EDITOR'S NOTE: ( Fred Cuny once told a colleague that when he couldn't
sleep or when he was trying to work through a problem, he would sit at his
computer and write. One of the most perplexing problems and opportunities to
face Fred and the rest of the humanitarian relief community during the 1990's
was how the end of the Cold War would affect humanitarian assistance. The
following is a paper Fred Cuny prepared on that subject in July 1993.)


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.


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 former satellites.

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 French Quebecois.

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 development.

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 areas.

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 citizens.

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 involved.

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 emergencies.

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 military establishment.

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)


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 capabilities expanded.

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 repressive governments.

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 and sanitation.

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, etc.

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 structural deficiencies.

Early Warning

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.


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 roles.

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 to develop.

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 expand.

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 system.

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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