Over recent years, the relationship between humanitarians and the military has become especially controversial. Concerns over inefficient and duplicated assistance programs and the compromised security of relief workers have been regularly highlighted. Many point to ongoing tensions and polarized positions that seem to leave NGOs a stark choice between “neutrality” and co-option. Using Afghanistan as a case study, this book analyses this apparent duality. It puts forward five basic arguments. First, the history of the relationship extends prior to the birth of modern humanitarianism. Second, inter-organizational friction is common between groups and it does not always have a detrimental impact. Third, working with the military does not necessarily create more dangerous situations for NGOs. Fourth, humanitarian principles are not a fixed set of propositions, but evolve according to temporal and situational context. Finally, humanitarians are generally not co-opted, but rather willingly take part in political-military endeavors. In all, it is suggested that NGOs tend to change their policies and actions depending on the context. The book thus transcends the simple “for” or “against” arguments, leading to a more refined understanding of the relationship between NGOs and the military.

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This first chapter introduces the issues of Humanitarianism and conflict in Afghanistan. Five commonly held assumptions are presented and Afghanistan and its wider relevance are discussed. As a foundation, a number of key concepts are outlined and the book’s structure is presented.

in The humanitarian-military complex in Afghanistan
A historiography

The humanitarian and military spheres have never been as different as distinct as they might appear. In fact, the relationship between civilians and the military during and after war has been closely intertwined – in some cases, humanitarians and the military have been one and the same. To help explain how this relationship evolved over time, this chapter examines three closely interlinked stimuli – technology, strategy and ethics – which both created the need for humanitarians and prompted the military to undertake “humanitarian” tasks.

in The humanitarian-military complex in Afghanistan

This chapter discusses key controversies and tensions which will serve as a foundation for the research questions of this book. The key underlying issue concerning this relationship is that humanitarians are faced with a choice of working closely with the military or keeping distance. This has been described as a relatively straightforward analysis as a case “for” and “against” close relations with the military or, put another way, “integrated” and “segregated” approaches depending on the degree of separation between organizations. These two approaches are adopted as a basic means for examining the key controversies in the humanitarian-military relationship. These positions are analyzed from a number of angles including ethical, management and political perspectives thus looking at issues such as human rights and security.

in The humanitarian-military complex in Afghanistan

This chapter not only provides a general account of Afghanistan’s past but focuses on the history of the humanitarian-military relationship prior to the 2001 invasion. It uses the framework developed in Chapter 3 in analyzing the recent history of Afghanistan within the context of humanitarian-military relations. Three elements – technology, strategy and ethics – were established as historical drivers contributing to a close relationship between humanitarians and the military. This chapter traces five periods (from 1945-2001) which will be examined in light of these three elements.

in The humanitarian-military complex in Afghanistan
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Overview of conflict and assistance from 2001 to 2014

The purpose of this chapter is to describe the recent situation in Afghanistan with a focus on international actors. It will be shown that apart from the humanitarian-military relationship, close and overlapping interests continue with the linkage between security and development, policy coherence and a belligerence that does not recognize the separation between humanitarian and military spheres. These interlinked issues contributed to the humanitarian-military relationship to be a highly contentious issue in Afghanistan. This chapter discusses the recent context from late 2001 to the end of 2014 by focusing on the proximal causes and manifestations of tension within the humanitarian-military relationship.

in The humanitarian-military complex in Afghanistan

This chapter builds on the structure first presented in Chapter 3 where the findings are presented relating to the basic and underlying causes of tension within the humanitarian-military relationship and the underlying policy issue (whether humanitarians should have an integrated or segregated policy toward the military). These are decision-making and external relationships related to structure and agency, co-option and politicization of aid groups as an extension of ethical norms and the link between security and development. Five particular aspects stand out here. First, the inter-organizational friction present in relations between humanitarians and the military does not necessarily contribute to negative relations. Second, official policies of aid groups rarely determine the path of humanitarian-military relationships; instead, they are dependent on the agency of specific individuals. Third, the relationship humanitarians have with the military has less of an impact on humanitarian security than is commonly held. Fourth, humanitarian principles were important to most organizations working in Afghanistan but they were heavily influenced by the politically charged environment. Finally, humanitarians understood that they are part of the stability and state-building process in Afghanistan and, for that reason, those issues relating to co-option and politicization are less significant than is commonly assumed.

in The humanitarian-military complex in Afghanistan
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In this final chapter, the relevant findings of the research are reviewed and applied to a broader context of humanitarianism worldwide. An analysis of research questions will be undertaken based on the assumptions first presented in Chapter 1. Within each area, the research findings will be placed in a wider context and their implications will be discussed. By unpacking these, the underlying policy issue will be addressed and discussed further with application to wider cases. The aim here is to get past simplistic analysis and explanations such as the idea that aid organizations and the military have intrinsically incompatible goals and organizational cultures. Instead a more nuanced and well-informed understanding of the implications is provided. In the process, a framework for understanding the contexts within which humanitarian-military relations occur is presented.

in The humanitarian-military complex in Afghanistan