Archive Article: Peacebuilding In Complex Emergencies. 15 Aug 03
December 23, 2008

The Howard Government has overturned a tradition in Australian foreign and defence policy. It has decided to get involved directly in the internal affairs of a South Pacific neighbour. The Australian-led intervention force represents a new era in Australian policy. I have just been reading a publication that will be of guidance to that force.

Australian has traditionally avoided involvement in the internal affairs of its South Pacific neighbours so as to avoid any suggestion that it is a form of colonial power. But September 11 has shown the risk of leaving failed states to fester: they can be taken over by terrorist groups. Hence the Howard Government’s decision to try to sort out the problems in the Solomons and the deployment of the intervention force. This is a welcome – if risky – development.

International Alert was created in London by an old friend of mine: the late Martin Ennals. Ennals transformed Amnesty International three decades ago into one of the world’s most important human rights organizations. When he retired he was approached to set up an organization to deal more with the underlying causes of human rights violations, especially the violence against groups of individuals. He went from “AI” to “IA”.

International Alert has a Development and Peacebuilding programme which examines the relationship between violent conflict and the agents and processes of development. Damian Lilly has worked with IA to produce “The Peacebuilding Dimension of Civil-Military Relations in Complex Emergencies“.

The military have a more complicated existence nowadays. They often have to carry out operations that involve civilian organizations in a direct way. There have long been civilian organizations providing auxiliary assistance to the military. But in this new era new, the civilian organizations are there as equally important actors providing specific services, such as addressing the underlying causes of the conflict. Hence the need for CIMIC: Civil Military Co-operation.

There is a limit to what any military force can achieve in a complex emergency and so they have to work with specialist civilian organizations. Some provide direct assistance to the victims, such as Medecins sans Frontieres (“Doctors Without Borders“), while others assist in long-term development (such as Oxfam or World Vision).

A dramatic example of the role of CIMIC is the provision of armed escorts. It says something about the nature of modern warfare that organizations supplying humanitarian assistance can themselves become targets. Indeed, the International Red Cross movement has been awarding posthumous honours at a higher rate than at anytime since World War II. Such armed escorts have been necessary in Iraq, Somalia, Chechnya and Northern Kenya.

International Alert has provided some useful ideas on how CIMIC can be carried out. After all, this is also a new era for humanitarian organizations. They are operating in emergencies that may contain features new to them as well, such as their having to use armed escorts. Everyone is on, to use the jargon, a steep learning curve.

International Alert’s work is helping to bridge the education gap. No doubt, after the Solomons operation has been concluded, there will be additional lessons. This is the new era of warfare and humanitarian work and so there is much to learn. International Alert is to be congratulated for its pioneering work.

Broadcast Friday 15th August 2003 on Radio 2GB’s “Brian Wilshire Programme” at 9pm.