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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder24. Working with the Military
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentCategories of Military Forces
View the documentPossible Roles of Military Forces in Humanitarian Operations
View the documentCoordination Between Military Forces and Civilian Agencies
View the documentKey References

Coordination Between Military Forces and Civilian Agencies

UN Coordination

23. The Department of Peace-keeping Operations (DPKO) is responsible for UN peacekeeping. This includes the deployment of its military and civilian personnel to a conflict area (with the consent of the parties to the conflict) in order to stop or contain hostilities, and supervise the carrying out of peace agreements. DPKO therefore has overall responsibility for the UN's relations with military forces.

24. Where a UN force is deployed, there will usually be a Special Representative of the Secretary-General with overall responsibility for all related UN operations, including humanitarian operations.

25. There is a Military and Civil Defence Unit (MCDU) within the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The task of the MCDU (based in Geneva) is to help ensure the most effective use of military and civil defence assets in support of all types of humanitarian operations, including refugee emergencies, where their use is appropriate. Among UN humanitarian organizations, the MCDU is the focal point for governments, regional organizations and military and civil defence organizations concerning the use of these assets.

Establishing Principles and Reconciling Mandates

26. Misunderstandings between military forces and civilian agencies can be avoided if, at an early stage, time is spent on clarifying:

The objectives and strategies of the operation as a whole, and of each of its civilian and military components;

The basic principles, legal constraints, and mandates (local or global) under which each organization or force operates;

The activities, services, and support which the organizations or forces can expect from each other, as well as any limitations on their ability to deliver;

Which aspects of the operation will be led by the civilian agencies and which by the military forces, and when there should be consultation before decisions are made;

The fora in which the humanitarian agencies make decisions about their operations (e.g. the coordinating body described in chapter 7, on coordination).

Liaison Channels

27. Proper communication channels need to be developed between civilian and military organizations in order to deal with the differences in organizational priorities, structure and size. The risk of civilian agency staff being overwhelmed by multiple approaches from the military can be avoided by providing a single point of contact for the military through the designation of one UNHCR staff member as a liaison officer where the size of the operation justifies this. The military forces may have specialist civil affairs units. These units will often be made up of reservists with particular civilian skills or military specialists and act as the main point of contact between the humanitarian and military organizations. Within the military, the hierarchy is as follows: General, Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, Major, Captain, Lieutenant, Warrant Officer, Sergeant, Corporal, and Private.