Working apart together : civiel militaire samenwerking tijdens humanitaire operaties

M. Bollen

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU



    This study is about civil-military cooperation during humanitarian operations. It aims at explaining civil-military cooperation processes and at identifying ways in which collaboration may be improved. This book evaluates the experiences with civil-military relations by researching the following questions:

    What are conditions for civil-military cooperation during humanitarian operations?

    What are characteristics of civil-military alliances?

    What problems are impeding civilian actors and the military to cooperate?

    How can civil-military cooperation be improved?

    In this summary, the second section describes the background to the research. From the third section onwards the answers to the research questions are discussed.

    Background to this study

    During the last decade of the 20th century, upsurges of intense animosity among many of the world's five to eight thousand ethnic groups have set the trend for violence. As a result, the number of complex humanitarian emergencies soared. From the mid-nineties onwards, the international community became increasingly aware that to deal with the consequences a wide spectrum of resources and a multi-faceted response was required. Amongst others, this brought forth new linkages between differing and non-traditional partners, such as civilian humanitarian organisations and international militaries who have been working together on humanitarian operations.

    Civil-military cooperation has become a characteristic of humanitarian operations in the nineties. However, in spite of positive results, civil-military cooperation during humanitarian operations has been controversial from the onset. The appropriateness of military contributions to humanitarian operations is questioned both from the military as well as from the civilian perspective.

    At a strategic level, civil and military actors acknowledge the vital importance of increased coordination and cooperation. Up until now, they appear to have adopted a mainly reactive attitude. As a consequence, a shared comprehensive vision and approach to the complex humanitarian problems seems to have been developing at a slow pace. There appears to be neither monitoring nor process evaluation with regard to civil-military collaboration. Lessons are learned independently. The exchange of information and feedback are administered by driblets between the various organisations and disciplines. There seems to be hardly any sharing of innovations among the actors involved in different sectors. Therefore, the extent to which these innovations may induce changes remains limited.

    However, at the operational level civilians and the military have cooperated intensively to solve the daily problems. The multi-actor approach has been leaning heavily on the dedication of civilian and military actors at hand to perform their interdependent tasks. At this level the military and civilian actors are confronted with the lack of communication, information exchange, community and comprehensiveness. Synergy has been hard to achieve. In spite of their interdependencies, civilian actors and their military counterparts are also representing their own interests. Civilian and military planning and logistics are directed towards goals both parties hold in common as well as towards their own interests. Therefore, it may happen that one party thwarts the other in reaching its goals. Finally, civil-military cooperation between unfamiliar and widely diverging partners can be hindered by visions on collaboration that have been developed unilaterally by one of the organisations. When the potential partners have not been invited to participate in the development of cooperation policies, chances are they will reject any forms of cooperation resulting from this process. The attitude of civilian actors towards the military concept of Cimic may be viewed as an example. According to humanitarian organisations Cimic mainly serves the interests of the military. Therefore, civilian actors refuse to cooperate within Cimic-structures that are governed by the military.

    Conditions of civil-military cooperation

    The case studies on operation Provide Care (1994) and on operation Allied Harbour (1999), described in chapters 5 and 6 of the book, are the core of this study. During both the operations Dutch military were involved with civilian actors in order to cope with the humanitarian problems at hand. The case studies describe the ways in which collaboration processes developed, the ways in which the unfamiliarity and the differences between the partners affected the alliances and the problems with regard to civil-military cooperation that were encountered.

    Both during operation Provide Care and operation Allied Harbour civilian and military actors collaborated in the field of construction, logistics, transport and distribution, and medical support. During operation Provide Care the cooperation was limited to representatives of NGOs and UNHCR. In addition to representatives of these institutions, during operation Allied Harbour, the military in Albania Force (AFOR) also worked closely with the authorities in the host-countries and other UN-aid organisations. In both operations civilian-military cooperation emerged on an ad-hoc basis on the request of civilian actors. According to the military I interviewed, the representatives of humanitarian organisations often took a leading position in the civil-military alliance.

    Both civilian and military actors are convinced that cooperation depends on three conditions. Firstly, an early military presence at the start of the operation will contribute to the emergence of collaboration. At this stage civilian actors usually lack coping capacity to deal with the relief demands. The second condition to civil-military cooperation is the extent to which the military mission commands the resources that are complementary to the civilian needs. Lastly, the nature of the military mission and of its mandates is an important condition.

    During both operations the military experienced a decline in the need for cooperation on the side of their civilian partners. The military mention three causes for this decline. Firstly, the military assistance accelerates the pace in which humanitarian aid is delivered. In this way the emergency situation gets under control sooner. During subsequent stages of the operation the demands for external support are changing in comparison with the emergency situation. Often, civilian aid organisations are able to deal with these altered demands without additional military support. In other words, the military have made themselves redundant. Secondly, as the operation proceeds over time, the number of civilian organisations present in the area usually increases. Under the condition that the security situation does not deteriorate, the civilian actors become less dependent on the continuing military support. The tables may even turn to the extent, that ongoing military assistance is regarded as improper competition. Lastly, the need to cooperate decreases when the military are not able to timely adapt to the new context after the emergency-situation. Due to the above mentioned causes civilian actors no longer feel that collaboration with the military will lead to a win-win situation.

    In line with these findings, both civilian and military partners state the following reasons for civil-military cooperation: their lack of coping capacity to perform the job on their own, the needs for additional resources, specialist's know-how and expertise. Moreover, the need to increase the scope of the humanitarian activities, the lack of other suitable partners and the lack of humanitarian expertise are mentioned as reasons for civil-military cooperation.

    These reasons for civil-military cooperation reflect the principle of altruistic self-interest by which civil-military relations appear to be governed. This means that civil-military cooperation will emerge and continue as long as the alliance is felt to serve the interests of both sets of parties.

    According to the military I interviewed, their civilian counterparts determine both the development and the nature of the relationships in the alliance, and also decide the duration of the alliance. This phenomenon can be understood by taking into account the differences in autonomy regarding the military and civilian actors at an operational level. The start of a military mission is dependent on political decision-making processes that will often lag behind the actual demands for support. By the same token, the military cannot decide for themselves when their mission should be ended. According to the military, civilian actors, such as NGOs are far more independent. In their view, representatives of NGOs can limit or even end civil-military relations whenever it appears they are no longer in need of additional military support in order to achieve their goals. As a result, commanders may be facing a situation in which the need for military support seems to have vanished almost overnight, whereas the political decision-makers have not yet reached a conclusion about the end of the military mission. Under these circumstances, commanders are dependent on civilian actors to be able to keep their men and women at work.

    As a consequence of these differences in autonomy, asymmetric dependency relations develop. Relations such as these, induce high levels of uncertainty. On an operational level, the military have to reduce their uncertainty to such an extent that their civilian counterparts regard them to be necessary partners. This means, the military have to command the expertise and resources needed to deal with changing demands. Besides, the military will have to cope with the uncertainty caused by their dependency on political decision-makers. To be able to reduce uncertainty continuous interaction, by means of communication and information exchange, is considered to be vital.

    Characteristics of civil-military alliances

    Civilian actors vary to the extent to which they are dependent on military support. However, during the first stages of humanitarian operations only a limited number of civilian organisations will be present. Often these actors are not capable of dealing with the complex demands for help. Civilian actors, that lack sufficient coping capacity, appear to be well aware of their dependency on additional military assistance. Dependent on the security situation they may be in need of protection and safety. Often they are in dire straits for logistical support, transport and distribution and engineering. The civilian actors perceive working with the military as a pragmatic strategy, enabling them to achieve their goals, even when they lack the necessary resources and know-how.

    For the most part, the military I interviewed are convinced of the necessity to cooperate with civilian actors during humanitarian operations. This is due mainly to their self-proclaimed lack of humanitarian expertise. Therefore, I conclude that both interdependence and the awareness about interdependence are characteristic to civil-military alliances. In these alliances both sets of partners, taken on their own, lack sufficient coping capacity. Therefore, during their collaboration both parties experience a certain level of asymmetric dependency.

    Besides being dependent upon one another in order to achieve results, partakers of civil-military alliances also experience another form of dependency. By collaborating, both sets of partners become dependent on the cooperative behaviour of the other party. A complicating factor is that civil-military relations often are initial relations. The unfamiliar partners' behaviour is unpredictable and the levels of uncertainty regarding the partners' cooperative intentions are high. Moreover, dependency on others is greater during humanitarian crises and with that dependency go premiums on determining trustworthy people and trustworthy coping methods. Therefore, the potential partners have to decide quickly with whom they are going to cooperate. To this effect, swift trust and a certain level of confidence in partner cooperation are needed among the different sets of parties in the field.

    At an organisational level, civil-military cooperation has to be institutionalised to some degree. Under these conditions, partners at the operational level can accept their inherent conflicts of interest and differences of opinion as legitimate.

    Basically there are two mechanisms by which the partners can reduce their uncertainty about the partners' behaviour and develop confidence. The first mechanism is based on control. Examples of control mechanisms are goal setting, rules and regulations regarding the participation in the alliance, monitoring the progress of activities and reporting on the results of the alliance. On the basis of such mutually agreed upon mechanisms the parties are able to reach consensus on the domains of cooperation and the division of responsibilities during the operation. Effective civil-military alliances are characterised by domain consensus, by which the behaviour of the unfamiliar partners becomes more predictable.

    The second mechanism is based on the development of trust. Trust is important in civil-military relations for various reasons. Firstly, there exists no hierarchy between the different sets of parties. This means, that the partners cooperate on a voluntary basis and that trust is one the scarce means by which the alliance can be governed. Moreover, crisis conditions ratchet up the chance of cognitive and organisational errors. Civil-military alliances should be characterised by swift trust, because only then, civilian and military partners may dare to depend on one another in situations entailing risks.

    Thirdly, civil-military interfaces are between partners who differ materially from each other. The military and civilian organisations represent different interests and are backed by different resources. Besides, both sets of parties are often differentiated in terms of power. Because of discontinuities such as these, alliances between the military and civilian organisations will be conflictuous by nature. In these relationships trust and distrust will manifest themselves at the same time. Lastly, trust is necessary, because the context of humanitarian operations is fluctuating. Under these circumstances, the development of mutually acceptable control mechanisms could take more time than is available.

    It can be concluded, that the development of trust is influenced positively by continuous interaction on a daily basis, personal contacts, open communication, and information exchange in formal and informal settings. As a consequence, not only do the partners accept their own role and position in the alliance, but they also feel comfortable with the role and position of the other party. They experience their cooperation as normal. This phenomenon is known as situational normality. In civil-military alliances characterised by situational normality, the military partners even keep their confidence in the goodwill of their civilian counterparts, when the latter decide they want to terminate their involvement in the alliance. In other words, a high level of trust may imply that even in situations in which one partner damages the interests of the other, the disadvantaged party remains convinced of the other party's benevolence. This means that in civil-military relations that are characterised by high levels of trust, the partners will assume that the control mechanisms, such as domain consensus, will function appropriately.

    Problems in civil-military cooperation

    The use of military assets to assist in the humanitarian sphere is designed to supplement, rather than supplant the work of traditional humanitarian agencies. From a functional standpoint military assets can make four major kinds of contributions. Firstly, the military can work to foster a protective framework of overall stability within which civilian populations are protected and humanitarian activities are carried out. Secondly, the military can support the humanitarian organisations with logistics, personnel, engineering, and security. Thirdly, the military can execute relief activities themselves. These activities are referred to as civic action. During my field-research in Albania representatives of international aid organisations argued NATO's Albania Force was engaged in yet another kind of contribution namely, the organisation and coordination of humanitarian activities.

    Military contributions with regard to civic action and crisis management may cause problems to the civil-military alliances. Based on the interviews with civilian actors, firstly, it appears that most civilian aid organisations are convinced of the military's lack of humanitarian expertise. Although the military may command the necessary resources, this does not mean they know how to use these resources appropriately.

    Secondly, civilian aid organisations distrust the military motives to participate in humanitarian operations. On the one hand they fear that their goals may become secondary to the achievement of military-political motives. On the other hand they suspect the military's involvement to stem from a need for a new raison d'être in the post-Cold War era. As a result, civilian actors are divided among themselves regarding the appropriateness of collaborating with the military during humanitarian operations. Furthermore, any military initiatives on account of civic action or crisis management will be experienced as a potential threat to civilian organisations. Whenever the military involve themselves in civic action and crisis management, their involvement will evoke high levels of uncertainty and distrust. As a consequence, civilian actors will limit interaction with the military as much as possible and chances for the development of civil-military cooperation will be slim.

    The third problem that inhibits civil-military cooperation stems from the fact that such relations are temporary. The need for cooperation is flexible and may vary according to the different stages of the operation. As the humanitarian operation continues, the specific demands for support change and usually the number of civilian aid-organisations increases. Both changes in demand and support affect the civilian parties' dependence on additional military resources. The need for civil-military cooperation seems to be highly demand-driven. This means that if and when the military are not able to timely adapt to the changing context, from a civilian point of view, civil-military alliances cease to be of use. (Always presuming of course, the security situation does not deteriorate). As mentioned before, contextual shifts, such as these, may cause serious management problems to commanders. In these situations military resources may be directed towards civic action. However, by performing these actions the military enter upon a domain that traditionally belongs to civilian aid organisations and run the risk to be regarded as competitors.

    Fourthly, civil-military cooperation is inhibited under the circumstances when both sets of parties suspect each other of opportunistic behaviour concerning the use of resources and the purposes to cooperate. For instance, civilian actors may resist cooperating when they suspect the military will use their information for gathering intelligence.

    Lastly, civil-military cooperation is impeded when exogenous political and strategic motives do not match the endogenous levels of interdependency, domain consensus and trust in the alliance. If strategic motives are communicated insufficiently civilian and military actors in the field may gather that they are forced to cooperate. The partners are strengthened in their conviction when it becomes more difficult to withdraw from the alliance from their own free will.

    High levels of exogenous pressure require equally high levels of embeddedness and connectedness between both partner organisations. A prerequisite to these high levels of embeddedness and connectedness is a high level of confidence in partner cooperation. However, because relations in civil-military alliances usually are between partners unfamiliar to each other, high levels of confidence in partner cooperation cannot be expected from the onset. As a result, this lack of confidence may lead to the polarisation of civil-military relations. This means that mutual problems are not solved and differences of opinion or different operational cultures will not be accepted. As a result, civil-military cooperation will be minimised or else bogs down in conflict.

    Suggestions to improve civil-military cooperation

    Demand-driven civil-military cooperation

    Civil-military alliances are essentially demand-driven. This means that the duration of the alliance is conditional on the demand for help. It is a characteristic of demand-driven civil-military alliances that its partners collectively agree upon the results of the alliance. For civil-military alliances to be effective there should be a fit between the military support and the demand for help.

    Recommendation 1:

    By continuously monitoring the demand for help together with their civilian counterparts, the military can gain insight into the needs for civil-military cooperation.

    Recommendation 2:

    The military can enhance their effectiveness as a partner in the alliance by improving their potential to adapt their resources, structures, goals and mind-sets to the demand for help.

    The military role in civil-military cooperation

    Civil-military cooperation and confidence in partner cooperation do not occur naturally. Shared goals and interdependencies are temporary only. Moreover, both sets of parties also pursue their own interests, thereby increasing the risk of opportunistic behaviour. Therefore, civil-military relations are the kind of relations in which both trust and distrust will be present simultaneously. During all stages of the operation, by a supporting and facilitating attitude the military will advance the increase of confidence in their cooperative behaviour.

    Recommendation 3:

    By adhering to a facilitating and supporting attitude the military will contribute to the development of trust.

    If the military take initiatives concerning relief activities or concerning the organisation and management of the crisis without consulting civilian actors, these actors will be distrustful towards the military motives. For this reason, civilian actors often prove to be reluctant to join military-led Cimic centres. Instead, the military might add their Cimic-officers to civilian-led centres for the coordination of the humanitarian operation. Civil-military collaboration will then be promoted because of the following reasons.

    Adding militaries to civilian-led centres for coordination and management reduces suspicions civilian actors may harbour against the military trying to take over;

    As opposed to military Cimic-centres, civilian-led structures will be open to access to any civilian actor;

    Intensive communication and information exchange on a day to day basis within civilian-led structures improves the insight into the demand for relief and in the kind of military assistance that is required;

    By using the military as a linking-pin between the coordinating and operational levels, both the pace and the effectiveness of the civil-military cooperation in the field are stimulated.

    Recommendation 4

    Adding the militaries to civilian-led centres for coordination will promote civil-military cooperation.

    Communication and information exchange in civil-military cooperation

    Intensive communication and information exchanges are necessary for trust formation between unfamiliar partners. This insight has caused an increase in formal structures in the field, such as military-led centres for Cimic and their US pendant Centers for Civil-Military Cooperation. At the civilian side there have emerged parallel structures such as Humanitarian Information Centers, Humanitarian Operations Centers and On-Site Operations and Coordination Centers. This abundance of formal structures has created confusion and uncertainty, instead of the much coveted clarity and trust.

    Recommendation 5

    Formal structures for communication and exchange of information that are freely accessible to all sets of partners will foster civil-military cooperation.

    To be able to act adequately on the demands for help, formal structures have to operate at a local level, "outside the wire" away from military headquarters. Moreover, the informal settings in which civil-military relations take place are important to the alliance. By working shoulder to shoulder on a daily basis the interaction between both sets of partners develops in natural way. On the basis of open and informal contacts situational normality may develop. In relationships that are characterised by this form of trust, the partners will indeed depend on one another. Moreover, they will be able to accept criticism regarding their behaviour and they will be positively inclined to taking risks. Besides, openness promotes the transparency of civil-military relations, thereby reducing the risks of opportunistic behaviour by one of the parties involved.

    Recommendation 6

    Open and informal contacts between civilians andtheir military partners are necessary for trust formation.

    Recommendation 7

    In their training and education the military have to learn what behaviour and skills contribute to trust formation in order to cooperate with civilian actors.

    Conflicts of interest during humanitarian operations

    As is the case with regard to civil-military cooperation, collaboration among the different sets of civilian actors does not run smoothly. The interfaces between different sets of civilian actors, such as NGOs, UN-aid organisations and the authorities of host-countries are characterised by discontinuities that add to their conflictuous nature. Because they position themselves to a large extent on the same markets and they draw upon the same financial donors, relations between civilian aid organisations will be competitive. Coordination and information exchange usually run stiffly. To complicate matters even more, in comparison to the international aid organisations the authorities of host-countries often adhere to different motives and interests with regard to the military support.

    The instrument of actor analysis can be used as a means to map out the various interests, resources and supporters. In this way the military achieve insight into the demands for help and into the goals and motives of their potential partners. Actor analysis enables the military to understand the sources of discontinuities and the various positions of authority. Besides, on the basis of actor analysis the military may anticipate changes in interdependencies and their effects on the civil-military alliances. Moreover, actor analysis increases the participants' awareness of their interdependencies, core-competencies and of their expectations concerning cooperation.

    Interactions at an operational level may also influence actors at a strategic level and institutions beyond the interface situation itself. The military and their civilian partners should cooperate in making the actor analysis. This path leads to a collective evaluation of the cooperation processes and may enhance the capacity for interorganisational learning.

    Recommendation 8:

    In view of the importance of both successful civil-military cooperation and the increase of the capacity for collective learning, during all collective operations the instrument of actor analysis should be used to provide feedback to both the civilian and military partners.

    Original languageDutch
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Wageningen University
    • Frerks, G.E., Promotor, External person
    • Soeters, J.M.L.M., Promotor, External person
    • Vogelaar, A.L.W., Promotor, External person
    Award date22 Mar 2002
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789058086068
    Publication statusPublished - 2002


    • intervention
    • crises
    • emergency relief
    • international cooperation
    • military personnel
    • armed forces
    • society
    • community action
    • interactions
    • rwanda
    • world
    • civil status
    • military aid
    • international conflicts
    • kosovo

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