Sunday, March 04, 2007

Humanitarians with Guns?

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the NYTimes that I admire, just wrote an article on "Humanitarian Workers with Guns" (It's on Times Select so you have to pay to get it but I'll illegally post it at the bottom here)

This article really bothers me because it totally blurs the role of the military with the role of humanitarian workers. Humanitarian workers must rely on maintaining neutrality in order not to be seen as supporting one side or the other. When this is confused, humanitarian workers become, in the minds of combatants, legitimate targets who 'support the other side'.

In Afghanistan, there was a huge outcry when the US army created PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) and MSF withdrew from the country after five of its workers were killed. The use of mixed military and civilian workers under the command of the military lead to accusations that humanitarian agencies were complicit with the military. MSF, which had operated in Afghanistan without incident since 1985, providing needed medical services announced "It is with outrage and bitterness that we take the decision to abandon them. But we simply cannot sacrifice the security of our volunteers while warring parties seek to target and kill humanitarian workers. Ultimately it is the sick and destitute that suffer."

There has been a rise in attacks on humanitarian workers in the last few years. In January in Darfur, there was an attack on Accion contre le faim - a well respected french aid group. One of the international women was raped. This was shocking to the humanitarian community because in general - internationals are spared. It's the local hires who take the brunt of the violence. (For more info - see this article on the killing of Sri Lankan assistance workers).

There is a legitimate role for the military in a post-conflict countries. They should take on the work that humanitarian agencies cannot - such as disarming and demobilizing armed forces and training national police and armies. The US has not done a lot of work in these areas in the countries that I'm most familiar with - DR Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Why don't they focus on the areas they are needed?

Article: Aid Workers With Guns By NICHOLAS

Published: March 4, 2007

The U.S. has built a little-known military
base here that represents one of our best strategies to fight terrorism in the
coming years: The aim is to build things rather than blow them up.

This base in Africa, established in 2003, sits at the entrance to the Red Sea in the small Muslim country of Djibouti, next to Somalia. Security is as tight as the sun is
hot, with lots of bomb shelters, but the most apparent threats are distinctly,
well, African.

“We’ve got two hyenas out there,” said Cmdr. Darryl Centanni of the Navy,
executive officer of Camp Lemonier, pointing to a jogging trail on which troops
were running through the semidesert. “So the running gets pretty

He added that a pack of wild dogs also speeds up joggers but that the dogs
mostly get food by catching fish in the sea. (I’m not sure I trust military
intelligence on that one.)

After 9/11, the focus of America’s response to terrorism has been mostly on
using military force to destroy possible threats in places like Iraq and
intimidate just about everyone. The ethos was borrowed from the ancient Romans:
“Oderint, dum metuant” — “Let them hate, so long as they fear.”

Yet all in all, that strategy has backfired catastrophically, particularly
in Iraq, and turned us into Al Qaeda’s best recruiter.

So that’s why the softer touch in Centcom’s strategy here is so welcome. It
aims to help bring stability to northeastern Africa and to address humanitarian
needs — knowing that humanitarian involvement will make us safer as

“The U.S. started to realize that there’s more to counterterrorism than
capture-kill kinetics,” said Capt. Patrick Myers of the Navy, director of plans
and policy here. “Our mission is 95 percent at least civil affairs. ... It’s
trying to get at the root causes of why people want to take on the

One humanitarian mission for which the U.S. military is superbly prepared
is responding to natural disasters. While the U.S. has spent vast sums
broadcasting propaganda to the Muslim world, the two most successful efforts at
winning good will both involved the military. One was the dispatch of soldiers
to help Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami, and the other was the use of U.S.
forces to help Pakistan after the Kashmir earthquake.

The 1,800 troops here do serve a traditional military purpose, for the base
was used to support operations against terrorists in Somalia recently and is
available to reach Sudan, Yemen or other hot spots. But the forces here spend
much of their time drilling wells or building hospitals; they rushed to respond
when a building collapsed in Kenya and when a passenger ferry capsized in

Rear Adm. James Hart, commander of the task force at Camp Lemonier,
suggested that if people in nearby countries feel they have opportunities to
improve their lives, then “the chance of extremism being welcomed greatly, if
not completely, diminishes.”

The U.S. announced last month that it would form a new Africa Command,
aimed partly at blocking the rise of ungoverned spaces that nurture terrorism.
The new command offers tremendous humanitarian potential as well, for in some
poor countries the most useful “aid workers” are the ones in camouflage carrying

In the Central African Republic in September I visited a town with a lovely
new hospital built as a foreign aid project. But the hospital was an empty
shell, gutted by militias rampaging through the area. In places like that,
there’s no point in building schools or clinics unless you also help with

Some of the most successful aid projects in Africa have been the dispatch
of armed peacekeepers to Mozambique and British troops to Sierra Leone. In both
places, troops brought what the besieged population most desperately needed —
order — and laid the groundwork for recovery. We should be far more aggressive
about dispatching small numbers of troops to impose a no-fly zone over Darfur or
to destroy Sudanese militias that invade Chad and the Central African

We can also do far more to train armies in Africa. The deal we offer
African presidents should be along these lines: You run a country cleanly and
tolerate dissent, and we’ll help ensure that no brutal rebel force comes out of
the jungle to create chaos and overthrow you.

Helping fragile countries with security is just as important as helping them with education and medical care. So let’s hope that this new base in Africa is the start of a broad new policy that doesn’t aim to make us hated or feared, but respected.

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