1.3 Civil-military relattions in the context of natural disasters

Each individual emergency situation is different, and requires managers to analyse the specific context to interpret and apply civ-mil policy appropriately in practice.

While the importance of careful management of civil-military relations in a conflict situation is more obvious, it is equally important to consider civ-mil in natural disaster contexts. Regardless of whether the context is one of conflict or natural disaster, the same basic policy and guidelines apply (refer to section 2).

In large natural disasters, national and international military forces and assets are regularly deployed to assist with relief operations. It is not uncommon for governments to designate a military body as the official lead relief coordinating agency. This immediately means humanitarian agencies are required to interact with the military in the coordination of the response, and means humanitarian agencies need to carefully monitor and advocate on issues such as:

  • maintaining independence and impartiality of decision-making, and ensuring humanitarian agencies are ‘coordinating with’, but not being controlled by, military actors
  • ensuring military actors involved in relief efforts are clearly identifiable as military and not disguised as aid workers
  • quick transfer of coordination of humanitarian efforts to civilian leadership.

See section 3 for more information and considerations.

It is particularly important to recognise that natural disasters often take place in countries affected by conflict or political instability. Humanitarian relief efforts after natural disasters can exacerbate conflict or even trigger new conflicts. Humanitarian agencies need to be careful to manage civil-military relations appropriately in this context so as not to contribute to conflict triggers, and to protect the perceived impartiality and security of humanitarian agencies if conflict does occur (refer also to Chapter 29 Conflict sensitivity).