Building civil-military collaboration in Asia Pacific

Published: 12 May 2014 16:36 CET

By Ika Koeck, IFRC

From 4 – 9 May the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Asia Pacific office organised a civil military forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that brought together 18 senior managers of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the region together with members of the armed forces and external partners and ICRC. The aim was to build a common understanding of the roles played by military and humanitarian actors in emergencies.

With the increasing scale and magnitude of natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies, such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the need for proper guidelines in coordinating and using  foreign military and civil defence assets has never been greater.

Sebastian Rhodes-Stampa of UN OCHA introduced key aspects of existing international guidelines related to humanitarian civil military coordination and foreign military actors in natural disasters and complex emergencies. Discussions touched on military culture, structure and more importantly external documents like the Asia-Pacific Regional Guidelines For The Use of Foreign Military Assets in Natural Disaster Response Operations (APC-MADRO) and the Oslo Guidelines. The guidelines were developed between numerous regional Member States and organizations who have gained valuable experience and lessons learned in deploying and receiving military assistance when answering to international disaster response requests.

Major General Raksak Rojphimphun, Director of Office of Civil Affairs from the Thai Ministry of Defence said that the forum highlighted issues important for civil-military relations in Thailand.

“It was good to hear the experiences of military personnel from different countries. We will be bringing back the lessons learned discussed in this meeting to improve our civil-military guidelines and we look forward to continue working with the Thai Red Cross.” 

From a National Society perspective, Fiji Red Cross Society Resource Development Manager, Dianne Masih-Reddy said that the forum was a timely and important event as National Societies are gearing up to further engage with the military, especially in areas involving International Humanitarian Law and Humanitarian Diplomacy.

“The discussions were thought-provoking, particularly when you get to listen to different perspectives on how different military forces function with other humanitarian bodies. As a local national society, it is crucial to establish a working relationship with our counterparts and the military while keeping true to our fundamental principles especially independence, impartiality and neutrality. The forum is giving us the chance to see how we can mentor and support each other in future.”

The adherence to the Movement’s fundamental principles was lauded by Dr. Helena Studderd, International Policy Adviser of the Australian Civil Military Centre. “The forum gave us an understanding as to why the Red Cross Movement has these fundamental principles to begin with, and I believe it makes the Red Cross Red Crescent unique compared to other international humanitarian organizations. I am very glad to see that the Movement is also open to dialogue and discussions when it comes to working with external partners.”  

Building on discussions and based on current resolution 7 of the Council of Delegate 2007 (Guidance document on relations between the components of the Movement and military bodies), a road map of action will be prepared by the Asia Pacific National Societies with the support of the IFRC Asia Pacific  zone disaster management unit and Humanitarian Diplomacy. The road map will list a set of priorities for National Societies in the Asia Pacific and help them develop the right tools in order to define and decide the nature of their future engagement with the military.