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European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
The Humanitarian and the Military: different mandates and potential synergies
Brussels Defence Debate: Royal Military Academy
Brussels, 17 September 2010
Ladies and Gentleman,
Thank you to Minister Pieter De Crem, the Belgian EU Presidency, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Egmont and Euro-defence Belgium for organising the Brussels Defence Debate.
This conference comes at a crucial moment in time. As the UN will announce today their revised appeal for Pakistan,there are many comments about how best the military can contribute to disaster relief. This debate is likely to intensify in the years to come, following so the steep curve of natural disasters: since my days as a student in the seventies, the number of disasters has risen fivefold!
Indeed, it is clear to me that population growth combined with increasing urbanisation, increased industrial activity and higher levels of terrorism and climate change – a subject I know well from my previous life at the World Bank – will cause far more floods and other catastrophes than before.
Obviously the involvement of Military in response to disasters depends very much on whether they intervene in a war/conflict context (the so-called "complex emergencies") or not, and whether the prime aim of their intervention is the provision of security or the provision of relief assistance.
Let me just take four of my field trips this year, namely Haiti, Sudan, the Sahel and Pakistan as an illustration of the opportunities and challenges for the military in disaster response. I would like then to share with you with my views on the contribution military capabilities can make to Europe's disaster relief, in the context of the policy initiative I am currently preparing regarding the strengthening of the EU disaster response capacity.
First, Haiti. A large-scale natural disaster situation coupled with a clear security risk as demonstrated by the long MINUSTAH presence in the country. So there was some consensus on expanding this military presence, not only to make humanitarian aid more secure, but also to improve its logistical delivery. Thus following a mixture of specific requests by the UN and the government of Haiti, Member States made available over 2000 troops, providing robust military relief assets, including maritime, air and engineering forces.
In Haiti, the bulk of relief assistance was and still is provided through humanitarian and civil protection instruments (which can encompass military assets of a civilian nature), but it showed that the contribution of robust military assets in large-scale disasters can fill in critical "capacity gaps" notably as regards transport (cargo planes, helicopters) and heavy engineering– in that case to remove debris and prepare relocation sites.
Second, Sudan, a true complex emergency, where the African Union/United Nations operation UNAMID’s mandate is about the provision of security and protection to civilians and the facilitation of full humanitarian access throughout Darfur. There is a potential for the military to help people and to contribute to rehabilitation of security-relevant roads or airports.
But the humanitarian community is clearly reluctant to see such military involvement in assistance as it carries a double risk: by performing humanitarian tasks, it may not focus enough on security, which is the core mandate of their peace-keeping operation. And if the mission wants to be considered in the same light as the humanitarian workers in order to "win hearts and minds", they will certainly put the latter at higher risk.
Third, the Sahel. The severity of the drought, mainly in Niger, Chad and Mali, led the Commission's experts to ring alarm bells last spring, to address the looming food crisis. There had been a coup in February, but the situation in Niger could not be called a "complex emergency".
There has been several serious security incident. I particularly regret the death of a French humanitarian worker, and the abduction yesterday morning of seven employees for a French company. We should, however, realise that there have been so far no major problem of access and delivery for humanitarian organisations. Let us be clear: from the perspective of fighting hunger, a foreign military presence was not warranted.
The simple point I want to make with these three examples is that the recognition of core mandates is vital. People should do what they are good at and what they have been trained for. As we understand it, the military are best at providing security, and this is where they are the most needed. Security is necessary for humanitarian aid to be effective.
But if the military – and I am not saying that this is the rule, but it has happened – distributes leaflets offering food in return for intelligence, humanitarian workers operating in the same area are in deep trouble. This is why we have developed the Oslo guidelines on the use of Military and Civil Defence Assets (MCDA) in emergencies. Let me stress that the Oslo guidelines were firmly endorsed by EU Member States in 2006 and in 2007 (European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid).
The main recommendations of these guidelines are that military assets for the provision of relief assistance should be employed by humanitarian agencies as a last resort, i.e. only in the absence of any other available civilian alternative to support urgent humanitarian needs in the time required.
It is true that when looking, with immense sadness, at the number of humanitarian workers killed each year (102 were killed in 2009, and another 278 were victims of security incidents), one can wonder if increased military presence has been beneficial.
It is a fact that "giving aid" has become very dangerous. The symbols that used to offer a certain protection have now become an invitation for attack. If we want to put a halt to this tendency and avoid the impression that aid is a western, white and increasingly military business, the lines between military and humanitarian actors cannot be blurred. And this is precisely the aim of the guidelines I have just mentioned.
To illustrate this, let me take my most recent mission, Pakistan, where the huge distress led to discussions about the use of military assets, including from NATO. As I have been in this current position for seven months only, I ask myself the same questions as you do: I am an economist, and always look at cost-effective solutions. So if there are resources available, why not take advantage of it? But in this case, a too visible presence of NATO in humanitarian relief in Pakistan would raise issues for the relief organisations. In addition, most goods procured by the UN are sourced in places close to Pakistan, like China, which makes the NATO air-bridge unpractical.
This is why there has not been that much demand for the NATO air-bridge. Having said that,I cannot ignore the calls from organisations that stated clearly that without military assets they could not work in Pakistan. And since NATO helicopters were key in bringing assistance to people stuck in the mountains after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, we have to ask ourselves what are the conditions to respect for the use of military assets in such situations.
In addition to the well-known humanitarian principles of last resort, humanity, neutrality and impartiality, I would insist on the civilian nature and character of any humanitarian operation using military assets. The assets may remain under military control, but the operation as a whole must be placed under the overall authority of the responsible humanitarian organization. When military organizations have a role to play, they should, to the extent possible, not encompass direct assistance, in order to retain a clear distinction between the normal functions and roles of humanitarian and military stakeholders.
In other words, you have to have a civilian interface whose role is to match assessed humanitarian needs with military relief capabilities available or on offer and to manage this interaction.
Pakistan is actually a good example of cooperation between civilian and military organisations, as the European Civil Protection Mechanism, for which I am responsible and which is called the "Monitoring Information Centre", i.e. the MIC, worked well with the EU Military Staff and its EU Movement Planning Cell. Indeed, the MIC so far facilitated more than 10 flights bringing assistance to Pakistan, among which three were offered through the transport assistance of the EU Movement Planning Cell, free of charge.
The Mechanism's main role is to support and coordinate the deployment of Member States' in-kind assistance to countries requesting international assistance in case of major disasters. The Mechanism can be activated for natural and man-made disasters within and outside the EU. By pooling the civil protection capabilities of the 31 Participating States (the EU-27, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Croatia), the EU aims at ensuring not only the protection of people but also of the natural and cultural environment, as well as property.
The value of existing instruments is widely acknowledged. They have functioned well in practice, carrying out their mandates in full and delivering results which have exceeded expectations. Nevertheless, the increase in the frequency of natural and man-made disaster and their growing intensity and severity have raised concerns as to whether, and how, existing instruments should be developed in order to face future challenges in a cost effective way, simultaneously ensuring a more efficient, rapid and predictable coordination.
It is against this background that the Commission intends to present a Communication on EU Disaster Response Capacity in a few weeks' time. The Communication will outline ways in which the EU's immediate response to disasters could be strengthened.
The main objective will be to improve effectiveness (rapidity of deployment and appropriateness of action), coherence (operational and political coordination) and visibility, by building upon the three main components of EU disaster response capacity namely, humanitarian assistance, civil protection, and military assets.
The Communication on EU Disaster Response Capacity, will reflect the fact that military assets can be useful in supporting civil protection and humanitarian assistance in exceptionally large-scale disasters by filling critical capacity gaps (notably strategic lift, specialised assets, heavy engineering and transport) –this in line with the humanitarian principles.
The EU Mechanisms for the coordination of military assets in support of disaster response must be devised in a way, which ensures fast, lean and cost-effectiveness action. The Civil Protection Mechanism is in my view the linchpin of the system which can help to connect the military capabilities and in-kind assets of the Member States with the needs on the ground.
The exact meaning of critical capacity gaps is not necessarily agreed between civilian and military actors. For example, a range of studies prove that regarding transport there are not necessarily many gaps in the availability of transport worldwide, but rather in the soft areas of coordination, planning and funding of transport. Equally, it remains a challenge to find specialised capacity, including in the military, and to get to be used in the areas which are in need. Joint planning exercises between civilian and military actors to agree on the needs and gaps can be helpful in coming to this understanding.
Let me conclude in the same way I started: the world is changing, and fast. We need to discuss what this means for us, and how we can adapt ourselves to this new environment. There is an exciting and challenging task ahead of us to identify the capabilities, develop the scenarios for the coordinated mobilisation of civil protection and military assets and get ready when the next disasters hits. This will require close cooperation between my services and the EU Military structures.