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Contemporary challenges in the civil-military relationship: Complementarity or incompatibility?

30-09-2004 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 855, by Raj Rana

The post Cold War period has witnessed an increasing "militarization" of humanitarian action. Today armed forces are deployed on peace-keeping missions and mandated to carry out humanitarian operations. The distinction between humanitarian, political and military action is thus increasingly blurred. The article sets out to analyse the ICRC's views on this civil-military relationship in contemporary humanitarian environment.


Raj Rana
The author works with the Unit for Relations with Armed and Security Forces at the International Committee of the Red Cross. The article reflects his views alone and not necessarily those of the ICRC. 

The 1990's confronted humanitarian organizations with an increasing number of actors in the conflict environments in which they work. With the end of the Cold War, armed forces were deployed on peacekeeping missions, often with humanitarian roles and mandates in addition to traditional roles of providing security. The risk of such multinational military forces becoming belligerents, in addition to providing humanitarian assistance, threatened the perception of neutral, independent humanitarian action. Humanitarian actors justifiably mounted a vigorous defense of the perceived'militarization'of humanitarian action.

In 2004, the dimensions of civil-military relations have changed considerably. Military and political actors have skipped a march on humanitarians, and the trends of armed forces actively involved in humanitarian assistance has become a reality. The distinction between humanitarian, politica l and military action is increasingly blurred when armed forces are perceived to be humanitarians, when civilians are embedded into military structures, and when there is a perception that humanitarian actors are merely tools within integrated approaches to conflict management or nation building agendas. The distinction is even less clear when armed forces use their efforts in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance as pillars of their military aims and public communications campaigns, both locally and internationally. These issues are posing considerable challenges to humanitarian actors and action today and possibly even more so in the future.

This article looks at how the ICRC sees the civil-military relationship in contemporary humanitarian environments, and is based on recent re-examination of the ICRC's strategy on approaching Civil - Military Relations. Part II of the article presents the ICRC's existing Guidelines on Civil-Military Relations as a reference.


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