Humanitarian – Military Relations in Emergencies

Essay, 2008

12 Pages, Grade: Merit



“Tensions between aid organisations and military forces rise when both groups are operating in the same arena, but for different purposes. When military provision of aid seems driven by strategic goals…aid agencies bristle at the infringement on their “turf” and the perversion of humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality” (Lischer,2007: p.103)

This paper criticises the involvement of military forces side by side with the humanitarian NGOs in humanitarian assistance situations. The mutual interest of both of them for working in the same field necessitates the cooperation between the relief NGOs and military forces for the purpose of coordination in delivering aid and ensuring the security of the latter. Discussed within are the benefits of involving the military forces into humanitarian aid and the main threats that arise from their involvement. The paper also analyses the military practises that destabilise the humanitarian principles by highlighting examples from situations happened in conflicts and complex emergencies. Suggestions for making the military involvement- if it is a must - to be more humanitarian are also illustrated in the paper.


The last 20th century witnessed massive number of natural disasters and conflicts in different countries. Which urged the international community with all its actors including NGOs, UN agencies, consultants and academics, governments and its military forces ‘in the name of humanity’ to intervene for rescuing the victims. The complexity nature of some emergencies that threaten the security of civilians and the actors themselves, demands the intervention of the military to assure their security. Being together in the field emerged the need for the NGOs and military forces to integrate their efforts together, but because of their different mandates and their opposing principles they became very careful and tended to keep a distance while dealing with the other (Jalovcic, 2005).

The increased involvement of military in humanitarian aid:-

The humanitarian- military relation or in other words civilian-military relation arises from the close contact between military and humanitarian players who became situated in the same field and share the same interests

There are different factors attributed in this relationship, among all is the change in the world order after the end of the Cold War when the number of conflicts has been increased and its features has been changed, as most of these conflicts started to take place within states instead of being among them (Lilly, 2002).

The other factor is the increased intervention of the international community who became tired of the struggles of the Cold War between the two polar and wished to prevent more humanitarian suffering and resolve any intentional conflict. The international armed forces as one of the actors of the international community participated in this intervention. They started to change their conduct of their military missions in such conflicts to include other tasks to be appealing to humanitarian field and peace operations (Lilly, 2002).

While the third factor is the nature of the complex emergencies that require the urgent cooperation between different actors both the military and humanitarian in addition to policy instruments, and bringing them together under one leadership that applies an integrated approach for managing these different emergencies, and unites humanitarian principles with peace and security. Since the early 1990’s when complicated emergencies occurred like the one in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq, the UN stressed the importance of bridging between the different actors and bringing them together to operate under one umbrella (Brahimi report, 2000)

Seeking safety and security for humanitarian staff and operations:-

The different conflicts that arose after the end of the Cold War have pressured the demand for the humanitarian assistance. The humanitarian assistance rational is to “alleviate people’s vulnerability, suffering, meeting their basic needs and sometimes protecting them in the cases of crisis and armed conflict” (Lilly, 2002).

This aim of the humanitarian assistance is mainly the core duty of the aid agencies and humanitarian NGOs in particular who are insisting on the integration of the humanitarian principles while assisting people (Slim, 2001). But because of the threats that accompanied different emergency situations which led to the incidences of assassinating or kidnapping aid workers while they are doing their jobs, the NGOs thought of initiating a kind of cooperation which is complimentary in its nature - as it integrates different approaches to achieve one common goal- (Lilly, 2002). They thought of ‘ Killing two birds with one stone’, to benefit from the military’s assets in delivering the aid and to ensure the security of their staff at the same time. ICRC highlighted the NGOs need for security by narrating the number of NGOs staff members who were murders between June 1996 and January 1997 when ten members of their staff were killed in Burundi, in Chechnya and Cambodia. In addition to the number of National Red Cross Societies staff who were killed in Africa. From Medecins du Monde organisation, three members of its staff and four people from United Nations Human Rights monitors were killed in Rwanda in 1997(ICRC,1998).

Despite the fact that the NGOs are the one who demanded to cooperate with of military in the humanitarian field first. Nowadays, it seems to be a regression lesson for them. Slim argued that point by saying: “Humanitarian agencies have called outright for military intervention and not got it. They have called for intervention and got it. They have provided muted acceptance of interventions. They have welcomed interventions. They have strongly objected to interventions, they have called for an intervention, and then objected to it as it unfolds in practice” (Slim, 2001).

The added values and the main concerns of engaging military assets and personnel in humanitarian response:-

When we point out at the military intervention in humanitarian aid, we should distinguish between the intervention of the internal military of the ‘emergency-stricken’ country which is always aiming at maintaining the sovereignty of its own country and the external military forces of another country which could be motivated by hidden political agenda and personal interests in the affected country (Campell and Weiss, 1991).


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Humanitarian – Military Relations in Emergencies
University of Birmingham  (International Development Department-IDD)
International Development
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ISBN (Book)
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humanitarian, military, relations, emergencies
Quote paper
Nabila EL-Gabalawi (Author), 2008, Humanitarian – Military Relations in Emergencies, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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