Civilian and Military Cooperation
in Complex Humanitarian Operations
THE INTERDEPENDENCE of civilian and military
organizations that respond to increasingly frequent and devastating
complex emergencies around the world is becoming more evident.
Better understanding of cultural differences between civilian humanitarian
assistance organizations (HAOs) and the military could help HAOs'
personnel and the military work together more effectively in complex
emergencies, as well as in peace operations, disaster response,
consequence management, and humanitarian assistance.
Why is this cooperation and coordination of
civilian and military organizations necessary? Joint Publication
3-07.6 Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Humanitarian
Assistance begins with these words:
"The purpose of foreign humanitarian assistance
(FHA) is to relieve or reduce the results of natural or manmade
disasters or other endemic conditions such as human suffering,
diseases, or privation that might present a serious threat to life
or loss of property. It is sometimes in the best interest of the
United States and its allies to deploy U.S. forces to provide humanitarian
assistance (HA) to those in need. In addition, humanitarian and
political considerations are likely to make HA operations commonplace
in the years ahead."1,2
These words have proven to be all too true as we move into the
Efforts are underway through non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) and military-sponsored seminars and publications
and military training exercises, such as Prairie Warrior at the
Command and General Staff College and Purple Hope at the Joint
Forces Staff College, to help civilians and military personnel
working in HAOs better understand each other. More joint training
is essential for improved mutual understanding. Effective humanitarian
assistance operations require civilian and military cooperation
to facilitate unity of effort and to attain desired end states.
Dana Priest, author of The Mission: Waging
War and Keeping Peace with America's Military, stated, "As the
U.S. Army's experience in Kosovo shows, the mind-set, decision-making
and training of infantry soldiers rarely mixes well with the disorder
inherent in civil society. This mismatch of culture and mission
can distort the goal of rebuilding a country."3
This is a lesson that we all must remember in the rebuilding of
General John M. Shalikashvili, then Chairman
of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, recognized the need for good
cooperation when he said, "What's the relationship between a just
arrived military force and the NGO and PVO that might have been
working in a crisis-torn area all along? What we have is a partnership.
If you are successful, they are successful; and, if they are successful,
you are successful. We need each other."4
Complex emergencies are defined by the March
2003 UN Guidelines on the Use of Military And Civilian Defence
Assets to Support UN Humanitarian Activities in Complex Emergencies
as "a humanitarian crisis in a country, region or society where
there is total or considerable breakdown of authority resulting
from internal or external conflict and which requires an internatioonal
response that goes beyond the mandate or capacity of any single
and/or ongoing UN country programme."5
Complex emergencies have become much more frequent since the end
of the Cold War. They share additional troubling characteristics,
- Reappearance of nationalistic, territorial,
religious, or ethnic ambitions or frictions such as occurred
in the former Yugoslavia and are predicted in Iraq.
- Mass population movements as people are
internally displaced or become refugees in another country while
searching for security, food, water, and other essentials.
- Severe disruption of the economic system
and destruction of vital infrastructure.
- General decline in food security resulting
from political decisions, discriminatory policies, food shortages,
disruption of agriculture, droughts, floods, inflation, and lack
of finances. Malnutrition can ensue quickly in local areas and
may degenerate into widespread starvation.6
Humanitarian crises can result from a combination
of manmade and natural disasters, such as large numbers of people
experiencing droughts, cyclones, crop failures, or floods even
as they are engulfed in civil war, are invaded, or as their governments
fail. Recent complex emergencies have occurred in Afghanistan,
Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iraq,
the Philippines, southern Africa, and Sudan. Natural disasters
alone can overwhelm the resources of already severely stressed
governments, with sadly predictable effects on the people. The
earthquakes in Central Asia and Hurricane Mitch are examples.
Humanitarian Assistance Organizations
"Humanitarian assistance organization" (HAOs)
is used here as a collective term that includes intergovernmental
organizations (IGOs), nongovernmental humanitarian agencies (NGHAs),
and NGOs involved in providing humanitarian assistance in complex
emergencies and disasters. These are the definitions of humanitarian
organizations used by the Sphere Project.7,8
IGO replaces the previously used international organization (IO)
because of confusion with the military's acronym for information
NGHAs are the International Committee of the
Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross
and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The ICRC, a unique humanitarian
organization based in Geneva, is the civilian organization designated
in the 1949 Geneva Conventions to ensure that prisoners of war
and civilians in war are treated in accordance with international
The International Federation of Red Cross
and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), also headquartered in Geneva,
has 178 national Red Cross or Red Crescent Society affiliates,
one of which is the American Red Cross (ARC). The ARC responds
to local, national, and international disasters; provides support
for military personnel and their families; and offers extensive
training opportunities in disaster assistance, shelter management,
mass feeding, damage assessment, first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation,
and mother and baby care.
The March 2003 UN guidelines defines humanitarian
assistance as aid to an affected population that seeks, as its
primary purpose, to save lives and alleviate suffering of a crisis-affected
population. Humanitarian assistance must be provided in accordance
with the basic humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality,
The United Nations Office of the Coordinator
for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) or the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) is often chosen as the lead agency to assist
and coordinate HAOs' planning and operations in the complex emergency.
UNHCR is the organization charged with the
responsibility for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
In JP 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated
Terms, the term refugee is defined as "a person who, by reason
of real or imagined danger, has left their home country or country
of nationality and is unwilling or unable to return."10
IDPs are defined in the same JP as "any person who has left their
residence by reason of real or imagined danger but has not left
the territory of their own country."11
These definitions in JP 3-07.6 have changed
from previous U.S. military definitions of refugees and IDPs. These
revised and internationally accepted definitions will also appear
in the next edition of JP 1-02. Because of the Dayton Accords or
General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) in Bosnia and Herzegovina,
the U.S. military has begun to use the acronym DPRE for displaced
persons, refugees, and evacuees.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights (UNHCHR) was created in 1994 to provide human rights monitors
to investigate and to prevent abuses of human rights; to support
UN Special Prosecutors by collecting and verifying evidence of
crimes against humanity; to provide education about international
human rights law and practice; and to support host countries in
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
provides long-term expert consultation and material support in
collaboration with the host government and key host country nationals
for projects to strengthen health and medical services, especially
for children and women; water purification and distribution; and
The World Food Program (WFP) obtains, transports,
and stockpiles food. Direct assistance, the face-to-face distribution
of WFP food at household or camp level, is done by NGOs or other
The World Health Organization (WHO) is the
UN agency charged with promoting and protecting the health of the
world's population. WHO's Department of Emergency and Humanitarian
Action responds to complex emergencies and natural disasters.
NGOs are "organizations, both national and
international, which are constituted separately from the government
of the country in which they are founded."12
NGOs are not aligned with any government. Many employ host country
nationals as well as personnel from other countries and so are
Every NGO is accountable to its donor constituency
and headquarters personnel, who establish the NGO's priorities
and fund the programs the NGO undertakes in cooperation with the
host country's government. To ensure the principles of humanity,
impartiality, and neutrality, and to maintain their independence,
many NGOs avoid contact with and might show hostility toward military
personnel in times of war.
International NGOs that are based in more
than one country include CARE International, International Save
the Children Alliance, and Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF). CARE
International, one of the largest and most effective NGOs in the
world, has its Secretariat in Brussels, Belgium, and has 11 independently
registered and governed member organizations in Australia, Canada,
Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria,
the United Kingdom, and the United States. CARE has programs in
60 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.
CARE's development assistance projects focus on agriculture and
natural resources; education, particularly female literacy; emergency
assistance; health; nutrition; small economic activity development;
and water, sanitation, and environmental health.13
There are many kinds of NGOs. Faith-based
organizations might be international, national, or local, and are
sponsored by religious groups and their affiliates. Examples include
the Adventist Development and Assistance Agency International (ADRA),
Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Church World Services (CWS), International
Islamic Relief Organization, and World Vision International (WV).
Some national NGOs that are based in one country
provide assistance only in that country or even in one community.
National NGOs vary in size from a family-run organization functioning
in a local area, or a religious group serving its local community.
The development of national NGOs is a sign of developing civil
society, especially in countries of the former Soviet Union.
More than 30,000 HAOs are at work in the world
today. HAOs are financed by private individual or group donations,
foundation grants, and government contracts. HAOs are accountable
to their donors for program activities. HAOs provide technical
and materiel development projects and humanitarian assistance,
in cooperation with the host nation government and private groups.
HAOs are active in most countries long before a complex emergency
occurs, remain active throughout the complex emergency when it
is safe to do so, and continue to serve the people long after the
complex emergency ends. HAO activities are thrust upon the world's
consciousness when the CNN syndrome brings HAO representatives
into high media focus. Some NGOs, such as Medecins Sans Frontieres,
which was awarded the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize, and the International
Rescue Committee (IRC), specialize in disaster and assistance operations.
Others, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, focus
on human rights violations.
Three consortia coordinate numerous NGO activities.
Organizations whose mission is to assist HAOs with coordination
of activities include the American Council for Voluntary International
Action, known as InterAction. InterAction is a coalition of more
than 160 primarily U.S.-based assistance, development, and relief
organizations. InterAction has developed standards addressing governance,
organizational integrity, communications to the U.S. public, finances,
management practice, human resources, program, public policy, and
implementation.14 Another coordinating
organization is the International Council of Voluntary Agencies
(ICVA). This is a global network of human rights, humanitarian,
and development NGOs that focuses its information exchange and
advocacy efforts primarily on humanitarian affairs and refugee
issues."15 Both of these organizations
work with the Standing Committee for Humanitarian Response in the
Sphere Project, which since 1997 has developed and modified minimum
standards in the vital areas of humanitarian assistance: water
supply and sanitation, nutrition, food aid, shelter and site planning,
and health services.16
Multinational/multilateral organizations that
fund IGO and NGO activities include the European Union (EU), the
Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); the African Union (AU); and the Association
of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Bilateral governmental organizations provide
development and emergency assistance to other countries either
directly government-to-government or through UN agencies and NGOs.
These organizations include the U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID); the United Kingdom's Department for International Development
(DFID); the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); and
the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). IGOs, NGHAs,
NGOs, and multi- or bilateral government donor agencies are lumped
together as the International Community (IC).
HAO Values and Standards
Although IOs and NGOs have many differences
in organization, funding constituencies, and methods of operation,
they generally adhere to the Code of Conduct of the International
Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in
Disaster Assistance adopted in 2001. The code states that
"1. The humanitarian
imperative comes first. The prime motivation of our response to
disaster is to alleviate human suffering.
2. Aid is given regardless
of the race, creed, or nationality of the recipients and without
adverse distinction of any kind. Aid priorities are calculated
solely on the basis of need.
3. Aid will not be
used to further a particular political or religious standpoint.
4. HAOs shall endeavor
not to act as instruments of government foreign policy. In order
to protect our independence, HAOs will seek to avoid dependence
upon a single funding source.
5. HAOs shall respect
culture and custom.
6. HAOs shall attempt
to build disaster response on local capacities. Where possible,
HAOs will strengthen these capacities by employing local staff,
purchasing local materials, and trading with local companies.
7. Ways shall be found
to involve program beneficiaries in the management of assistance
aid. Effective assistance and lasting rehabilitation can best be
achieved where the intended beneficiaries are involved in the design,
management, and implementation of the assistance program.
8. Assistance aid
must strive to reduce future vulnerabilities to disaster as well
as meeting basic needs.
9. HAOs hold themselves
accountable to both those they seek to assist and those from whom
they accept resources.
10. In our information,
publicity, and advertising activities, we shall recognize disaster
victims as dignified humans, not hopeless objects."17
During the development of a complex emergency,
HAOs continue working in the affected locale. Many HAO personnel
have been in country for years, speak local languages, understand
cultural and religious practices, and have earned the people's
trust. In times of relative political and environmental stability,
HAO programs focus on microeconomic development and strengthening
the agricultural, education, health, and industrial sectors to
bring about improved and sustainable standards of living.
As conditions that lead to a complex emergency
evolve, HAOs in country must shift the emphasis of their programs
to address the developing and inevitable humanitarian crisis. Some
HAO personnel, especially national personnel, will remain in the
country or countries experiencing the complex emergency. As the
security situation deteriorates, most expatriate HAO personnel
leave, often going to neighboring countries to facilitate their
timely return when it is safe. When assurance of security for personnel
and supplies is given by the military, HAO personnel arrive to
provide emergency humanitarian relief: food, water, shelter, medical
care, counseling, and clothing. HAOs continue working in the country
long after the emergency has ended, order has been restored, and
the military who were sent to help have departed. In the reconstruction
period following the complex emergency, HAO program activities
gradually shift from providing relief to focusing on development.
An effective coordinated effort between civilian
agencies and the military in complex emergencies is essential.
During the complex emergency and immediately afterwards, the security
situation may be so volatile that military personnel will have
to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to civilians. Even
in these dire circumstances, civilian-military interdependence
is necessary. The military's primary responsibility is to establish
and maintain a safe and stable environment. Once this is accomplished,
civilian humanitarian personnel can assist the affected population
by meeting their essential needs and by helping to rebuild their
society. These specialized roles of civilian humanitarian and military
personnel, although clearly different, are absolutely interdependent.
The Guidelines issued by the United Nations on 20 March 2003, include
the following key concepts:
"iii. A humanitarian
operation using military assets must retain its civilian nature
and character, while military assets will remain under military
control. The operation as a whole must remain under the overall
authority and control of the responsible humanitarian organization.
This does not infer any civilian command and control over military
works should be performed by humanitarian organizations. Insofar
as military organizations have a role to play in supporting humanitarian
work, it should be to the extent possible, not encompass direct
assistance, in order to retain a clear distinction between the
normal functions and roles of military stakeholders."18
Direct assistance is the face-to-face distribution of goods and
services. Military assistance and support are often essential in
indirect assistance which does not interface with the population
served and consists of such activities as transport of humanitarian
goods or relief personnel, and infrastructure support such as road
repairs, airspace management, and power generation.19
The differentiation of civilian humanitarian
and military roles during and after a complex emergency is essential
for a number of reasons. The military is an instrument of its nation's
foreign policy. As Priest describes, this is increasingly the case
for the U.S. military.20 HAOs are
not and must not be mistaken to be instruments of any nation's
foreign policy. Their guiding principles are humanity, impartiality,
and neutrality. This role differentiation is made explicit in the
[General guidance for interaction between United Nations personnel
and military actors in the context of the crisis in Iraq] issued
by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance
(OCHA) on 21 March 2003:
"Recent conflicts have shown that coordination
between humanitarian and military actors, particularly in the
early phase of a conflict, can be essential for the timely and
effective delivery of humanitarian assistance and to help ensure
the protection of civilians. . . . While interaction between
civil and military actors on the ground is both a reality and
a necessity, it is important to emphasize the constraints and
limitations of civilian organizations in this respect. A perception
of adherence to key humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality
and impartiality is of immediate practical relevance for humanitarian
workers on the ground, e.g., in ensuring safe and secure operations,
obtaining access across combat lines, and being able to guarantee
equitable aid distribution to all vulnerable populations. Therefore,
it is essential that there be maximum certainty and clarity for
UN personnel involved in daily contacts or liaison arrangements
with military forces operating in Iraq. As provided for in his
terms of reference, the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) for Iraq,
who is also the Designated Official (DO), will oversee all liaison
with military forces."21
Thus, the civilian humanitarian point of contact
(POC) for military units in Iraq is clearly designated.
Recent military deployments in Kosovo, East
Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq underscore the importance of the military's
enormous planning, communications, security, and logistic capabilities
to provide support for civilian humanitarian assistance efforts.
Military units continue to support local governments, civil agencies,
UN agencies, IGOs, NGHAs, and NGOs to help people cope with the
effects of complex emergencies. Many military deployments will
involve peace operations (peacemaking, peacekeeping, or peace enforcement)
as well as support for civilian humanitarian assistance efforts
in response to disasters. Although the roles of the humanitarian
community and the military must remain distinct, as the number
of complex emergencies increases, the necessity for effective collaboration
between the two groups will expand.
U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance Resources
Because the U.S. military is an instrument
of U.S. foreign policy, military personnel often interact directly
with other U.S. Government agencies in countries affected by a
complex emergency. The Department of State, through the U.S. Embassy,
and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are often
in the forefront of humanitarian assistance activities in places
where the U.S. military is also involved. For this reason, a more
detailed discussion of USAID's emergency response capability is
USAID was established in the Foreign Assistance
Act of 1961, and as amended. In times of relative stability, USAID
funds development projects in many countries throughout the world.
These projects are generally implemented by international or national
partner NGOs in many countries. When a complex emergency arises,
and when directed to do so, the USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster
Assistance (OFDA), which is part of the Bureau for Humanitarian
Response, provides foreign disaster assistance and coordinates
the U.S. Government's response. OFDA's mandate is "to save lives,
alleviate suffering, and reduce the economic impact of disasters."22
OFDA works directly with the host nation government
and in coordination with UN organizations, other IGOs, NGHAs, other
donor governments, and NGOs. If the disaster warrants, OFDA deploys
its own Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) composed of disaster
assistance specialists to assess the situation and recommend actions.
These teams provide an operational presence capable of carrying
out sustained response activities; develop and implement OFDA's
field response strategy based on DART mission; coordinate the movement
and consignment of U.S. Government assistance commodities; coordinate
U.S. government assistance efforts with the affected country, other
donor countries, assistance organizations, and when present, military
organizations; fund assistance organizations (when delegated the
funding authority); and monitor and evaluate U.S. Government-funded
Thus, NGOs working in a complex emergency
might be funded wholly or in part by DART, with the accountability
that accompanies financial support. Humanitarian organizations
must weigh the effects of financial support from a government or
other sources against their independence and impartiality. Some
humanitarian organizations do not accept any government funding.
Many humanitarian organizations might be working
on development projects in the host country when a complex emergency
occurs. At that time, an umbrella organization, often an IGO such
as OCHA or UNHCR, will assume a coordination role to facilitate
the most effective use of NGO and donor resources.
Military civil affairs personnel will find
the humanitarian community's lead agency an efficient point of
contact with the humanitarian community. In some instances the
humanitarian community will already have established its own coordination
center in which the military can take part. In the case of Iraq,
the designated POC is the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) for Iraq,
who is also the Designated Official (DO).
If the humanitarian community has not yet
established a coordination center or if the military so chooses,
the military can develop a civil-military operations center (CMOC);
civilian-military information center (CIMIC), a NATO-term; humanitarian
affairs coordination center (HACC); or humanitarian operations
coordination center (HOCC). The title and sponsorship of the venue
for civil-military coordination is unimportant, as long as such
a venue exists.
Since many large international NGOs have a
wide repertoire of competencies, military civil affairs personnel
should inquire what programs each NGO conducts in a given area
of the country. Because NGOs often compete with each other for
scarce resources, coordination among NGOs might not appear optimal
from a military point of view. NGOs are independent organizations
and have their own agendas and constituencies. However, all recognize
that collaboration is the best way to assist the people whom they
serve. Effective communication and collaboration among civilian
humanitarian organizations and between civilian and military organizations
is essential. Humanitarian organizations' personnel and resources
can be of immense help to the military by caring for civilian populations
while the military works to restore a safe and secure environment.
Neither civilian humanitarian organizations nor the military can
function as effectively alone as they can in concert.
This interdependence is spelled out clearly
by General (Retired) George A. Joulwan and Christopher C. Shoemaker,
former director of Force Integration, Military Stabilization Program,
in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina: "Perhaps the overarching
lesson to be gleaned from the first two years of the conflict prevention
operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is that the military, no matter
how effective and how efficient it might be, cannot by itself create
the conditions for lasting peace. . . . The daunting challenges
of building the kinds of institutions and processes that underlie
the Dayton agreement, and, indeed, that are at the heart of conflict
prevention are far beyond the abilities of any military. The military
can bring about an absence of war; the military cannot bring about
an enduring peace. The interaction between the military structure
and the civilian structure thus becomes critical to the success
of conflict prevention."24
Host nation, international, bilateral government,
nongovernment civilian organizations and military forces are essential
partners in restoring and maintaining peace following a complex
emergency. Until these organizations can work together to facilitate
civilians' ability to run their country in a peaceful and reasonably
effective manner, the military must remain as peacekeepers or occupation
forces. Effective civil-military interdependence is the military's
ticket home from Bosnia, Kosova, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other complex
emergencies yet to come.
1. Joint Publication (JP)
3-07.6, Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Foreign Humanitarian
Assistance (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office [GPO],15
August 2001), vii.
2. I use joint doctrine as the reference of choice
throughout this paper since most operations involve joint participation
of U.S. military forces as well as multinational coalition partners.
3. Dana Priest, The Mission: Waging War and Keeping
Peace with America's Military (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), 19.
4. Joint Task Force (JTF) Commander's Handbook
for Peace Operations (Fort Monroe, VA: Joint Warfighting Center;
16 June 1997), 11-12.
5. "Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civilian
Defence Assets to Support UN Humanitarian Activities in Complex
Emergencies," UN Relief Web, on-line at
8712A846DEC1256CF 000394E45, 20 March, 2003.
6. Andrew S. Natsios, U.S. Foreign Policy and the
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Humanitarian Assistance in Complex
Emergencies (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997), 7. Natsios is currently
the Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
7. The Sphere Project: Humanitarian Charter and
Minimum Standards in Disaster Response (Oxford, UK: Oxfam Publishing,
8. PVO is a term used almost exclusively by U.S.
entities. PVO is not used in JP 3-07.6.
9. Relief Web, Guidelines, 1.
10. JP 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary
of Military and Associated Terms, (Washington, DC: GPO, 23 March
12. Sphere Project , 313.
13. On-line at www.care.org.
14. On-line at www.interaction.org.
15. On-line at www.icva.ch.
16. Sphere Project.
17. Ibid. , 34-317.
18. Relief Web, Guidelines, 6.
19. Ibid., 1.
20. Priest .
21. "General guidance for interaction between
United Nations personnel and military actors in the context of
the crisis in Iraq," UN Relief Web, on-line at www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/UNID/D1791CAE88
21 March 2003.
22. U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID), Bureau for Humanitarian Response (BHR); Office of Foreign
Disaster Assistance (OFDA), Field Operations Guide for Disaster
Assessment and Response (Washington, DC: August 1998), xix. On-line
23. George A. Joulwan and Christopher C. Shoemaker,
Civilian-Military Cooperation in the Prevention of Deadly Conflict:
Implementing Agreements in Bosnia and Beyond (New York: Carnegie
Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, December 1998), 36-37.
Also available online at: http://www-cgsc.army.mil/