The ICRC and civil-military relations in armed conflict

30-06-2001 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 842, by Meinrad Studer


Meinrad Studer
is a diplomatic adviser to and member of the ICRC’s International Organizations Division. 

The relationship between humanitarian and military activities, and cooperation between those engaged in them, occupy an important place in the current international debate on crisis management. Generally speaking, the developments which today enable military and humanitarian organizations to operate in concert and coordinate their respective activities in connection with an increasing number of conflicts should be welcomed.
Alongside the more frequent involvement of the military in managing crises since the end of the Cold War, there is a political trend towards widening the scope of activities for military missions. This merits careful consideration and analysis. So-called multidimensional peace-support operations may encompass or even focus on tasks in the civilian and humanitarian domain. Such an extension could lead to potentially problematic relations and even competition between the military and humanitarian organizations. More importantly, if the dividing line between humanitarian and military action is blurred, the very concept of humanitarian action, which is at the heart of the ICRC’s mandate and activities, risk s being undermined.
The Independent Commission on Kosovo neatly summarized the problem when it noted in its recent report: “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?”  

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