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Civil-military cooperation

Conflicting interests

by Jonas Wollenhaupt
Humanitarian agencies and soldiers frequently cooperate in crisis regions. In a recent paper, the Bonn-based Development and Peace Foundation (SEF) has spelled out the need to clearly define the terms of mutual support and to better coordinate international policymaking.

Civil-military cooperation is frequently ambivalent. On the one hand, aid agencies in crisis hit areas frequently depend on military support. Otherwise they would not be able to work. On the other hand, humanitarian workers’ risk increases if rebels equate them with soldiers and attack, as has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In practice, the relationship between soldiers and humanitarian workers constantly alternates between cooperation and obstruction in trouble spots. It is obvious, however, that any enduring military success will depend on revitalised economic, social and environmental structures.

Particular discrepancies arise when it comes to helping civilians. Military actors want to see fast success and focus on emergency relief. Humanitarian agencies, on the other hand, are interested in sustainable development and tend to stay politically neutral. Hence coordination problems are typical. A recent study by the SEF on “Civil-Military Cooperation in Post-Conflict Rehabilitation and Reconstruction” analyses current trends.

According to the paper, the readiness to cooperate at the local level is higher than at national or international levels. Thanks to local cooperation, the military obtains detailed information on the population and can boost its standing among the people. At the same time, civilian actors profit from the military’s safer and better logistics.
High-level decisionmakers however frequently shy from committing to joint strategies out of fear their partner might dominate or instrumentalise them. That, the study finds, makes multilateral approaches at the UN, EU or NATO difficult.

Moreover, donor countries differ in terms of interdepartmental cooperation. While Britain has a civil-military fund that serves all ministries involved, Germany insists on strict ministerial autonomy. In international policymaking, such differences lead to conflicts over jurisdictions and resource allocation, according to the SEF experts.

The authors point out, however, that on-the-ground experience has led to better local cooperation. In their view, it would make sense to clearly define principles of mutual support, spelling out how military and civilian actors are to complement one another in the case of logistical or other deficits. Such principles would then have to be resolutely enforced. The SEF paper maintains, however, that, for military-civil cooperation to work out well, geostrategic and development interests must remain strictly separate. (jw)