Over the last two decades the nature of humanitarian interventions has changed. The relationship between military and humanitarian organizations has evolved rapidly, particularly with the geo-political shifts that occurred following the end of the Cold War. The climate for humanitarian action in Iraq in 1991 was very different from the one that currently exists.
In many crisis situations it is likely that both parties will have to deal with each other sooner or later. Yet, the military-humanitarian relationship has often been difficult and, at times, antagonistic. In the field, however, pragmatic cooperation tends to prevail after a while. In a few instances - Somalia, for example - humanitarian organizations have actually promoted military intervention.
This volume places the changing interaction between military and humanitarian organizations in the broader context of international political change, the political economy of wars and weak states. It brings together American and European authors with very different backgrounds-from the Pentagon and the British Army to humanitarian NGOs and the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement. Together they shed new light on the problems and opportunities for international intervention and, hopefully, achieving lasting peaceful development.
One of the threats to the humanitarian agencies today are competitors of a special kind: the soldiers. Some states however, committed to the preservation of the partial international humanitarian order in the case of armed conflict, the ius in bello, tend to consider humanitarian aid as an Instrument in their political toolbox rather than as an end in itself. This is why they are supportive of the military's intrusion into the humanitarian space guaranteed by international humanitarian law. Against this very much simplified picture of humanitarian action today the title of the book edited by Dijkzeul is slightly irritating. The main title "between force and mercy" does not correspond to the content of the book (which is worth reading) as force in this case is primarily treated as the instrumental correlate of the new US vision of world order and how to construct it. Mercy, furthermore suggests that humanitarian action is some charitable kind of activity. Yet, nowadays humanitarian aid is considered to be an Obligation of the international community rather than a discretionary activity of people who care about victims of their choice.
The subtitle refers to one central aspect of this new security paradigm, its consequences for the relationship between the humanitarian actors and the military. Whereas the humanitarians mostly deplore their increasingly limited range of action, at least some of the military has learnt that humanitarian activities in general are not really their specialty and that both communities must find ways and means to live side by side. What becomes clear after having read the book is that the political decision makers' ambitions, visions and expectations contrast with the deficiencies of translating them into efficient and effective action programs. What the book also reveals is that the present practices undermine the existing international humanitarian principles. This being said the various papers included cover a much larger array of issues than title and subtitle suggest which is the value added of the book. Less satisfied would be a reader expecting to find out more about the difficult if not potentially destructive coupling of military Intervention with humanitarian aid. The question then is what this book, the outcome of a Conference organised in 2002 by the Humanitarian Affairs Program of Columbia University, provides in terms of new insights and answers. Two years after the publication of the 14 revised papers the answer is necessarily mixed.
The book is subdivided into three parts; Context and Concepts (I), Policy Differences and National Differences (II), Field Perspectives (III). After the introduction by the editor the first part on "contexts and concepts" includes three papers, one by Dijkzeul dealing with "old optimism and new threats", the analysis by Fomerand on "American concepts of multilateralism" and by Danchin on "human rights, humanitarian law and the war on terrorism". Dijkzeul's article is interesting given his ambition to be comprehensive. This is certainly the case given his elaborated dimensional analysis. But unfortunately comprehensiveness is traded off for precision in the details. The knowledgeable readers already knew most of it and some might even disagree with some of his observations. The paper by Fomerand is illuminating in that it clearly shows the restrictive US perspective on multilateralism, a sort of marriage between realpolitik and a Wilsonian vision. What happens when Realpolitik dominates is very precisely analyzed by Danchin. His point is that the present US administration is in the very process of destroying the international order, as unsatisfactory and limited as it may be, both the ius ad bello and the ius in bello, the former going at the expense of human rights, the latter undermining humanitarian law.
What this first part reveals is the fact that the book has a clear US bias. This is somewhat unfortunate as the European Union as a relevant set of actors is anything but an appendix of US policy and US NGOs. The only exception of this "super power bias" is the paper by Herman about the Dutch and their engagement both in military and humanitarian terms which is included in the second part ''policy differences and national differences". The paper by Spieker on the "International Red Cross/Red Crescent" provides the normative background as to how the military-humanitarian relationship should be organised in order to satisfy international humanitarian law. The article by Bardos – a critique of "US policies in the Balkans" – illustrates the comment made in the introduction that policy objectives and practice diverge considerably. Desired objectives and actual performance do not match. According to the author almost everything went wrong in terms of the policies pursued in the Balkans. As the late Karl Deutsch wrote many years ago, power is the ability not to learn. That could be the inference one can draw from the analysis of Collins and McNerny of the "US experience in Afghanistan". The military Intervention following the 9/11 terrorist attack is for the time being the watershed between a potential solution as how to put into practice among others a principled relationship between the military and the humanitarians outlined among others in the UN document on Military-Civil Defense Assets. If these guidelines were followed that might have helped to retain the relative neutrality, impartiality and independence of humanitarian action from the military. That might as well have avoided the instrumentalisation by, and interference of, the military in the domain of humanitarian aid.
The third part on "field perspectives" includes six papers, all of them are stimulating and providing the reader with new insights. To read the article by Rollins, a UK army officer, on "cooperation and coordination" between the military and the humanitarians is refreshing in that an experienced soldier clearly reminds politicians that the military can do a number of things which the humanitarians cannot and vice versa. He offers a pragmatic point of view that might be useful for resolving what he calls the humanitarian paradox: keeping the distance from each other which presupposes some form of cooperation between them. Lack of adequate financing is another issue which points to the general inadequacy of political planning if not inability of policy makers to learn as Garfield shows in his study on the "consequences of sanctions". Sanctions are mostly ineffective and cause more humanitarian problems than resolving them. His perspective is focused on the impact of sanctions on public health. The same author also analyses the "humanitarian action in Iraq". Against the background of the time passed since 2004 his analysis would probably be different with respect to the humanitarian activities of NGOs even though still valid with respect to the glaring inability of the US to stabilize the country.
One element of humanitarian action beyond the US bias is demining. Salomon analyses and evaluates the consequences of "UN coordination of humanitarian mine action in Kosovo". According to him this was a relatively effective response to an important issue. Yet again the funding mechanism was inadequate. Whereas Diskett, Hansch and Randall focus on civil military relations in humanitarian assistance after 9/11 L Bornemisza and Poietti assess the impact of the war in Iraq on the challenges to neutrality, impartiality and independence of humanitarian action. The former point to the paradox that more interventions go hand in hand with the decreasing usefulness of the military, the latter are somewhat undecided as how to evaluate the consequences. In both wars NGOs refused to deliver aid, a responsibility of the occupying power, through the military. This seems to contradict the other critique they raise, namely that, among other things, independence and impartiality were severely constrained in the immediate build-up to the war. Their conclusion, however, that humanitarians should learn to be more proactive and Strategic in their approach to responding to humanitarian crises seems too simple. In the end, humanitarians can only decide whether to "take it or to leave it", if the military – or even more precisely – politics disregard humanitarian principles.
In his conclusion: "winning the war and losing the peace" Dijkzeul undertakes once again the heroic effort to synthesize the findings of the book. Again, as laudable as the intention is and as provocative and intellectually challenging his four scenarios are as to how the future may look like, some doubts remain. One is the author's insufficiently elaborated notion of terrorism as a major international threat in combination with weapons of mass destruction. For one, terrorism is not at all predominantly an international or transnational phenomenon but first of all nationally or regionally limited. Terrorism has become a kind of wild card used for legitimizing the indiscriminate use of force. Criminal offenses or conflicts which could be considered as noninternational conflicts according to the second Additional Protocol of the Geneva Conventions are treated as one and the same evidence of terror against which every means is justified in waging war. The danger of terrorists acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction is based on a risk assessment that is a very specific construction of political reality. The probability of a nuclear attack by terrorists is unknown and very likely close to zero. The probability, however, that the war against terror undermines not only the credibility of the US but also threatens the existing norms enshrined in human rights and humanitarian law, not to speak of some fundamental democratic principles (in particular in the US), is relatively high as the past few years have shown. Thus far, neither the militarization of humanitarian action nor socalled humanitarian interventions have benefited the victims of armed conflicts, nor have they contributed to the construction of the new world order.
Notwithstanding the critical remarks the book is definitely worth reading.
Wolf-Dieter Eberwein – Professor of Political Science/International Relations at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Grenoble (France). He is directing the MA program "International Organisation". He has also been working as a consultant in the humanitarian domain for the ICRC, the IFRC and the German Red Cross.
Panorama, 2/2007, S. 132-134