outcome was even worse.
At first the solution was assumed to be more relief aid from the
industrialized countries, and annually appropriations grew. Despite the influx
of aid, the results were discouraging. Perhaps the answer was to speed the
response, to devote more resources, or to expand the international delivery
system. But these measures and others were applied, few with meaningful
The concept of a disaster as a separate event requiring a rapid response of
medical and material aid was not entirely accurate and led to efforts that were
not only very ineffective, but in many cases counterproductive. The basic
problem was the conceptual failure by aid organizations to link disasters in
the Third World with poverty and underdevelopment. Relief agencies tended to
view disasters as discrete emergencies and responded by providing emergency
medical assistance, basic goods (especially personal articles such as clothes
and blankets) and temporary emergency shelter, usually tents. Emergency aid,
collectively called "relief", was distributed free, as a form of charity. Even
if this were totally effective in meeting emergency needs and could be provided
at an appropriate time, such aid would still not address the roots of the
problem: poverty and underdevelopment.
More than any other human event, a war or a natural disaster dramatically
brings into focus all the basic problems and inherent weaknesses of a society
and often forces a reappraisal of goals. Critical decisions, previously
unaddressed, can no longer be ignored, and choices must be made. When it
became evident in Guatemala that the earthquake had affected the poorer sectors
(especially the Indian communities) to a far greater extent than the middle-
and upper-class families, everyone recognized the portent this held for the
future of the country. For the first time, people who had been unconcerned
about poverty or unaware of the extent of poverty in Guatemala were brought
face-to-face with the reality.
Disaster-induced changes occur because disasters create a climate wherein
changes in society are more acceptable. While not all people, least of all the
governments, experience a desire for change, pressures from victims often
evolve into demands for fundamental changes -- demands that may cover not only
changes in the society, but also changes in the form of the community,
including land and housing.
The changes that may occur are numerous and varied. Changes in building
styles, methods and materials can often be traced to a disaster. Migrations or
relocations of people from one area to another can alter urbanization or rural
living trends. Land invasions following earthquakes have affected the makeup
of peripheral settlements around large cities and, in many cases, have affected
the pattern of land ownership and tenure, not only in the immediate area of the
invasion but also in surrounding communities. In wars or droughts, when large
numbers of people are forced to migrate, the place where they stop in order to
receive relief supplies often becomes a new settlement.
The loss of economic opportunity or need to find alternate sources of income
have often caused large-scale migrations. Migrations compound the problems for
relief agencies since they have to provide relief instead of development
assistance, significantly increasing overall post-disaster assistance costs.
Unfortunately, many of the principal relief strategies used today encourage,
rather than discourage, migrations.
For a society, disasters often bring changes in the structure of community
leadership. New organizations may be born out of necessity to deal with the
disaster and may remain to continue the work of bringing economic change to the
community. New leaders often emerge, sometimes to replace leaders felled by
the disaster, but more often to replace those who have proved ineffective or
unable to cope in the aftermath of a disaster.
Disasters are one result of the cycle of poverty common to developing
countries. The roots of poverty are the increased marginalization of the
population caused by high birthrates and the lack of resources (or the failure
of governments to allocate resources) to meet the basic human needs of an
expanding population. At the center of the resource issue are the parallel
problems of land and economic opportunity. As the population increases, land
in both rural and urban areas becomes more scarce, and those seeking new land
for farming or housing are forced to accept marginal lands offering less
productivity and a smaller measure of physical or economic safety. Such trends
result both in rapid and unchecked urbanization and in massive deforestation of
mountainous and jungle regions that occurs as small farmers push into less
tenable areas for farming. In addition to the political failure of governments
to develop new economic systems and to reallocate resources (especially land)
to benefit the nation as a whole, there is an inappropriate attempt to use high
technology to instantly "modernize" the society. This has two contradictory
results: higher unemployment and rising expectations.
Recognizing poverty as the primary root of vulnerability and disaster in the
Third World is the first step towards developing an understanding of the need
for change in current disaster response practices. For if the magnitude of
disasters is an outgrowth of underdevelopment and poverty, how can we expect to
reduce the impact with food, blankets and tents -- the traditional forms of
The issues are largely the same in the aftermath of both natural disasters and
civil war. In many cases the very reason a war was fought was over issues of
entitlement, poverty, land, fair housing and food. For military units,
especially peacekeeping forces, deployment in this environment requires extreme
DILEMMAS FACING FOREIGN MILITARY UNITS IN HUMANITARIAN
1. Conflicting Values in Emergencies
One way to explore the dilemmas facing the military is to examine the
conflicting values at play in an emergency. Following a disaster, there are
many conflicting perceptions regarding needs and requirements held by the
government, the local military, relief agencies and the population. For
example, take the issue of tents. For the government, tents offer a quick
solution to what they see as a temporary shelter problem. Furthermore, tents
do not imply permanency; if the government decides to change its reconstruction
or settlement plans, people in tents can easily be moved.
For the relief agency, tents are a comparatively cheap solution. Often they
will be donated by a foreign military establishment and many can be transported
by air or lorry to the disaster site.
For the survivors, the tent is of little use. Most people in the Third World
build their own houses at very low cost with indigenous or locally-available
materials. It is not uncommon for people to build houses for less than US$100.
Given the comparative cost of a tent big enough for a family of 5 or more
(US$150 - 1,500), most survivors view tents as a waste of money. They would
much rather have the cash or its equivalent in building materials.
It is well-documented that most survivors build their own emergency shelters,
normally using a portion of the materials salvaged from their old homes. The
process of salvaging and building is very important; it reduces costs and
permits people to recapture and hold the materials so that they will not be
bulldozed during rubble clearance activities. More important (especially to
people whose land tenure is not legally recognized) is the fact that
construction of the shelter demonstrates a degree of permanence to the
authorities -- to them a tent is definitely only for secondary use.
There is one more aspect to consider, that is, the subtle "message" that is
conveyed when a tent is given out to disaster victims. The tent implies a
temporary solution, an unfinished process. It hints that something else is
coming since it is obviously an interim solution. Contrast this to the
approach of providing tools and building materials; the message is clearly "get
on with it -- don't wait for anything else". Of the two approaches to shelter,
which promotes self-sufficiency and accelerates reconstruction, and which
supports passivity and dependence and creates unreasonable expectations?
This is only one example, built around what is almost an inconsequential
relief item. Far more complex issues abound.
2. Nuances of Involvement
There is one additional caution that must be clearly understood by any
military commander contemplating the commitment of his forces to a humanitarian
operation in a developing country. In many countries, the military represents
the power of a repressive government and local people, far from welcoming the
arrival of the military after a disaster, are often fearful of any increased
presence of the armed forces, local or foreign. Since the visiting units will
almost certainly avail themselves of the facilities of the host military, in
the minds of the people, the foreigners will be linked to the host military in
the public mind -- a sort of guilt by association.
An extension of this problem occurs when the visiting military is placed under
local civil defense authorities. Civil defense in many developing countries
has connotations beyond simply assisting the civilian population. Many civil
defense agencies are dominated by military officers and internal security
forces whose role is to control, not aid, the civilian population. In some
cases, the agencies are a shadow command designed to "take over" in a complete
sense in an "emergency".
3. The Mantle of Neutrality
One of the most important determinants of the success of a military deployment
in a humanitarian operation is whether or not the force is able to assume and
maintain a "mantle of neutrality". The importance of this cannot be
overstated. If at any time one or more parties of a conflict perceive that a
foreign force has other than humanitarian objectives, either for itself or for
the other party, the operation in which it is involved will be regarded as a
military intervention and the force will become engaged in the conflict.
Once the mantle of neutrality is lost, it cannot be regained. This is
especially a problem for non-UN peacekeeping missions (e.g., the Arab League
force in Lebanon, the IPKF in Sri Lanka, the western Multi-Lateral Force in
4. Humanitarian Assistance vs. Pacification
Perhaps the single most common point where a peacekeeping force loses its
public support is when it inadvertently offers humanitarian assistance that is
perceived by the insurgents as "pacification". This is a particularly
difficult issue for, as we have seen, relief officials commonly turn to
military commanders with requests for use of their assets. How can the
commander determine whether the aid he is providing will be perceived as
humanitarian or not?
First, he must negotiate the limits of assistance with all parties. It is
extremely important that field-level contacts be established and maintained
throughout the assistance effort. Activities that both sides permit will
change from one locality to another; the only way a commander can proceed is
with a broad understanding by both sides of what can be carried out without
interruption. On the government side, a general agreement on the range of
permissible activities is required. On the insurgents' side, specific
clearances for each locality are needed. For example, a road may be permitted
in one area and not another, depending upon whether it goes through a sanctuary
or could be used for military purposes. In Sri Lanka, reconstruction of
schools is controversial, since they have been used in the past as temporary
military encampments or outposts for controlling roads. It is possible to work
out informal agreements with both sides. It must be clearly understood that,
unless these contacts are made, assistance should not be provided.
Second, it is absolutely vital that assistance actions not be used for
political gain by either side of the conflict. As soon as the program is seen
to be politically motivated, it will be attacked by the opposite side.
Neutrality can be attained by:
carefully selecting assistance activities. As a general rule, assistance
should focus on repairing or rebuilding critical infrastructure of a
non-controversial and non-visible nature (such as water and sanitation
facilities). Avoid systems such as telecommunications that only one side is
likely to use or control. Wherever possible, the assistance should be provided
through or by international organizations (IOs) such as UNICEF, UNHCR or UNDRO,
or by non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
avoiding collaboration with politically-sensitive ministries or agencies of
the local government. Groups to avoid include ministries of defense, interior,
security, etc. There are line ministries in every government that are
generally regarded as non-provocative, such as ministries of health,
transportation and others. If the peacekeeping force must collaborate with
government ministries to deliver aid, assistance should be channelled through
these ministries. Participation by any government ministry, agency or
department associated in any way with the government's conduct of the war will
result in immediate identification of the effort as pacification.
avoiding politically-sensitive issues. Key issues that must be avoided
--- providing assistance to people in government-sponsored resettlement or
relocation programs or zones;
--- providing support to colonizations, "peace villages" or settlements
designed to occupy or hold a contested zone;
--- supporting forced changes in settlement patterns that are clearly
unpopular (e.g., villagization schemes).
avoiding politically-sensitive areas. In some cases, it will simply not be
possible to provide humanitarian assistance to a particular locale. This may
be because the area is too politically complex to work in or because
pacification or similar programs have been carried out there. For example,
commanders should avoid areas where a government is relocating people away from
the conflict zone. Even if the humanitarian assistance were targeted for
non-relocatees, the fact that it was carried out in the relocation zone could
give the appearance that it was somehow linked to pacification.
To decide which locales should be given preference during the initial stages,
the best suggestion is to analyze where communities are returning to normal
without assistance. For example, the return of refugees or displaced persons
to their communities can often give a clue regarding which areas the people
consider safe, since they usually have much better knowledge about the local
situation than governments or relief agencies.
5. Operational Issues
There are a number of operational problems associated with using military
assets. First, military units are not suited to long-term disaster roles.
Very few commanders are willing to allow their troops or key personnel to
devote extensive time to non-defense-related activities. Thus, organizations
dependent upon the military in key sectors must by necessity limit their
involvement to the emergency period.
A second problem is that any organization or activity tends to mold its method
of operation around the key participants. If the military assumes a major role
in disaster response, activities will be molded to military capabilities. A
subtle example of this is the emphasis on the use of tents as emergency
shelter; because military units already have tents and can erect them quickly,
few alternatives are sought.
The third problem is precisely what makes the military so efficient in the
first place, that is, its highly-centralized control system. Its hierarchy is
designed to facilitate control and centralize authority. But in a disaster,
people need to get together and develop collective responses. A military
hierarchy of decision-making can discourage and inhibit this process.
In order to address the problems that will face commanders who are ordered
into humanitarian operations, there are several tasks that need to be
First, military establishments that are likely to be committed to humanitarian
operations need to develop a body of in-house expertise on civilian disaster
relief. This should not be too difficult. There are numerous training courses
now available, ranging from self-teaching courses offered by the University of
Wisconsin Disaster Management Center to intensive university courses (e.g.,
Cranfield/U.K.) to special training institutes such as the Asian Disaster
Preparedness Center in Bangkok. Courses range from general topics ("What is a
Disaster?") to highly-technical or specialized topics such as "Refugee Camp
Planning" and "Supplementary Feeding for Refugees and Displaced Persons".
The need for training extends to non-military authorities involved in
peacekeeping or other humanitarian operations where neutral military forces or
detachments may be deployed. As mentioned earlier, civilian relief authorities
hold misconceptions and unrealistic expectations about military capabilities
and tend to ask the military to undertake assignments that cannot be
accomplished easily. Training regarding appropriate tasking of military units
and assets in humanitarian operations should be provided specifically for
emergency operations staff of the Secretary General's staff, director-level
personnel at UNHCR, UNDRO and UNICEF, and resident representatives of UNDP.
Other bodies in the relief system that could benefit from training or
orientation are the ICRC, the League of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies,
and major NGOs (especially those that are routinely involved in food
logistics). Emphasis should also be placed on effective coordination models in
different types of operations.
Second, military establishments should take a lesson from the post- World War
II occupation of Europe and develop cadres of officers whose MOS is
peacekeeping, humanitarian operations, and civil support operations.
Third, more effective means of coordination with and subordination to
international relief authorities should be developed. In every case, it is
extremely important to place military forces under civilian control. The
resources that are needed in a disaster and that the military can easily
provide should be identified, including transport, communication and medical
services. Plans should be made to place small units under the temporary
authority of civil officials for specific tasks. It will then be easier for
non-military authorities to manage these resources, and local leaders will not
feel overwhelmed or threatened by the presence of soldiers in their
It should become a matter of doctrine that, in a humanitarian operation, no
matter how close the linkage with local military authorities prior to the
emergency, the foreign forces will strive to attain and maintain the mantle of
In civil operations where use of force by the foreign units is not a role,
i.e., after civil disasters, it is extremely important to ensure that the
military detachments are not threatening to the civil population. An effective
and non-threatening way of integrating military and civil functions is to
assign officers with a technical background to humanitarian operations and, at
the local level, to place command of military units under the authority of
junior officers or senior non-commissioned officers.
Finally, under no circumstances should foreign military commanders allow their
forces to become identified with one side or the other when they are in a
peacekeeping or spot delivery role. As guarantors of equal access,
peacekeepers cannot in any way become involved in pacification efforts. To do
so will destroy their credibility and draw them into a conflict which they
1 Initial flights were operated under the direction of the Ethiopian
Commissioner of Relief & Rehabilitation with clearances from the Ethiopian
Air Force. Later, the planes were operated under the UN banner but still with
clearances and close supervision by the CORR and EAF.
2 This issue has arisen in peacekeeping operations where critics have
claimed that successful peacekeeping has led to stalemated negotiations, for
example in Cyprus. As long as the two sides are not fighting, there is less
pressure to conclude a comprehensive peace agreement.
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