Since the end of World War II and the success of the Marshall Plan in bringing European countries back from the rubble, the United States has lead humanitarian efforts worldwide. When violence and suffering has broken out in various countries, the U.S. has played a central role in addressing the situation.
However, in many instances, the line that divides humanitarian and military responses to crises around the world has been blurred. As the global relief system emerged from a response to post-war years, it is understandable that the military plays an important role in delivering aid to countries facing political struggles or natural disasters.
In 1955, the humanitarian aid system began to expand in response to liberation struggles in new nations. Large groups of people facing displacement required immediate responses from powerful nations to survive. Militaries had the necessary training, discipline and self-supporting manpower to respond to these various disasters.
However, military responses to humanitarian crises can sometimes have unintended results. Transferring modes and doctrines used in post-war Europe to conflict and natural disasters in the third world has proven to be inappropriate or even counterproductive.
“Provision of tents to victims of an earthquake or hurricane often delayed reconstruction and failed to address critical land issues. Construction of refugee camps for famine victims drew people away from their land, making agricultural recovery nearly impossible and creating an even larger relief requirement. Massive inoculations were not only inappropriate but, when applied incompletely, they often broke down the people’s natural immunities, actually increasing their risk to disease.”
Beside these secondary effects, the use of military in humanitarian aid operation leads to a more complex issue: the lack of sufficient funding for humanitarian assistance. Militaries are usually the most accessible for providing emergency relief. However, this does not mean they are the most cost effective. In some instances, these expenses are compensated for by decreasing funding for the actual civilian humanitarian operations.
A common belief is that the cost of military intervention in humanitarian aid is borne by the military itself. But usually, the military is reimbursed by the country’s department or ministry in charge of foreign aid operations. This means that funding is taken away from civilian lead humanitarian aid. It also turn out that the cost of humanitarian operations increases when the military is involved in relief efforts.
Today, more than ever, the military remains involved in humanitarian aid. While this kind of intervention is vital in some instances, it carries hidden costs and produces unintended, harmful consequences in most cases.
– Sahar Abi Hassan