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Modus Operandi

En librairie

Transformation de conflit, de Karine Gatelier, Claske Dijkema et Herrick Mouafo

Aux Éditions Charles Léopold Mayer (ECLM)


Brussels, novembre 2007

Military activities: an introduction

Because of the differences between peacekeeping missions since 1988, it is not so easy to generalise their activities as it is with classical missions. The former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in his Supplement to the Agenda for Peace, generalised the new tasks of peacekeeping as: “the supervision of cease-fires, the regroupment and demobilisation of forces, their reintegration into civilian life and the destruction of their weapons; the designing and implementation of de-mining programmes; the return of refugees and displaced persons; the provision of humanitarian assistance; the supervision of existing administrative structures; the establishment of new police forces; the verification of respect for human rights; the design and supervision of constitutional, judicial and electoral reforms; the observation, supervision and even organisation and conduct of elections; and the co-ordination of support for economic rehabilitation and reconstruction” (1). This is the mandate with which UNTAC in Cambodia (1992-93) was charged.

Other missions concentrated on humanitarian activities (Somalia, Bosnia, Albania), whether delivering or protecting humanitarian aid.

Here I summarise the roles the military takes in these kinds of missions as peacekeeping and enforcement measures. At least according to theory, the primary task of peacekeeping troops in complex operations is to “maintain a secure local environment for peace-building”, while it is the task of the (civilian) peace-builders is to “support the political, social and economic changes that create a secure environment which is self-sustaining. Only such an environment offers a ready exit to peacekeeping forces, unless the international community is willing to have the peacekeepers stay forever (2), or tolerate recurrence of conflict when such forces depart. History has taught that peacekeepers and peacebuilders are inseparable partners in complex operations: while the peacebuilders may not be able to function without the peacekeepers’ support, the peacekeepers have no exit without the peacebuilders’ work.” (3)

In detail, these tasks are:

  • 1. Establish a UN presence by patrolling disputed areas and monitoring activity.

  • 2. Observe, monitor and manage cease-fires, by means such as defusing incidents and investigating violations.

  • 3. Maintain buffer zones.

  • 4. Disarm warring factions (4).

  • 5. Regulate the disposition of forces.

  • 6. Prevent infiltration.

  • 7. Prevent civil war.

  • 8. Verify security agreements.

  • 9. Supervise containment.

  • 10. Establish stabilisation measures, by means such as brokering agreements over demarcation of boundaries.

  • 11. Communicate between parties in conflict who have no diplomatic relations.

  • 12. Clear mines and other unexploded ordnance.

  • 13. Training/re-forming military units.

  • 14. Restoration of law and order.

  • 15. Forcible separation of belligerent parties.

  • 16. Establishment of safe areas.

  • 17. Guarantee or denial of movement, e.g. blockade or no-fly zone enforcement.

  • 18. Enforcement of sanctions (5).

  • 19. Physical security of aid delivery and other humanitarian activity, e.g. by offering armed escorts, putting together escorted convoys, etc.

  • 20. Physical security of refugee camps.

  • 21. Carry out police functions, such as crowd control or arresting war criminals (examples: Bosnia, Kosovo).

Besides these more traditional military tasks, there are a number of activities and tasks centred around humanitarian support: UN forces provided humanitarian aid for Kurds in North Iraq, NATO soldiers built refugee camps in Macedonia, German UN soldiers dug wells in Somalia, and SFOR soldiers in Bosnia are involved in building schools.

Typically, humanitarian tasks taken over by military include:

  • 1. Provision of immediate humanitarian assistance, such as emergency food distribution, building of refugee accommodations, and provision of basic water and sanitation (6).

  • 2. Alerting humanitarian agencies to pockets of need encountered during routine patrol activities.

  • 3. Assistance to humanitarian agencies in longer-term relief and development projects.

  • 4. Negotiations with warring factions to create the conditions in which agencies can operate freely and effectively.

Some of these activities might originate in a spontaneous initiative by soldiers on the ground rather than being part of the mandate (7), but in several cases humanitarian aid has been made part of the mandate.

The reasoning is that the military “often possess an abundance of precisely those resources that are in the shortest supply when disaster strikes: transport, fuel, communications, commodities, building equipment, medicines, and large stockpiles of off-the-shelf provisions” (8). It could be the case that the military is the only one to do it, relief agencies are “not present in sufficient strength to cope with sudden demand due to the sudden onset of a crisis, or they are unable to operate due to the volatility of the security environment.” (9) Another, not negligible, aspect is the positive image that is created back home by the activities of the military sent abroad. Especially in countries where there is public debate on the role and costs of out-of-area deployments, politicians and military leaders have found it useful to publicise the humanitarian activities (10). Hansen has observed that in Kosovo “bilateral funding is provided to favoured KFOR contingents for humanitarian or reconstruction activity … an extraneous political agenda, not need, and not an appreciation for local conditions, determines allotments to KFOR humanitarian activity, sometimes with serious negative consequences.” (11) Seiple points out that sometimes there are tactical reasons for the military to engage in humanitarian activities, in order to get acceptance from the local population (12).

The growing importance of civil-military co-operation as result of the complex nature of these missions is reflected in so-called CIMIC plans and in the use of troops specifically responsible for enhancing co-operation between the military and humanitarian activities at the tactical level as well as military involvement in building consent (13). In Bosnia, for example, the first focus of CIMIC was emergency humanitarian relief and prisoner release. Later it shifted to election and humanitarian support, reconstruction of infrastructure and longer-term programmes, and from there to a third phase of repatriation, reconstruction, capital investment, further election support and civil-institution buildings. CIMIC units have worked with NGOs, the World Bank, the United Nations mission in Bosnia, the OSCE and the Office of the High Representative (14).


  • (1) : Laurence 1999:31, 48. Doyle already observes: “Although the circumstances in Haiti are unique, the case suggests a pattern that may be replicated in the future: a contracted out enforcement action to end the violence followed by a consent-based UN operation to consolidate peace” (Doyle 1997:7) This is also the scenario the Brahimi-Report draws. Woodhouse/Ramsbotham on the contrary that “contracting out is unlikely to replace UN peacekeeping” (1999:xxiii)

  • (2) : Quoted after Doyle et al 1997:2

  • (3) : Ramsbotham/Woodhouse 1999:xviii, Laurence 1999:59f. While most of the points are basically quotations taken from Laurence I have put them in a different order, and sometimes added and changed elements.

  • (4) : Seiple 1996:56. He stresses that the military needs the NGOs working on aid and development in order for the military to be able to exit.

  • (5) : Brahimi-Report No 28

  • (6) : Disarmament should include small arms since they are the major source of loss of life and destruction in intra-state conflicts. See Lessons-Learned Report of the Department for Peacekeeping Operations on UNTAES in East Slavonia, (, No I.16

  • (7) : Laurence 99:59f

  • (8) : In Northern Iraq, for example 13.000 personnel moved 7.000 tons of supplies to 1,5 million Kurdish displaced; in Rwanda in 1994 the British set up a field hospital which treated more then 82,000 people within two months. (Flint 2001:235)

  • (9) : See Brahimi Report, and Wood 2000. Similar reports are often heard when meeting and discussing with higher officers in the field. In Lebanon, for example, certain battalions (Finnish, Norwegian) provided considerable funds for humanitarian and development assistance: food to destitute families, sewage systems, medicines, construction of Muslim Prayer shelters and Christian Churches (Uphoff Kato 1997:154 pp.)

  • (10) : Weiss 1999:17

  • (11) : Gordon/Toase 2001:XXVII

  • (12) : See Weiss 1999:18

  • (13) : Hansen 2000

  • (14) : Seiple 1996:185f