Strange Bedfellows: NGOs and the Military in Humanitarian Crises
Dr. Donna Winslow
This article intends to examine some of the tensions that can arise
between civilian relief workers and military personnel in peace operations.
The context is the qualitative change that has taken place in the post
Cold-War period concerning the types of peace operations that military
personnel and humanitarian workers are asked to participate in. Militaries
no longer just protect national sovereignty and that of allies. They
intervene more and more in intrastate conflicts. Military mandates are
wider and more ambiguous and the tasks more multi-dimensional and multi-functional.
In addition, they are often tasked with facilitating humanitarian relief,
social reconstruction and protecting civilians in areas where there
is no peace. According to Williams, (1998:14) "the military have
taken on new and significant political roles." They are now asked
to broker deals, shelter the displaced, protect human rights, supervise
the return of refugees, organize and monitor elections, and support
civilian reconstruction. This takes them into the domain of civilian
There are also larger numbers of civilian relief workers in peace operations
also performing a wide variety of tasks such as food delivery, monitoring
elections and human rights, managing refugee camps, distributing medical
supplies and services, etc. They can belong to any number of organizations
with varying budgets, tasks, goals, competence, types of personnel,
etc. which can make liaisons between them and the military at times
difficult (Last, 1998: 162). In peace operations, one can now find the
large International Organizations (IOs) such as the UNHCR (United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees) and UNICEF (United Nations Children's
Fund) in addition to the well-known international NGOs such as CARE,
OXFAM, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders)
and the ICRC (International Committee for the Red Cross). There are
also larger numbers of smaller NGOs in areas of conflict in the post-Cold
War period. For example, in 1989, 48 international NGOs were registered
with the United Nations. By 1998, there were 1500 (Simmons, 1998: 75-76).
These NGOs may be religious or secular, may include personnel from one
nation or several, may be truly non governmental or may in fact receive
large sums from government grants. Finally, a peace operation may also
have small groups with a humanitarian interest running around doing
any variety of things from distributing old prescription glasses to
trying to set up dental clinics. According to one Canadian Sergeant:
A problem that confronts peacekeepers who must deal with NGOs is the
wide range of competence they demonstrate. Fortunately, some are highly
effective while others are simply useless. Many small agencies may be
very well-connected to the local situation yet lack the administrative
capacity to manage the money donated to them. Other groups simply lack
the ability to coordinate their actions with outside organizations.
The impressions formed by peacekeepers who have seen some of the less
competent agencies, unfortunately, may colour their perception of the
whole spectrum of humanitarian aid organizations (Pollick, 2000: 59).
Traditionally, interactions between the military and humanitarian
workers were characterized by avoidance or antagonism. Each group held
(and sometimes continues to hold) stereotypes of the other. According
to some US analysts American military personnel are described by some
NGOs as "boys with toys"; rigid; authoritarian; conservative;
impatient; arrogant; civilian phobic, homophobic; excessively security
conscious; etc. (Steihm, 1998: 30; Dearfield, 1998: 4; Bruno, 1999:
10). In contrast one of the battalion commanders I interviewed referred
to NGOs as "non-guided organizations" and other authors note
the following comments: "Children of the '60s"; flaky do-gooders;
permissive; unpunctual; obstructionist; anarchic; undisciplined; self-righteous;
anti-military; etc. (Steihm, 1998: 30, Dworken, 1993: 38). According
to Williams (1998: 39), humanitarian organizations form the nucleus
of an international civil society whose esprit de corps distrusts national
Miller (1999: 181-198) tells us that aid workers' antimilitary attitude
stems from their organizations' origins. Many were created to alleviate
suffering caused by war (e.g. the ICRC) or to provide an alternative
to military service (e.g. The American Friends Service Committee). In
peace operations soldiers may find it morally acceptable to participate
in humanitarian actions, however, it is highly unlikely that humanitarian
workers would ever find it acceptable to take part in military actions.
Pamela Aall has made the following comment on the NGO - military relationship:
Traditionally, NGOs and the military have perceived their roles to
be distinctly different and separate. NGOs have felt uneasy with military
forces, either from their own countries or from the country receiving
assistance, particularly when the latter are employed in the service
of dictators with unsavory human rights records. Military leaders, on
the other hand, tend to regard NGOs as undisciplined and their operations
as uncoordinated and disjointed (Aall, 1996: 440).
In the 1990s, the nature of international conflict meant
that relief workers increasingly found their lives and their work at
risk. Relief workers in Rwanda and Chechnya were deliberately killed
in 1997. In Burundi and the Sudan NGOs were expelled and workers killed
because they were witness to local atrocities. In other countries workers
have been victims of land mines, armed hijacking of vehicles, banditry,
kidnapping, bombings, etc. A Canadian Defence Ministry official noted
that some NGO workers had more battlefield experience than most Canadian
Forces personnel (cited in Williams, 1998: 41).
Because of these sad events and the deterioration of field situations,
aid workers began to conclude that they needed weapons on their side
in order to fulfill their mandates. For example, in Somalia:
The ICRC suspended its normally irrevocable principle
of avoiding cooperation with military forces in its relief operation
in order to protect its relief convoys. The chaos in Somalia became
so bad and the negotiating position of humanitarian agencies so tenuous
that military force became the only viable alternative (Natsios, 1997:
But even security arrangements can prove to be a contentious
issue. David Owen (1995: 208) found the military in Bosnia "bitter
in their denunciation of some of the NGOs who to them were a pestilential
nuisance, resisting all attempts at coordination and then complaining
that they were not properly protected." A Canadian officer I interviewed
in Bosnia was equally cynical concerning NGOs, saying that the NGOs
wanted nothing to do with the military until there was a perceived security
threat, and then they started showing up to make sure that they could
be evacuated or protected by the military. However, working with the
military can be problematic for some NGOs. The Independent Commission
on Kosovo has described the NGO dilemma in this way: "The central
humanitarian mission of protecting civilian life and safety is precisely
what is under siege in military engagement. How can humanitarian organizations
develop closer and more continuous working relationships with military
organizations without compromising their mission?" (International
Commission on Kosovo, 2000: 208).
Until recently, when civilian relief workers and military personnel
were both involved in "traditional" peace operations they
performed their tasks separately. There was thus little functional need
for co-operation between these groups. As the Canadian Chief of Defence
Staff, General Maurice Baril (1997: 119) has remarked: "Humanitarian
agencies and non-governmental organizations seemed to be in every area
of conflict but remained independent and reluctant to modify their approach
and agree to coordinate their efforts with the military force."
Moreover, some of the tasks assigned to the military (for example delivering
relief supplies) are no longer distinct from humanitarian work. Thus,
the military is expected to work not only alongside, but also in cooperation
with NGOs and other relief organizations. In these circumstances, an
effective interface for civil military cooperation becomes essential.
In order to promote civil military cooperation, it is important to understand
some of the difficulties that can arise in peace operations between
the members of these communities. In this article, I will explore some
of the tensions that can arise between the military and relief agencies.
I have identified five possible points of tension to be found in peace
operations, which I have been calling a "cultural interoperability
model." These points of tension are related to organizational differences
in terms of:
1. organizational structure and culture,
2. tasks and ways of accomplishing them,
3. definitions of success and time frames,
4. abilities to exert influence and control information,
5. control of resources.
In addition to documentary sources, particularly the
work of US sociologists Laura Miller and Charles Moskos, research for
this paper was carried out in the archives of the Canadian Department
of National Defence Headquarters. During the crisis in the Great Lakes
region of Central Africa, Canada attempted to lead the formation of
a multinational coalition. The crisis resolved itself before the coalition
could actually be deployed however, there were a number of important
lessons learned from this effort. (Appathurai and Lysyshyn, 1997). Information
also came from unstructured interviews and focus groups carried out
with Canadian soldiers in Bosnia (October 1998) and in the Golan Heights
(February 1999). In addition to interviews with Canadian military personnel,
I have also conducted a few interviews at NATO headquarters and with
European battalion commanders who have been deployed to the former Yugoslavia.
I have also consulted with members of large international relief agencies
such as the UNHCR and the ICRC but have little interview data from the
smaller NGOs who do not have contact with the military in an area of
operations. This is an area for future research.
2. Organizational structure and culture
At a speech on civil-military partnerships in humanitarian intervention
given in Toronto, Canada in the autumn of 1999, Lieutenant-Colonel D.
D. McAlea described obstacles to fostering CIMIC (Civil Military Cooperation):
Number one: NGOs just don't trust the military; they're
suspicious of military. Number two: they jealously guard their independence.
NGOs have to be careful not to compromise their objectivity because
they could loose their funding.
There are suspicions on both
sides because they have different cultures (cited in Ross, 2000: 2).
In this paper, tension in organizational structure and
culture refers to differences in organizational goals (including values
and basic assumptions), organizational composition (gender, age, ethnicity),
and actual organizational structure. Dandeker and Gow (2000: 59) have
said that, "culture comprises a set of ideas, beliefs and symbols
that provide a definition of the world for a group or organization and
guides its action." NGOs and the military are often seen as being
at odds with each other concerning their basic goals that guide their
action (alleviate human suffering vs. preparation for war) approaches
to violence (non violence vs. controlled use of violence), their approach
to nationalism (internationalist vs. strongly nationalistic) and decision
making styles (decentralized vs. hierarchical).
The military's primary mission is still fighting and winning wars and
in a theatre of operations they continue to work on these skills. For
example, when I was in Bosnia I was able to observe a Canadian live
fire exercise. For some NGO members it is hard to work with the military
because it is hard to forget their fundamental purpose. As one NGO member
who had worked with the Canadian military on a peacekeeping training
exercise remarked, "They seem like nice people, both the civilian
and military people mixed, but I think of military people training in
acts of war
" (cited in Miller, 1999: 191). Some military
members feel that participating in peace operations dulls their warrior's
edge. These soldiers and officers do not believe in their role as "global
street workers." Peace operations are considered inappropriate
for combat soldiers. As a Canadian soldier said to me in Bosnia, "This
is not what we trained for, which was green." Similarly, Canadian
politicians have been criticized for trying to make the military into
NGOs in uniform. On the other hand, many soldiers and officers acknowledge
that their presence in a peace operation makes a difference. As one
NCO (non-commissioned officer) in Bosnia remarked, "In UNPROFOR
- they were shooting at us and children were throwing rocks at us. In
IFOR - we were taking the guns away from the big guys. In SFOR - we
see people coming back, children are waving at us."
Miller's work shows that in spite of the perceived benefits and a shift
towards support of armed intervention in the regions where they work,
relief workers remain essentially anti-military. An antimilitary and antiweapons bias persists in relief
organizations because militarization and violence are still the primary
causes of much of the suffering that these agencies are attempting to
relieve. The crisis in Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia were all caused by
clan or ethnic warfare. The human rights abuses in Haiti were the result
of a military coup and a brutal dictatorship. NGOs accepted weapons
as a necessary evil for reaching their goals when other methods no longer
could provide a safe environment (Miller, 1999: 191).
Some differences between the two groups concern motivation.
Soldiers and officers participate in a peace operation because it is
their job. They stay for their tour of duty and do what they are ordered
to. In one Canadian study on ethics (National Defense Headquarters,
1999) the extra money earned was also a strong motivation for participating
in peace operations. "I have been on many tours, I do it for the
money. I don't believe in peace, in helping people who don't want to
help themselves." The Ethics Report goes on to say that: "The
often articulated motivator of extra dollars as the prime consideration
for volunteering, complicates the decision making process in high intensity
ethical situations. The comment dollars are the number one motivation,
rather than duty was not uncommon" (National Defense Headquarters,
In contrast, relief workers volunteer for hardship, often making many
personal sacrifices in order to pursue altruistic goals.
NGOs, who operate with much less individual security and
often with fewer amenities than soldiers, are personally invested in
the mission, and are committed for the long term to addressing whatever
needs may arise. They are where they are by choice, and are devoted
to their vocation. Many of them find it difficult to believe that soldiers
could truly be committed to the same goals as they are (National Defense
Headquarters, 1999: 13).
In Miller's (1999: 193-194) study, relief workers expressed
the view that soldiers were there simply because they were ordered to
be there. This in turn led some relief workers to feel morally superior
to soldiers. "In a number of interviews, distrust of the military
was translated into comments suggesting that the US military or individual
soldiers help out only because they are ordered to do so or have self-interested
reasons for doing so."
Differences in organizational structure can affect the way groups interact.
What is the hierarchy in the organization? How are decisions taken?
Organizations such as NGOs tend to have a more flattened hierarchy with
decentralized decision making. When one American colonel in Bosnia referred
to NGOs as "one general and many privates" the response of
an NGO executive was "How about one general and many colonels?"
(cited in Moskos, 2000: 36). According to Col. Bob Stewart, the commander
of the first British deployment to Bosnia in 1992: "The military
are hierarchical, authoritarian, centralized, large and robust, while
UNHCR is flat, consensus-based with highly decentralized field offices"
(cited in Williams, 1998: 36). Thus the UNHCR's perceived lack of structure
and tendency to delegate decision-making to people of a much younger
age than the military can be a source of frustration.
In addition, the gender and ethnic composition of the organizations
in theatre may affect the way they interact with each other. Militaries
in peace operations are predominantly male while relief workers are
often female in their late twenties to early forties (Miller, 1999:
193). Similarly, UN field staff is predominantly female. UN agencies
such as the UNHCR recruit women on a positive-discrimination basis which
means that half of the staff of UN agencies and NGOs operating in Bosnia
are female (Williams, 1998: 34). Young male soldiers between 19 - 22
years old may have difficulty dealing with relief workers who are female
and considerably older. Finally, ethnic (including racial, cultural
and religious) differences can impact on the way organizations behave
with each other and with the local population. Miller and Moskos (1995:
615-637) showed that military units that were mixed race and mixed gender
had more humanitarian attitudes to the local population than all male
uniracial units, which adopted a more aggressive stance towards locals.
3. Tasks and ways of accomplishing them
It is my belief that the greatest contribution that the military can
make is to restore order and security so that humanitarian activities
can then take place. However, more and more the military is being asked
to undertake humanitarian and development activities. For example, in
Kosovo the Canadian Battle Group's CIMIC cell actually maintained and
ran several development projects, worth $750,000 Canadian dollars, on
behalf of the Canadian International Development Agency. According to
the military, this allowed the Battle Group to directly address the
needs of the local population and helped them win local support for
their presence (Delaney, 2001). This type of "hearts and minds"
campaign to win over the locals can also promote support for the operation
back home. Almost any military article on CIMIC will have the inevitable
photo of a soldier with children. This of course attracts more sympathy
than coverage of any military action the soldiers might undertake.
But not everyone agrees that development activities should be within
the scope of a Battle Group. As General Briquemont (1995) has commented,
"The military cannot take the place of humanitarian organizations,
which have their own objectives and methods and their own know-how;
it is clearly useless to try to outdo the ICRC or the UNHCR." An
ICRC representative even goes so far as to criticize the concept of
A degree of caution should be exercised when referring
to CIMIC. In whichever way the concept is interpreted it conveys first
and foremost a military function. It is thus not an appropriate term
for describing the ICRC's relations with the military, or for describing
the function of a delegate whose essential role is liasing with the
military. The inherent danger of CIMIC is that it could induce the military
to go beyond their (military) mandate and focus more on humanitarian
activities than on peace and security tasks (Studer, 2001: 7).
The other problem with mixing military and humanitarian
actions is the possible confusion that can arise in the minds of the
local population. Ogata (1995: 119-127) tells us the UNHCR's humanitarian
activities have become closely entwined with the military, strengthening
its humanitarian capacity but also complicating its efforts. "If
UN peacekeeping forces were to engage in offensive action, it would
no longer be possible to maintain the non-political and impartial base
of the UNHCR's humanitarian activities, however serious the needs of
the victims might be." The ICRC has exactly the same position.
According to one ICRC official, when the dividing line between humanitarian
and military action is blurred, "the very concept of humanitarian
action, which is a the heart of the ICRC's mandate and activities, risks
being undermined" (Studer, 2001: 1).
Ogata also expresses concern over the effect that military operations
have on the neutral and impartial image of relief efforts. For example,
while UNPROFOR convoy escorts provided protection and deterred attack,
their presence in some cases heightened local hostility (Williams, 1998:
40). Again, the ICRC shares this view:
This is perhaps the ICRC's main concern, in particular
the risk of weakening the concept of impartial humanitarian action in
the eyes of the belligerents. This concern is due less to the limits
of military involvement in humanitarian action per se than to the 'contagious'
effect that it may have on civilian humanitarian activities, because
any association with military missions - real or perceived - is likely
to affect the ay in which the population gauges the neutrality of the
civilian humanitarian workers, insofar as they are - or a judged to
be - no longer 'innocent bystanders' but rather potential parties to
the conflict. Mixing mandates risks turning humanitarian workers into
perceived enemy agents and thus jeopardizing their personal safety (Studer,
Similarly, when I was in the Canadian Area of Responsibility
in Bosnia, some NGOs in the town of Drvar refused to have any more contact
with the military because they had been targeted during riots. They
felt that they had been singled out for violence because of their association
with the military. Therefore, tensions can arise between humanitarian
and military actors because of their respective mandates and modes of
operation. Humanitarian organizations are concerned with protecting
people and ensuring basic human rights and the security of the victims
on all sides of a conflict whereas the military use of force might be
directed just against one party in a conflict.
Of course the military is also concerned with maintaining objectivity
and this can lead to maintaining distance from the local population.
Because of security issues, military personnel find themselves in armed
camps, behind fortified walls and barbed wire. They remain separate
from the local population with little opportunity for extended social
contact. Keeping distance from the local population can be perceived
as demonstrating a lack of trust in the host population. This is not
to say that the military does not go into the community to help. In
Bosnia, the Canadians rebuilt a hospital wing, set up a dental clinic,
build a woodshed for a school, cut and delivered wood to the elderly,
etc. However, the militaries like to do things for people rather than
with them. In contrast, relief workers often place themselves in the
midst of the local population with few boundaries (be they physical
or social) between. Because of the closeness, relief organizations often
incorporate local cultural modes in the way they accomplish their tasks.
This is reflected in work habits:
[T]he military's standards and preferred way of completing
its tasks (the most rapid, most efficient, highest quality way) do not
mesh with the NGO approach, which employs, teaches, and gives control
to members of the community, incorporates local cultural modes, and
uses locally accessible resources when possible. In Bosnia the USAID
director at that time observed, "[The US military] had a tendency
to want to take over, so we had to stop that, I have to teach the military
each time not to run things" (Miller, 1999: 192).
The NGO's themselves can have mandates which differ from
each other and this can lead to tensions with the military. The inability
of NGOs to collaborate with each other was often cited as a problem
during my trip to Bosnia in 1998. I was told, "NGOs are a business,
each with their own agenda and sometimes their own agendas don't coincide
with other NGO activities. Sometimes NGOs don't want to talk to each
other." One problem the Canadians faced was that the UNHCR wanted
to return refugees (Serbs) while another organization wanted to get
the (Croat) Council going. "So they have different mandates and
get into conflict with each other. Sometimes the NGOs here seem to be
working at cross-purposes to each other." Another interviewee,
commenting on the SFOR mission, said NGOs were not well co-ordinated,
which created "duplication of effort, missed information, poorly
completed projects and villages with rebuilt homes but no electricity
or water and a host of other problems."
Sometimes there is a gap between civil and military understandings of
the strategic goals of a mission. For example, Garofano (1999: 47) tells
us that in Bosnia US military leaders did not believe that they had
a mandate to do nation building (and may have wanted to avoid the burden
of one). On the other hand, humanitarian workers express frustration
with the military's inability to act in certain situations:
Our director witnessed a guy firing randomly in the air
after leaving the scene of a crime. A UN peacekeeping truck was looking,
trying not to get shot, but otherwise doing nothing. I'm sure they were
careful because they didn't have a mandate to act. I imagine they were
ordered not to do anything. That would be ok, but the military is here
doing what? (Relief worker quoted in Miller, 1999: 187).
Relief workers commonly call upon military forces to
become more actively and deeply involved. In Bosnia a relief worker
complained: "You cannot leave de-mining up to the [warring] parties.
You have to take responsibility. You say not, you're not the police,
fine; not de-mining, fine; not capturing war criminals, fine. What are
you doing? You have to take responsibility for something" (Relief
worker quoted in Miller, 1999: 189). And in Haiti, relief workers pushed
for more military commitment: "The UN [troops] should participate
more in peacekeeping: patrols and police work. Foreign troops are not
supposed to get involved in local actions, but people think they could
have done more to disarm the local thugs" (Relief worker quoted
in Miller, 1999: 189).
On the other hand, many NGOs "seemed almost intentionally blind
to the political and military implications of some of the suggestions
and requests they made both privately and to the media" (Appathurai
and Lysyshyn, 1997: 7). During the Great Lake crisis, this was reflected
in different opinions as to what was an appropriate role for the military,
i.e. some NGOs wanted the military to go into the refugee camps in Eastern
Zaire and separate and/or disarm belligerents (Appathurai and Lysyshyn,
1997: 9). However, fulfilling the tasks the humanitarian agencies wanted
would have involved serious risks and it would also have required important
political decisions that many participating nations did not want to
4. Definitions of success and time frames
According to Pope (1994) the long-term commitments of NGO's in a region
may lead to substantial differences in how a mission accomplishment
is defined. NGOs may not declare a mission a success until all human
suffering has been alleviated in the area. Public opinion and the media,
on the other hand, may simply want to put an end to fighting (send in
troops in order to prevent the escalation of the conflict). The national
politicians may have another definition of success (no casualties is
the field, good publicity for their government, etc.).
The military's definition of success is determined by the mission that
has to be accomplished. In addition, European military commanders have
told me that a mission may be considered a success if their troops sustain
no casualties and (s)he is able to bring them all home safely - even
if the actual mandate was not completely fulfilled. This can be interpreted
by some as indifference to the local population or the humanitarian
aspects of the mission. According to Miller (1999: 191) the US military
shares similar concerns about avoiding casualties among its own people
and about "mission creep", i.e. prolonging a mission because
new objectives are constantly being set. "Many aid workers have
detected these concerns, and look down on the military leaders as wanting
to perform only the minimum required and then withdrawing as quickly
The brevity of military tours (usually six months) can also cause tension
with NGOs who are often the first to enter and the last to leave a troubled
area. "Once familiarized with local conditions, [military] officers
have little time left to establish solid working relationships with
their civilian counterparts, or acclimatize themselves to local values,
culture and politics
By contrast, it is unusual for civilians
to serve for less than 12 months
It was not unusual for civilians
with UNPROFOR to be in their post for three years" (Williams, 1998:
36). In addition, different military units may have different forms
of rotation with some militaries rotating individuals while other rotate
whole or parts of units at a single time. In addition, humanitarian
agencies sometimes demonstrate a misunderstanding of the speed with
which the military can deploy. In the Great Lakes crisis, "there
was a clear expectation that armies would be fully deployed in theatre
almost instantly after a political decision was taken. It as not well
understood that this operation involved the movement of tons of machinery
and hundreds of people to Africa, and their establishment on the ground,
all of which takes time" (Appathurai and Lysyshyn, 1997: 12).
Last (1998: 166) discusses immediate (2-6 months), short term (1-2 years),
medium term (5-10) years and long term (+ 10 years) intervention in
the Former Yugoslavia. In each of these time frames, the focus is different.
So for example, in the immediate and short-term military and civil security
are the primary focus, while in medium and long term the emphasis is
on economic reconstruction, education and development. Each of these
forms of intervention requires different resources (military and security
forces vs. social and economic development projects) and different social
actors (military and police vs. relief and development agents). Thus,
tension can occur when different social actors are operating with different
time frames in mind in the same theatre of operations.
Tensions can also arise when no end state has been adequately defined.
As C. Dandekar and J. Gow (1997: 327-348) have pointed out, one of the
serious points of tension in a strategic peace operation is that the
belligerents are in control of the end state and it is only when they
decide that the conflict has been satisfactorily resolved will the peace
operation end. Thus, the Former Yugoslavia could end up as a long Cyprus
- type mission. In peace operations where the goal of the mission is
defined as humanitarian, it becomes difficult to decide when the operation
should come to an end. For example in the case of Zaire, when the refugees
were freed from coercion and began to return to Rwanda, the international
community then engaged in a debate over whether the military mission
was still required. Those who defined the role of the military mission
as humanitarian noted that there were still people in need and supported
the extension of the mission, however, as Appathurai and Lysyshyn (1997:
11) point out, "There will always be people in need in eastern
5. Abilities to exert influence and control information
Different groups are able to exert influence at a number of levels.
In fact, the decision to undertake a peace operation may arise because
of public pressure brought on by NGO and media reports. Public opinion
can also play a critical role in the decision to send in or pull out
troops. Organizations such as the NGOs and the media are able to exert
influence not only at the national political level but also in the international
arena. This can frustrate military commanders who are not able to influence
political and public opinion in the same way. During the Great Lakes
crisis, the NGOs had political interests not unlike governments. According
to Appathurai and Lysyshyn (1997: 6-7) "These agencies have relationships
with parties on the ground and with other national governments, and
compete with each other for influence and financing. Some (not all)
of these clearly tried to influence the Multinational Force during the
crisis, providing suspiciously high numbers of refugees in need and
using the media as a lever." According to Delaney (2001) this was
also the case in Kosovo where local civil authorities and humanitarian
organizations exaggerated the acuteness of problems and the means needed
to address them in order to get more funds and resources. The commander
then finds her or himself trying to explain the disconnect between the
information (s)he has about the local situation (numbers of refugees
etc.) and the portrait that is being painted back home or in the international
Tied to the ability to exert influence is also the ability to control
information. A military commander finds her or himself at the interface
of many relationships where different organizations want access to the
information (s)he possesses. According to Miller, NGOs believe that
the military can assist them in information gathering (Miller, 1997).
In Bosnia the Canadian military shared information with the NGOs through
the population surveys the CIMIC people carried out. Canadian military
personnel also monitor returning refugees. In Kosovo, the Canadian CIMIC
clerk established and maintained a database that kept track of population
distribution, medical facilities, water supply, schools, civil authorities
and shelter distribution (Delaney, 2001).
However, the intelligence community is a two way street and NGO's must
be willing to share information as well. Some organizations such as
the ICRC are reluctant to share information because it might endanger
some of their confidentiality agreements (Studer, 2001: 9). Nevertheless,
because NGO's often have a longer experience with the local population,
their insights can be of value to the military. The military however,
has to be willing to accept information that is not packaged in the
way they are used to seeing it. According to one relief worker in Bosnia:
There's no sense for the American military to reinvent
the wheel: We had a lot of surveys and figures on refugees. The US military
was starting to do it all over again. We saved them three to six months
of work, and in return we have gotten a lot of support: They opened
routes across the zone of separation, for example.
Both of us come from very strong cultures and both of us think we're
right and know how to do things best. Who's going to take the first
step? We've gone through a process. In the beginning, we were very reluctant,
but we made the first step to help them learn how we think, how we work,
to try to get them to understand the value of what we're doing. They
started to realize how much we knew: that we had sensitivity to what's
going on in the country and that we could help them in situations in
which they didn't know what to do (Relief Worker quoted in Miller, 1999:
In addition, different organizations are often not aware
of what others are doing, so when NGO's criticize the military for "not
doing enough", it could be that they simply are not aware of what
the military is actually doing. The Canadian military tries to facilitate
the sharing of information and promotes coordination between NGOs. For
example, in Kosovo the Canadian Battle Group's CIMIC cell acted as a
go between, finding an NGO to carry out well decontamination work and
assisting them in finding adequate funding from available donors (Delaney,
2001). In Bosnia, the CIMIC liaison section's role is to assist the
international organizations in their Area of Responsibility, particularly
the ICRC, the UNHCR, and their partners. CIMIC units also deal with
the smaller NGOs in the Area of Responsibility. One of the problems
these civilian organizations face is that they are small. They have
to be small to keep their overhead down and be capable of direct action.
However, because they are small they often lack access to current information
and they cannot coordinate with other organizations. According to one
OXFAM worker, the lack of coordination in Kosovo led to duplication
of essential services and competition among NGOs to work in the same
Another gap in the information sharing relates to Islamic activities.
The Canadians have little or no information of any development actions
from Islamic groups that seem to be quite active in Bosnia. Not only
the military is ignorant of Islamic group activities. Moskos (2000:
46) reports that 7 of the 33 NGOs with official standing in the United
Nations operation in Somalia were Islamic. Yet, Moskos' computer search
of US press reports revealed that, "Not one story was ever written
on any of the Muslim NGOs - not one."
The military tries to be sensitive to the NGOs. "We don't want
to appear heavy-handed so we try to arrive at consensus." In this
way, the military tries to develop and co-ordinate NGO strategy. As
one officer said to me, "It is important to show consistency of
effort." In Kosovo, the Canadian military organized weekly coordination
conferences between representatives of the UNHCR, the NGOs, the UN Interim
Mission in Kosovo, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe), local civil authorities and military CIMIC representatives.
In these meetings the military provided information on mine threats,
safe routes population distribution, schools, damage assessments and
medical coverage (Delaney, 2001). This communication can be essential
in areas where telephone communications and cellular coverage are practically
non-existent. Similarly, the Canadian military in Bosnia organized regular
meetings plus ad hoc information sharing between NGOs. One of the mechanisms
for this was the called the Principals Group. When I was there the Principals
Group of NGOs met in the Canadian camp in Coralici. The military facilitated
the meeting and produced the agenda. I was told, "We decide the
focus and explain why so we can have a common effort." In addition,
the head of the Canadian Medical Unit in Bosnia has a monthly meeting
with the World Health Organization in Bosnia, and (s)he also kept in
contact with other medical staff in the area (for example, Médecins
Sans Frontières) about the main medical problems in the region.
Finally, one cannot discuss control of information without discussing
the media. Both the military and NGOs are concerned about their relations
with the media. According to Moskos (2000: 33) "NGO funding often
depends of favourable press coverage." And as a leading figure
in the International Rescue Committee (quoted in Rieff, 1999: 27) remarked,
"You go where governments or U.N. agencies want you to go to get
your share of contracts that otherwise would go to other agencies. And
one way to get such contracts is by getting the press to publicize your
work." This can lead to competition among NGOs for press coverage.
Some members of the Canadian military find this "distasteful."
As one peacekeeper put it:
The theatrical demeanour of these organizations, their
tendency to go into dangerous situations, and their disregard for cooperation
with other groups are particularly irritating to peacekeepers. This
sort of competition is particularly galling when a group places its
pursuit of publicity above the goals of the overall peacekeeping mission.
(Pollick, 2000: 60).
The military presence in theatre can also be a valuable
resource for NGOs since it often draws political and media attention
to an area. This can assist NGOs in publicizing their efforts and in
raising funds. However, NGOs often have strained relations with the
media, much the same way as the military does. As a senior officer in
Sarajevo told Moskos (2000: 34) "The media understand NGOs even
less than we do." The military are often apprehensive about the
media and particularly about negative coverage. Then again, so are the
NGOs. For the military a bad news story may spell the end of an individual's
career; for an NGO it may mean the end of funding.
6. Control of resources
In peace operations the different organizations often find themselves
in competition for resources. The NGOs may be competing among themselves
in order to secure funding and equipment and they may be competing over
access to certain areas or regions that the military must safeguard.
The military deploys with valuable resources - food and medical supplies,
communication and construction equipment, transport and fuel, etc. Relief
workers in Haiti described to Miller how early in the mission, in 1994,
thousands of soldiers were deployed. At that time, they shared their
[A]fter Cyclone Gordon
They volunteered. And they
had an outpost next to our office. We knew each other, were friends,
and they asked what support we needed. Engineers came out and set the
course of the river back, which had just spread out all over. They made
walls as barriers to prevent land degradation and protect the banks
of the rivers. They also did an aerial survey with their helicopters
for us. They worked well with the communities then (Relief worker quoted
in Miller, 1999: 188).
In Bosnia, the Canadians shared their personnel with
the UN Mine Action Centre. While I was there, the military had someone
in Bihac working as the Centre co-ordinator. He checked safety, techniques
used to actually clear mines, and that the right people for the job
were hired. Canadians also worked closely with the UNHCR to anticipate
resource needs in Bosnia. However, I was told that the demands in 1998
were small compared to 1994-1995 when the UNHCR used Canadian military
vehicles. During the Kosovo crisis, the numbers of refugees overwhelmed
the NGOs on the ground. The UNHCR asked NATO to coordinate all transportation
of food, relief supplies, and medical care. NATO troops also helped
set up the camps for the hundreds of thousands of refugees (Moskos,
However, some organizations have grown increasingly wary of using military
assets in carrying out their own operations. This is because military
assets can be used simultaneously for peace keeping or even peace enforcement
at the same time that they are being used for humanitarian assistance
in the same geographical area. So even though organizations such as
the ICRC understand only too well the value of armed protection of ICRC
equipment and personnel, they have become cautious in using military
assets for its operations. In Somalia, for example, it was not possible
for the ICRC to use military aircraft which only the day before had
been carrying military equipment for peace enforcement purposes (Studer,
At other times, NGOs want the military to share its material resources.
Different from the positive description above, of NGO-military cooperation
in the beginning of the mission in Haiti, by 1997 only a minimal US
military force was present and it seemed to be conserving its resources.
A relief worker expressed the following frustrations:
They have all that equipment here, money, people. Why
not build roads, improve streets, build infrastructure? A lot of this
is very capital-intensive and they have it. As it is, they're spending
all this money to be locked up behind walls, and we don't know what
they're doing (Relief worker quoted in Miller, 1999: 188).
Similarly, when the group I observed first arrived in
Bosnia, the NGOs wanted the military to deliver goods and cattle for
them. The military said no. Thus, there is also competition over soldiers
as resources. That is, there are a large number of competing demands
placed upon a soldier's time and upon military resources to accomplish
both humanitarian and military aims. According to one Canadian officer
I interviewed in the former Yugoslavia, they didn't have the resources
to meet the demands of the military and humanitarian tasks: "We
are pushing the envelope and doing our damn best to keep all the balls
in the air."
Finally, there may be misunderstandings and disagreements as to the
proper use of resources. Humanitarian agencies may want the military
to go beyond its mandate in order to disarm the local population or
catch thieves and criminals. One example of different views on using
and withholding resources can be seen in the following situation in
A Canadian led team had arranged to halt SFOR- coordinated
humanitarian aid to the town of Kotor Varos until the municipal leadership
demonstrated a willingness to accept the return of displaced ethnic
minorities. The team's efforts were undermined, several days later when
and NGO announce a major donation to the town. The NGO thought it was
more important for them to be seen providing aid to the town than for
the humanitarian stakeholders to present a united front. With this NGO's
money they mayor was able to ignore pressure to accept minority returns
(Canadian Department of National Defense, 1999: 22)
NGO's and the military may be strange bedfellows but they will have
to stay in the sheets together because of overlapping tasks and scarce
resources in mission areas. And there is a growing consensus that coordination
is both necessary and useful. Just as in any couple relationship they
have to continuously work at improving communication, building bridges
and developing mutual respect if they are to coexist and cooperate.
Otherwise they will find themselves working at counter purposes to each
Although this article has stressed differences, it is also important
to remember that NGOs and the military also share many things: a commitment
to peace and stability; a hard working attitude; international experience;
life with hardship and danger; personal risk of injury, illness and/or
death; decision making under pressure, a "can do" attitude
or a "make do with what you've got" attitude; an appreciation
of competence; a willingness to work among the suffering, the dying
and/or the dead; a frustration with conditions on the ground; a frustration
with decisions they believe are political and make their work less effective,
etc. (Steihm, 1998: 30). There is as much nobility in sacrificing your
life for your country as in saving life in a country far from home.
Moskos has advanced the hypothesis that in peace operations we can observe
an embryonic convergence between the two institutions: "a 'softening'
of the military, if you will, and a 'hardening' of the NGOs" (Moskos,
2000: 33). Thus as the military and NGOs carry out overlapping missions
in the same areas they develop common ground for improved relations.
A recent survey by Nuciari (2001) of 260 officers from 9 countries indicates
that officers had fewer problems with NGOs than they did with the local
There certainly appears to be a growing recognition by military forces
of the value of working with NGOs. For example, the US Joint Task Force
Commander's Handbook (1997) has a whole chapter on civil military relations,
which includes a discussion of NGOs, UN agencies and other international
relief agencies. And, the relief community is developing an appreciation
of the military's assistance in realizing humanitarian objectives. Efforts
are underway to work more closely together. Flora MacDonald, Canadian
Secretary of State for External Affairs, went with NGOs to both Somalia
and Rwanda. She said there were about 200 NGOs operating and "the
confusion was total." However, MacDonald (cited in Ross, 2000:
4) said Kosovo was different in that there was tremendous integration
in the work being done by the Canadian military and the NGOs there -
integration she had not seen elsewhere.
Working together helps each community to view the other as equally professional
and committed to common objectives. This is a very important point.
In fact Miller's (1997) central argument is: organizations that share
a common goal and depend on each other to reach that goal, can develop
a cooperative relationship and yet retain distinct organizational memberships
and cultures. In short, you don't have to be best friends in order to
be able to work well together. Good working relations can be developed
and I believe that these relationships should be encouraged outside
of peace operations. For example, Canadian Forces in 1996 began an exchange
with the NGO CARE in which an officer is attached to the organization
on a six-month basis. Some NGOs send personnel to the military for mine
awareness training. These types of exchanges promote mutual understanding.
In theatre, the CIMIC coordination centers permit detailed cooperation
between the many NGOs and local authorities (Delaney, 2001; Pollick,
2000: 61). CIMIC operations need to be finely tuned and staffed with
competent people. Often there a shortages which means that a battle
group is forced to use untrained officers in a CIMIC role or keep them
"double - hatted." This means that they can be taken away
from their CIMIC tasks if their other duties call. Of course, for a
military professional, a career in civil - military relations may not
mean professional advancement the way being involved in the core business
of combat does. There is a need for clear tracks of professional advancement
possible in order to encourage participation in these functions. Another
military option is to use reservists who have a wide variety of non-traditional
military skills. With this in mind, the Canadian Department of Defence
intends to create units within the Reserves dedicated to CIMIC activities
(Pollick, 2000: 62).
Another aid would be to co-locate headquarters in the same area. Of
course being close to each other is not a guarantee of effective communication;
nevertheless, it could facilitate it. Dialogue can also be improved
through pre-mission meetings between the military and NGOs, early agreement
on responsibilities and objectives, central co-ordination, shared communications
equipment, regular inter-agency meetings in-field, exchanged liaison
officers, to name a few. It is also critical that relief agencies be
included earlier in the strategic planning stages of an operation. A
particular emphasis should be placed upon improving consultation at
the policy level, information sharing and analysis. For the foreseeable
future, at least, NGOs and the military have no choice but to remain
in bed together if they are to ensure the coordination of humanitarian
relief, reconstruction, peace building, and the political and security
aspects of a mission.
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