This article argues that although there is no shortage of operational lessons to be learned from humanitarian military assistance and intervention operations, the conceptual and political limitations which precede and frame them are essential limiting and conditioning factors and should themselves be counted as lessons. A number of conceptual difficulties are introduced, the first of which concern the problems of institutional learning. These are followed by a consideration of the way in which political acts and omissions create and/or amplify disaster vulnerability. In the final section, the more problematic interventionist military humanitarianism is given emphasis over non-coercive assistance, since the former requires the closest calculation of political interests and costs, measured against humanitarian purposes. The article concludes that although work can be undertaken to maximise the humanitarian effectiveness of such missions, the soldiers deployed for that purpose are working against a set of politi cal values, both explicit and implicit, which are likely to increase both the number and severity of the disasters militaries will be required to address.
National armed forces exist for the purpose of achieving political ends by military means. This is one of the fundamentals of the organisation of states and the state system, as true today as in the era Clausewitz described. There is no need to suppose that genuine humanitarian concern is somehow tainted by association with political calculation and the workings of its bureaucratic machinery. Indeed, at first sight, there is every reason to be pleased that an apparently widening range of humanitarian issues fall within the compass of responsible and responsive government.
For a state to employ military forces to mitigate disasters within its own borders is an unsurprising instance of self-interest and of the proper functioning of the organisation of political community. A failure to so act would generally be regarded as an indicator of state-society relations in critical condition. Likewise, state-to-state military assistance for purposes determined by the recipient, even when the objective is humanitarian rather than more strictly military in character, is familiar political and diplomatic practice. Humanitarian intervention--that is forcible action undertaken by one state against another for declared humanitarian purposes--is a remarkable development in international politics, but the fact remains that countries are not configured or disposed to act altruistically without a sense of the political and other ramifications of their actions.
So the purposes for which nations train, equip and commit armed forces are determined from within a political arena; and the decisions governments make to deploy soldiers have a political character, for all that they might also have a humanitarian purpose. These are uncontentious assertions, but they provide the context for the remarkable surge of interest in humanitarian intervention and assistance since the ending of the Cold War.
As non-coercive humanitarian military assistance became subsumed under "humanitarian intervention" from about 1990 (in perception if not in fact), public appreciation of the politics of disasters has narrowed very considerably. Although the establishment of institutional "lessons learned units"--notably within the United Nations (UN) Department of Peacekeeping Operations (1)--and a proliferation of reports and studies on various aspects of humanitarian intervention are welcomed, they also have the effect of diverting attention from the extent to which the surrounding political structures and dynamics--governmental and non governmental; national and international--are closely bound up with "creating" disaster vulnerability. Dramatic and morally consequential humanitarian interventions also mask the extent of political disengagement with vulnerable peoples and places--unless or until action becomes a dire necessity. These larger political facts frame some of the more important limitations on humanitarian milita ry assistance and intervention; and delimit not only what lessons are learned, but also who learns.
As ever, soldiers are on the front line, but since they cannot correct political mistakes and omissions, they can only deal with the consequences. However well they undertake an ever-expanding range of humanitarian tasks, it would be a mistake to suppose that by this means, societies and the international community at large can maintain a kind of emergency preparedness that is roughly equivalent to the place of fire departments in urban centres throughout the developed world. The true measure of success, for communities, is not how well fire departments perform, but how infrequently they are called out. Similarly, the measure of national security is a well-trained and well-maintained military that is not obliged to fight a war. War is a failure of policy, and however benign the intention and heroic the performance, so too is military humanitarianism.
This is not to dispute the strong emphasis given to large-scale humanitarian emergencies, particularly those entailing armed conflict, or to questions of operational success and failure for the concerned command structures, as well as for outside analysts and academics. However, the most reliable indicators suggest that the number and severity of natural and politically-driven humanitarian disasters is set to increase further. Against this background, this article examines a range of conceptual, non-operational matters which directly impinge on the ability--political as well as practical--to learn, to engage and to act in mitigation of the worst human suffering in disasters both natural and political.
2. CONCEPTUAL MATTERS
2.1 Some difficulties with "lessons"
It is comforting to suppose that large, bureaucratic organisations--governments and international bodies, militaries and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) alike--are rational actors and moral agents of the kind that makes learning roughly akin to what is open to individuals. After all, these organisations are perhaps the highest formalised expression of rational purpose, and of the belief that it is possible to plan for the future. Whether it be for national defence or dealing with natural disasters, plans are drawn up, action undertaken, and afterwards, reflecting on performance and outcome, lessons are learned. But lesson learning is often quite limited and highly conditioned.
First, institutional learning for disaster prevention and mitigation would be a vexed business even if there were not so many actors and dynamics involved. Any government or agency of government must operate on the basis of political directives and bureaucratic procedures. The former provides the basis of legitimacy and authority, whereas the latter provides the necessary order (cynicism about bureaucracies is easy to come by, but the frustration and disastrous inefficiencies occasioned by badly run bureaucracies is more telling). But bureaucracies also condition insiders' view of what is significant. Both individually and in combination, they routinely manifest a powerful interest in self-preservation. So in addition to whatever calculus an administration adopts to determine the national interest, it should also be borne in mind that "(b)ureaucracy is not only a structure; it is also a process. Bureaucracies are orienting machines". (2) They are not always, or not entirely, oriented "outwards".
What follows from this point is that those concerned are naturally keener to learn on an operational level rather than on an organisational one. That is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to learn from successes. The UN Mission to oversee the transition of Namibia to independent statehood--remarkable not for its operational particulars, but for the years of political and diplomatic effort and careful planning--is a case in point. Vastly more scholarly attention is devoted to failures such as the missions in Somalia.
Second, potential lessons will but rarely have all the virtues: timely, politically convenient, affordable and actionable. More profoundly, what can be accepted as instructive will generally fall within the bounds of a familiar political reality which is not merely a matter of immediate interests, but which is also in accord with how the world is conceived--including the perception of disasters and disaster agents. As Kent (3) has observed, "(t)he propensity to separate disaster phenomena from normal life distorts some of the most fundamental aspects of disasters".
The reason for doing so, he argues, is because:
Separating disasters from normal existence is a convenience. By treating them as discontinuous and unpredictable, the solutions that could abate them are given a relatively low priority in governmental and inter-governmental decision-making units. Those governments of resource-poor countries often regard pre-disaster planning and prevention measures as luxuries that they can ill afford, given other seemingly more pressing and predictable priorities. The natural link between development and disaster mitigation is lost in the assumption that the former is a pressing need but the latter is more often than not an uncontrollable "act of God".
And this constricted environment for lesson-learning cuts both ways:
The belief that disasters are discontinuous events, separated from normal life, also provides opportunities for donors to demonstrate humanitarian concern without becoming embroiled in prolonged commitments. Time and again, officials from various relief agencies will draw arbitrary lines between relief and development in order not to become "mousetrapped in some larger programme". Such distinctions reflect a certain political reality which in turn suggests why such distinctions are convenient to maintain.
Third, to the frequent despair of informed observers, there are no lessons from events or situations so obvious that they cannot be overlooked, misinterpreted or denied. Witness the recalcitrance of the United States (US) government with respect to climate change. Likewise, there is always a possibility that what counts as a lesson is the reinforcement of a political or institutional predisposition. In a recent book, Barnett noted how the "lessons" of the failed peacekeeping mission in Somalia -- for the UN Secretariat as much as for the government of the US -- drove a steadfast refusal to respond adequately to the unfolding genocide in Rwanda, essentially, he argues -- and this is most striking -- on the basis of ethical reasoning. (4)
Fourth, the national, institutional and professional divides between the bodies that comprise the international "humanitarian community" are considerable. So the operational difficulties they encounter are often not only a matter of poor logistical co-ordination or communications difficulties of a technical kind. Moreover, the many actors involved are also likely to be operating with differing remits, priorities, instructions and limitations and only nominally "pulling in one direction". In stressed, time-urgent operating environments, these differences soon show themselves in regrettable ways. In the immediate aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, some 130 NGOs as well as UN bodies and national organisations were at work there. (5) With no one authority directing operations, there were as many "lessons" as actors.
Yet individuals and organisations do learn, if at times painfully and at great cost. The difficulties inherent in large human organisations are not particular to governments, militaries, the civil service or corporations. They are likely to persist, even in what are generally regarded as well-run operations. (6) For example, the United Kingdom (UK) Ministry of Defence has recently spent [pounds sterling] 92 million trying to correct a design fault on its new generation standard-issue rifle--apparently to little avail. The sums involved are breathtaking but outcomes of this kind are hardly unprecedented, in the UK and elsewhere. So when the slow, deliberative pace at which such situations develop is considered, it is remarkable that nations and coalitions sometimes manage to mitigate the worst effects of disasters--saving human life in fast-moving, difficult and dangerous situations. Moral purpose, professional goodwill and a sense of urgency can, it seems, make the most of human and material resources. That h uman organisations can and do sometimes rise to the occasion is, at least partly, a testament to their capacity for collective learning, while the number of times they don't might suggest that learning how to learn is perhaps the most difficult lesson of all.
2.2 Disasters natural and unnatural, sudden and slow
- What is and is not "natural" about natural disasters
Extreme weather events and geophysical disturbances such as earthquakes and volcanoes are frequently disastrous in terms of human life and well-being. However, "(n)ot every natural disturbance is a disaster, and not every disaster is completely natural". (7) In other words, human vulnerability to natural dynamics is not merely a fixed aspect of the human condition--rather, it is to a considerable degree constructed. Two quite powerful sets of dynamics are at work, namely those driving an increase in social vulnerability, and those worsening ecological vulnerability.
Social vulnerability to natural disasters increases with poor housing, overcrowding, living--or being forced to live--in marginal or precarious locations; and more general disenfranchisement from decent social infrastructures, whether rural or urban. Recent migrations to both coastal regions and mega-cities has had the effect of concentrating risk. The widening gap between rich and poor, both within and between countries, further exacerbates the vulnerability of those least well-off. Worsening ecological vulnerability is a consequence not only of large-scale dynamics such as climate change, but also on smaller scales. Deforestation resulting in floods and landslides is an obvious example, together with a host of ill-conceived development projects, in particular those founded on a functionalist (usually economic) rather than an ecosystem perspective.
The combination of these vulnerabilities is powerful and calamitous--and worsening. In the 1990s, the UN's Decade for Disaster Reduction, economic destruction alone totalled more than the previous four decades combined. Notably, "(t)he number of geophysical disasters--volcanoes and earthquakes--has remained fairly steady, but the number of hydro-meteorological disasters-- including droughts, windstorms, and floods--has more than doubled since 1996". (8) Of the 650 000 people killed by natural disasters during the past decade, more than 90 per cent of those lost their lives in droughts, windstorms and floods (only four per cent of the victims lived in industrialised countries). (9)
-- Nasty synergies
Human disasters can quickly expose, extend and amplify a range of other social vulnerabilities. The collapse of infrastructure--however it is occasioned and however poor it might have been to begin with--often generates displacement, shortages of food and clean water, disease susceptibility, "survivalist" environmental destruction and lawlessness. The difficulties and risks to those who would intervene can quickly escalate (military planners might be sensitive to the fact that Clausewitz met his death from cholera, on a mission to contain what might now be called "disease refugees").
Situations of this kind are not confined to events on the scale and of the suddenness of the refugee flows following the Rwanda genocide in 1994. A much wider range of immediate interests entrenching long-term vulnerabilities can easily be detected. For example, the 1999 World Disasters Report, predicting a "decade of super-disasters", warns that a combination of "(the) environmental problems of global warming and deforestation on the one hand, and the social problems of increasing poverty and growing shanty towns on the other" will produce "a new scale of catastrophe". (10) The kinds of "super disaster" that the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) warns of are not confined to a combination of freak storms impacting on shanty towns and poorly sited and constructed mega-cities, but also extend to the vulnerabilities inherent in the comfortable and ostensibly secure ways of life throughout the developed world. The following is a characterisation of the susceptibility of modern complex systems to terror ist disruption, that is no less applicable to a much wider range of disaster agents:
(We must consider the) interconnected, highly technological nature of modern civilization's basic systems. Market forces and a tradition of openness have combined to maximise the efficiency of many of our vital systems--such as those that provide transportation, information technology, energy and health care. However, economic systems, like ecological systems, tend to become less resilient (more prone to failure when strongly perturbed) as they become more efficient, so our infrastructures are vulnerable to local disruptions, which could lead to widespread or catastrophic failures. In addition, the high level of interconnectedness of these systems means that abuse, destruction, or interruption of any one of them quickly affects the others. As a result the whole society is vulnerable, with the welfare and even the lives of significant portions of the population placed at risk. (11)
It would appear that applying the "lessons" learned from the threat of terrorism carries costs in the form of other, renewed vulnerabilities. In the post-September 11 US, the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security, intended to consolidate a wide range of hitherto uncoordinated security and surveillance functions, carries the risk that more routine monitoring for natural (rather than terrorist) outbreaks of human and animal diseases will suffer. (12)
There is another, more profound level at which "nasty synergies" are already at work--that is, the climate-altering consequences of contemporary ways of life. It cannot be said with any certainty that particular extremes, such as the recent snowfalls in the Eastern Cape are a direct result of climate change, or whether they are within parameters calculable over decades. What is plain is that "(t)he big fish of the insurance industry are already alarmed about the rising tide of large claims for climatic disasters such as floods, hurricanes and heatwaves, which between them have caused damage estimated at half a trillion dollars over the last decade". (13) The point here is that however hard organisations work on various initiatives to improve the living conditions of the poorest and/or most vulnerable -- and however much military humanitarian assistance is undertaken -- the same groups are simultaneously unbalancing the relationship between human and natural systems in quite fundamental, structural ways. Expre ssed succinctly, the human condition is being altered for the worse.
-- Slow-onset disasters
It is common to think of disasters as catastrophic events, but they can also be slow and insidious and their outcomes diffuse. (14) The HIV/AIDS pandemic is the most striking example -- and not at all open to the kinds of mitigation that military forces can offer. Military personnel are no less susceptible to the perils of infection than any other sector of society and in conflict situations, both well-controlled militaries and less formal armed groups are a principal vector for spreading the disease. (15)
It is worth bearing in mind that some of the more profound effects of large-scale environmental degradation and destruction can take years to manifest. Even incremental but cumulative change can have considerable, planetary-scale consequences -- brought about with ever-greater ease as human populations, industrialisation and consumerism increase. Ozone layer depletion was an unanticipated outcome of highly dispersed industrial and consumer behaviours, and scientific appreciation of the centrality of biodiversity is relatively scant against the human ability to decimate it. (16) The meaning of these and other less obvious dynamics is that the frequency and severity of "natural" disasters are likely to increase.
-- Hard political realities
The most compelling limitations on humanitarian assistance and intervention are political. When these are of strategic significance, the suffering of many thousands and even millions of human beings is unlikely to make a difference. For example, a combination of the kinds of "nasty synergies" outlined above, exacerbated by political tensions - in this case, the castigation of North Korea by the US President as part of an "axis of evil" - makes the situation of North Korea isolated as well as perilous:
North Korea will remain a significant humanitarian challenge due to the severity of the food deficit, restricted international access to those in need, its collapsed economy and weakened infrastructure, its exposure to frequent major natural disasters - both drought and flooding - and the large number of people affected. Over eight million people - more than one-third of the country's population - are in need of food aid. (17)
But from a humanitarian perspective, there can be no more agonising spectacle of human suffering than the condition of Iraq, and particularly its children. The UN sanctions imposed on the regime of Saddam Hussein 12 years ago have resulted in what can only be described as a humanitarian disaster. The grim irony in this is that it is the agencies of the UN itself which are acting as best they are able to mitigate the worst of it. (18) According to a UN report submitted to the Security Council in March 1999, Iraq "has experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty. In marked contrast to the prevailing situation prior to the events of 1990-91, the infant mortality rates in Iraq today are among the highest in the world, low infant birth weight affects at least 23% of all births, chronic malnutrition affects every fourth child under five years of age, only 41 % of the population have regular access to clean water, 83% of all schools need substantial repairs. The ICRC states that the Iraqi health-ca re system is today in a decrepit state. UNDP calculates that it would take 7 billion US dollars to rehabilitate the power sector country-wide to its 1990 capacity,,. (19)
Of course, strategic interest and humanitarian purpose can coincide. For example, the displacement of some 90 per cent of Kosovo Albanians from their homes in 1999 led to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) intervention against Yugoslavia. But NATO's declared humanitarianism rests uncomfortably beside powerful Western European interests in stemming refugee flows, and beside the subsequent, post-war disinterest in protecting human rights in the province. (20) The larger point is this: although humanitarian disasters can be of strategic importance, other forms of strategic importance can relegate and, dishearteningly, even drive humanitarian disasters.
2.3 Politically-driven humanitarian emergencies
Humanitarian disasters, both natural and conflictual, are hardly a new thing in history or in international relations. But with the release of Cold War tensions and a renewed if brief revitalisation of hope in the authority of the UN, humanitarian emergencies caused by war or repression -- or at least a number of them -- became the stuff of high politics. (21) As national militaries, NGOs and the agencies and programmes of the UN itself came to share single arenas of endeavour, often in highly stressed circumstances, there were inevitable differences, difficulties and tensions as well as some measurable, positive outcomes. The Kurdish "safe haven" operation in the aftermath of the Gulf War provided much of the impetus for military humanitarianism as it developed through the rest of the decade.
If it at first seemed that military humanitarianism was crossing a threshold to a new era, the attendant domestic political sensitivities and media coverage made both governmental and popular support highly exposed to what might best be described as political mood swings. Military doctrine for "complex peacekeeping" is one thing; political willingness another, particularly after the experiences in the former Yugoslavia and (for the US) in Somalia. What is still characterised as a "lack of political will" by governments in the face of humanitarian emergencies is more often than not precisely the opposite: a careful calculation of interests, costs and benefits. In a world of strategic interests and no shortage of sites of gross human suffering, the core interests and political disposition of powerful states can be discerned by their omissions as much as by their actions.
In future, humanitarian interventions in international politics are likely to be even more closely contoured to state interests and highly constrained in terms of risk to military personnel and the duration of the commitment. Kosovo 1999 is the model, not Somalia 1992. Even as it appeared to some that states were beginning to perceive their interests and responsibilities from a wider perspective, the humanitarian interventions of the 1990s had the effect of consolidating an exclusive and short-term appreciation of humanitarian disasters. Dealing with symptoms rather than causes, "lessons learned" are largely confined to the operational sphere. Hence estimates of cost and benefit, of interests and risk, and of success and failure largely reinforce the prevailing political outlook. (22)
3. MILITARY HUMANITARIANISM
3.1 The scope for military humanitarianism
Military humanitarianism is a response to failure. At the international level, addressing these failures is likely to become still more selective and operationally delimited. Yet from a more strictly humanitarian perspective, responsive governments are not immune to the feelings of their citizenry, imbued as people are with human rights norms and saturated with images of innocent suffering. Because military humanitarianism is not confined to foreign shores and impacted, politically-driven emergencies, there is a reasonable expectation in those countries with professional and democratically-controlled militaries that they will be made available to address the consequences of natural disasters.
So if today more is expected of professional armies than territorial defence, what is intended that they should do, or at least be able to do, in addition to defending national borders? Can they undertake extended and sometimes wholly new tasks -- and be equipped and trained to do so -- without diminishing their military preparedness, and without overloading the budget for defence expenditure? Where are the boundaries of national interest -- and of felt obligation -- and who should set them? What criteria should be used?
There is unlikely to be a satisfactory generic answer to these questions, even within states, because of the ways in which military forces are configured within, and relate to, the democratic polities which exercise control over them; while between states, differences in degrees of professionalism and levels of funding are considerable. The place and standing of the US National Guard, for instance, is not possible -- and indeed, might not be considered desirable -- in countries with very different history, traditions, patterns of employment and propensity to natural disasters. In addition, responsibility, need, interest and capacity will but rarely be configured to the benefit of victims. The business of identifying and prioritising roles within limited budgets will always be difficult, but from a strategic perspective care must be taken to maintain a balance between conventional forms of military preparedness and other possible modes of training and deployment.
Instead, the question is what it is about the fundamentals of training common to all developed world militaries that makes them at least potentially well suited to disaster mitigation? In any discussion about "weakening" or "diverting" core military preparedness by training for humanitarian purposes, it is easy to lose sight of more broadly applicable core competencies - which in other contexts are called "transferable skills". These include clear lines of command and control; expertise in logistics; communications; very often, specialist expertise and training; and esprit de corps that puts emphasis on team effort, group cohesion and trust. The best militaries are also remarkably adaptable: past masters at "learning how to swim by learning how to dive".
However, the limits to what militaries can undertake -- and be expected to undertake -- are set not only by their core limitations and practical capacities, but also by the scale of human need. By July 2002, some 13 million people in southern Africa, principally in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, face severe food shortages. (23) Any number of military forces, including African ones, can facilitate the delivery of food as well as cope with some of the more difficult problems that will inevitably arise as with the dissolution of communities and even entire regions. But military forces cannot prompt the international community to act. Should the need arise -- say, through mass migrations -- affected nations might in all probability task their soldiers to security rather than humanitarian tasks (24) -- as happened with the exodus of Kosovo Albanians in 1999.
The tremendous efforts made by soldiers and civilians alike to synthesise generic lessons, agree minimum standards, devise protocols for co-operation and develop doctrine (25) all pale beside the apparent unwillingness to engage difficult problems that so easily and predictably become intractable emergencies. The various concerned communities have devised minimum standards in disaster response, but not minimum standards of disaster response, nor will they. An increase in disaster vulnerability and humanitarian emergencies does not automatically increase the scope for military humanitarianism. In fact, from a strategic point of view, worsening conditions might ensure that in future the humanitarian outcomes of military engagements are more often a byproduct than an objective.
Nevertheless, the life-saving capacity of trained militaries will remain important--within states, of course, but also further afield, because in the very worst instances, professed values and key security interests overlap. This was perhaps the most notable feature of the Kosovo intervention in 1999. (26)
3.2 Politics and humanitarianism: ends and means
No degree of human suffering on its own is sufficient to prompt states to engage their military for either humanitarian relief or humanitarian intervention. This, surely, is one of the "lessons" of the genocide in Rwanda. For the governments best placed to employ their militaries in humanitarian roles, there needs to be sufficient political reason--and an acceptable level of risk and cost--before they will commit their soldiers. As in war, an emergency response is a strategic necessity that arrives by force of circumstance rather than by deliberation and calculation. What follows from this is that if humanitarian ends on their own are not a sufficient cause for military intervention, then nor will they be sufficient to hold troops in place if a functional separation between human suffering and other, more politically strategic goals can be established or discerned. Humanitarian and conflict management goals (and roles) can be a fraught business, partly because they cannot wholly be determined in political cap itals; partly because of the friction they engender between soldiers and civilian humanitarians.
The "purity or engagement" debate within the humanitarian community is a hardy perennial--and an essential aspect of professional and ethical deliberation for those involved. (27) A range of moral and practical dilemmas nearly always attend humanitarian assistance and intervention. In addition, things are not necessarily made easier even when soldiers are largely engaged in a security role, clearing a "humanitarian space" for NGOs. However benign their intentions, soldiers are subject to being perceived as agents of political--which in context is felt as "ulterior"--ends, by humanitarian workers and sometimes by those whom they are tasked to help.
There is also a wider debate on the perceived need to establish "coherence" between the humanitarian and political responses to complex political emergencies. (28) Putting a stop to genocide, forced displacement and the like is commonly viewed as "properly" political, but the foreign policy goals behind military humanitarianism are not always so clear--nor always so coherent even within troop-contributing/donor governments themselves. (29) The concern for civilian humanitarians is that from the strategic perspective of troop-contributing states, stability rather than post-conflict reconstruction or development, might suffice. This may even be the case when a considerable external military presence has to be maintained to safeguard a negative peace, as has happened in Kosovo and as is the likely near-term future in Afghanistan. (30)
The strategic interests of powerful states can easily accommodate a good many humanitarian disasters; and states can limit their interest in mitigation accordingly. Military humanitarianism is never an end in itself and it will at least always be a means to a political end. This is the larger political reality within which military humanitarianism must work. Small wonder that the lessons learned tend to be operational.
3.3 Maximising the humanitarian outcomes of minimalist responses
However well-planned and however strong the commitment to specific situations, all of the actor communities involved in disaster relief will to some degree need to feel their way. This is not to say that every disaster is sui generis, but that difficult and dangerous working conditions and (in politically-driven disasters) the equivalent of "the fog of war" will always require a certain degree of quick thinking and adaptability. This heightens rather than diminishes the importance of preparedness and well-worked procedures.
In this context, the familiar military dictum, "Since armies fight the way they train, it is as well to train for the way you intend to fight" is not constraining, since it is important to keep in mind the range of operational requisites that militaries have to perform in order to fight. Career soldiers in a good many developed country armies have now served their careers without ever having to discharge a weapon. For many, varieties of peacekeeping, peace support and disaster mitigation operations are the peak of front-line experience. The concern here is less with war-fighting skills per se than with the kinds of performance-under-pressure experience that military contingents need to practice in order to stay prepared. Disaster mitigation can provide many of the kinds of operational (albeit not war-fighting) experience that can serve two distinct sets of needs.
It is, of course, easier to identify needs and opportunities - and indeed, to write policy guidelines - than to establish and maintain structures and protocols that will be more than nominal. Again, this is not something peculiar to military establishments:
In any case, policy statements are indicators of intent, not practice. NGOs' operational manuals and guidelines give a better picture, if not always a reliable one. For instance, although nine out of 22 British NGOs (in a study) referred to disaster preparedness or DMP (disaster mitigation preparedness) in operational or funding guidelines ... desk and programme officers who were interviewed stated repeatedly that they did not think much about DMP. This appeared to be because their guidelines contain so many issues that need to be taken into account that some are bound to be squeezed out, especially where staff enjoy considerable freedom in following them. NGOs' DMP guidelines tended to give limited practical guidance anyway. (31)
It is therefore important to stress that nominal preparedness might be worse than no preparedness at all. Initiatives such as an updated inventory of key military skills against the foreseeable range of disasters and protocols between civilian and military authorities are only worthwhile if they are made and kept viable by regularly exercised political authority. What could be worse than a building full of empty fire extinguishers or fire evacuation procedures no one has bothered to read or practice?
The inevitable difficulties that spring up across professional divides - in the field no less than in principle - mean that militaries operating in a humanitarian mode must recognise that the mitigation of civilian-military tensions is an essential element of effective disaster mitigation. To their credit, a number of national militaries took the lead in opening lines of communication and convening meetings in which they and leading humanitarian actors could begin the business of understanding one another's cultures, operational principles and mandates. Although forums now exist for regular exchange across the professional divides, in specific cases, the intentions behind a deployment of forces for ostensible humanitarian purposes should, to the fullest extent that security allows, be shared with the humanitarian communities involved. The ideological and other differences between militaries and civilian organisations can be considerable and they do not disappear in-theatre; but professionals of every stripe f ind that the business of saving lives is a powerful leveller.
The business of inter-military co-operation and questions of inter-operability are to some degree eased by programmes of military cooperation (32) and the long history of peacekeeping. But thought should also be given to strengthening the non-combat roles of African militaries with a view to developing co-operative modes of operation, in the first instance, for natural disasters, or for humanitarian assistance rather than armed intervention. This could possibly be done on the basis of regional organisations. The African Union (AU) might also provide the impetus, through the Peace and Security Council, which is currently developing a full range of non-coercive military and military/humanitarian roles.
Finally, if nations are serious about disaster mitigation, they also have to be serious about prevention. Many of the same nations that dispatch soldiers on military humanitarian tasks also sell weapons all but indiscriminately, to odious regimes. (33) This is not merely dysfunctional. Such instances should also be regarded as acts of reckless endangerment. The men and women who comprise national armed forces, for purposes ranging from national defence to the protection of the beleaguered innocent, deserve better.
Eventually, however, the main determinants of the degree of disaster mitigation that can be achieved will be set at the political-strategic level. One of the "lessons" of the Gulf War is that if the political goals are sufficiently powerful, the means - political, diplomatic, logistical, military - can be found. Of course, the "new wars" in central Africa lack the clarity of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and they do not directly impinge on the interests of the powerful. The highly constrained and short-term thinking that informs understanding of the political consequences of humanitarian disasters is abundant. The UN Consolidated Appeals Process, for example, gives a good indication - by donor country, by recipient country and over time - of the interest states have in engagement beyond the barest emergency provision. The figures are not heartening: in 1995, Consolidated Appeals reached 72 per cent of their targets; in 2001, only 50 per cent. (34) It is precisely these countries (Afghanistan is one) which most of ten end up as the sites of humanitarian and quasi-humanitarian military deployments.
The political-strategic question that has not yet been squarely faced by powerful states is this: How much instability, insecurity, poverty, disenfranchisement and violence can be sustained before it begins to impinge on the way of life of the prosperous and secure? (32) After 11 September 2001, it became a commonplace to hear the assertion, "(a)bsolute power corrupts absolutely -- but so too does absolute poverty". But there is little evidence that the general political orientation and strategic thinking of developed nations has changed as a result. So soldiers remain on the front line in a metaphorical as well as a literal sense. Their professionalism and dedication will save countless lives, but can never be sufficient to stem a tide of suffering whose mitigation is essentially a matter of political choice and engagement.
(1.) United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Lessons Learned Unit, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/lessons/.
(2.) Barnett, M, Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2002, p 7.
(3.) Kent, R C, Anatomy of Disaster Relief: The International Network in Action, Pinter Publishers, London, 1987, p 5.
(4.) Barnett, M, op cit.
(5.) Bennett, J, "Coordination, Control and Competition: NGOs on the Front Une", in Whitman, J and D Pocock (eds), After Rwanda: The Coordination of United Nations Humanitarian Assistance, Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1996, pp 136-146.
(6.) A good overview is Hogwood, B W and B G Peters, The Pathology of Public Policy, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985.
(7.) Abromovitz, J N, "Averting Natural Disasters", in Brown, L (ed), State of the World 2002, Earthscan, London, 2002, p 127.
(9.) Ibid. p 124; and US National Intelligence Council, "Global Humanitarian Emergencies: Trends and Projections, 2001-2002", http://www.cia.gov/nic/pubs/ other products/global_humanitarian_pub.htm.
(10.) Federal Emergency Management Agency, "World Disasters Report Predicts a Decade of Super-Disasters", http://www.fema.gov/nwz99/irc624.htm.
(11.) US National Research Council (Committee on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences), Making the Nation Safer The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism, http://books.nap.edu/html/stct/index.html, p 1-1. A worthwhile summary of risk assessment resources is Hull, R N, a.o., "Risk Assessment Around the World: Risk Assessment Resources on the World-Wide Web", Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, Vol 8, No 2, 2002, pp 443-457.
See also: Perrow, C, Normal Accident: Living With High-Risk Technologies, Basic Books, New York, 1984; and Richardson, B, "Why We Probably Will Not Save Mankind: A 'Natural' Configuration of Accident-Proneness", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol 2, No 4, 1993, pp 32-59.
(12.) "Disease fears", New Scientist, 6 July 2002, p 11.
(13.) Pearce, F, "Insurers count the cost of global warming", New Scientist, 27 July 2002, p 7. See the report by the large reinsurance company, Swiss Re, "Opportunities and Risks of Climate Change", www.swissre.com.
(14.) Adam, B, Timescapes of Modernity: The Environment and Invisible Hazards, Routledge, London, 1998.
(15.) "Another factor accelerating the spread of HIV infection during conflict is involvement with military forces. In conflict situations, the main perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation are armed forces or armed groups. In addition, soldiers are typically young, sexually active men who are likely to seek commercial sex. Even during peacetime, they have sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates two to five times greater than those of civilian populations. During armed conflict their rate of infection can be up to 50 times higher. Under certain circumstances some armed forces already impose mandatory HIV testing, but voluntary testing, combined with confidential counselling, support and treatment, is far more effective-and almost nowhere available." Machel, G, "Conflict Fuels HIV/AIDS Crisis", Inter-Press Service, Shaan Online: Gender and Human Rights, http://www.ipsnews.net/hivaids/section1_2.shtml.
(16.) See Wilson, E O, The Future of Life, Little, Brown, London, 2000.
(17.) US National Intelligence Council, op cit.
(18.) Whitman, J, "The UN Specialized Agencies, Peacekeeping and the Enactment of Values", International Peacekeeping, Vol 5, No 4, Wnter 1998, pp 120-137.
(19.) Quoted by the Iraq Action Coalition, http://leb.net/IAC/.
(20.) Whitman, J, "The Kosovo Refugee Crisis: NATO's Humanitarianism Versus Human Rights", The International Journal of Human Rights, Vol 4, Nos 3 and 4, Autumn/Winter 2000, pp 164-183.
(21.) For an indicative article at the start of this period, see Weiss, T G, "Triage: Humanitarian Interventions in a New Era", World Policy Journal, Vol Xl, No 1, Spring 1994, pp 1-10.
(22.) Bradbury, M, "Normalising the Crisis in Africa", Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, http://www.jha.ac/articles/a043.htm. March, 1998. A more radical view on the "merging of development and security" is Duffield, M, Global Governance and the New Wars, Zed Books, London, 2001.
(23.) "Crisis in Southern Africa", Oxfam International Briefing Paper, June 2002, http://www.oxfam.org/news/sa.htm.
(24.) Essentially, an expansion of operations already in place. See Regional Joint Task Force North, "Border Protection and Undocumented Migrants", South African Soldier, August 2002, pp 16-17.
(25.) A representative sample: US Army Special Warfare Center and School, "CMOC [Civil-Military Operations Center] Handbook", 27 February 2002; European Union Military Committee, "Civil-Military Cooperation for EU-led Crisis Management Operations", Brussels, 8 March 2002; US Department of the Army/Marine Corps, "Domestic Support Operations", Field Manual FM 100-19, Washington, DC, 1 July 1993; and Gross, T (Maj Gen), "Comfortable With Chaos. Working with NGOs: Reflections from the 1999 Kosovo Crisis", Royal College of Defence Studies, 2000 Course. Extensive documentation can be accessed from the CD-Rom, CMO/CMIC Reference Library for the Civilian and Military Practitioner. See http://www.cdmha.org.
(26.) See Booth, K (ed), The Kosovo Tragedy, Frank Cass, London, 2001.
(27.) Macrae, J, "Purity or Engagement? Issues in Food and Health Security Interventions in Complex Political Emergencies", Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, http://www.jha.ac/articles/a037.htm and Slim, H, "International Humanitarianism's Engagement with Civil War in the 1990s: A Glance at Evolving Practice and Theory", Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, www.jha.ac/articles/a033.htm.
(28.) For example, see Macrae, J and N Leader, "Apples, Pears and Porridge: The Origins and Impact of the Search for 'Coherence' between Humanitarian and Political Responses to Chronic Political Emergencies", Disasters, Vol 25, No 4, 2001, pp 290-307; and Atmar, H and J Goodhand, "Coherence or Co-option? Politics, Aid and Peacebuilding in Afghanistan", Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, www.jha.ac/articles/a069.htm.
(29.) In 2001, only 39 per cent of the European Union's development aid budget went to poor countries.
(30.) McGwire, S, "How Kabul will be run", The Guardian (London), 14 November 2001.
(31.) Benson, C, Myers, M and J Twigg, "NGO Initiatives in Risk Reduction: An Overview", Disasters, Vol 25, No 3, 2001, p 205.
(32.) For example, see the US International Military Education and Training Programme, www.state.gov/documents/organization/9468.pdf. The Clinton administration's African Crisis response Initiative now appears to be moribund. See http:f/usinfo.state.gov/regionai/af/acri/fact0500.htm.
(33.) The Permanent Five members of the UN Security Council are also the largest exporters of weapons.
(34.) Forman, S and R Parhad, "Paying for Essentials: Resources for Humanitarian Assistance", Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, http://www.jha.ac/articles/a021 .htm, 3 June 2000; and "Annan Launches US$2.5 Billion Humanitarian Appeal", http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/un/200/1126annan.htm.
(35.) For a consideration of this theme, see Rogers, P, Losing Control: Global Security in the Twenty-first Century, Zed Books, London, 2001.
Dr. Jim Whitman Lecturer Department of Peace Studies University of Bradford United Kingdom *
* Dr Jim Whitman was a research associate at the Institute for Strategic Studies, University of Pretoria, during August 2002.…