At the beginning of 2012 the northern part of Mali was proclaimed a separate state by the Tuareg and the 15 ECOWAS states started to discuss the role of the ECO-WAS Standby Forces and their possible use in an opera-tion in this conflict, which is also a humanitarian one. Even the Political and Security Committee of the Euro-pean Union are discussing the issue, since the stability of the Sahel Zone is endangered and thusly threatening not only the regional stability but also the security and the in-terests of the EU and its member states.
These current events yet again form a basis for discus-sion in regards to the topic of Humanitarian Assistance in Complex Emergencies - What role is there for the Military?
As is wellknown, the Association of Austrian Peace-keepers as a supporter of peacekeeping activities and pro-moter of the ideals of the United Nations in society has been intensively involved in holding the Blue Helmet Fo-rums in cooperation with the MoDS. The peacekeepers of Central and Southeastern Europe but also national and in-ternational organisations are meant to come together at these forums in order to discuss important current topics.
Last year’s forum was dedicated to the topic of "International Disaster Relief Assistance”, concerning the topic of natural disasters and the deployment of military forces in disaster regions; this year, the employment of military forces in complex emergencies was discussed.
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) de-fines a "complex emergency” as a humanitarian crisis in a country, region or society, where a total or significant breakdown of authority has resulted from internal or ex-ternal conflict, requiring an international response that extends beyond the mandate or the capabilities of one single and/or running UN Country Programme”.
Such catastrophies can not be rigidly categorised into natural or environmental disasters, disasters that are made by man or complex emergencies, the latter two have to be viewed at least as overlapping.
While only natural disasters were looked at last year, at the current forum the military aspect was highlighted, having civil-military cooperation as the focal point.
At the beginning of the 1990s the term "Peace Support Operations” was introduced, based on the necessity to incorporate other concepts in addition to peacekeeping and peace enforcement, namely humanitarian operations, which have increasingly been carried out in recent years. In the meantime, one always has to be prepared for humanitarian operations that can emerge due to situations that can arise in a region; for example, a flood does not re-spect any borders in regards to a mandate.
At this point I would like to stress that it is of course not the military’s main task to render humanitarian aid and in order to anticipate an initial misinterpretation: The military has no intention of taking control of humanitarian op-erations. That is the task of the United Nations and respective civilian organisations. The United Nations have, according to resolution 46/182 of the general assembly, the competence to coordinate humanitarian aid worldwide, but only in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality.
The United Nations have done a lot in this field, and the Austrian Armed Forces have played a particular role in it.
Just to mention the Oslo Guidelines covering natural disasters or the "Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets to Support United Nations Humani-tarian Activities in Complex Emergencies” of March 2003 - General Greindl and also ambassador Dr. Stefan Scholz and the former commandant of the NBC Defence School, BG (ret.) Norbert Fürstenhofer, were a major part in the development of this document.
Not to forget Mr. Rudolf Müller, a former Austrian NBC defence officer who was sent to Geneva by the Austrian Armed Forces and was appointed Deputy Director of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in 2011 and can be seen as a "family friend”. UN OCHA has been a partner of the Austrian Armed Forces since 2008.
And what are the Austrian Armed Forces doing or planning regarding humanitarian operations?
As early as 2008 in my function as Chief of the Gen-eral Staff I signed the "Operative Approach Concept for Humanitarian Operations of the Austrian Armed Forces”, in which, apart from the general tasks of a soldier, the field of humanitarian aid was described as a dual function of the Austrian Armed Forces.
Presently a draft paper for a concept of "International Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief” is on my desk; it examines in detail various options for the employment of the Austrian Armed Forces, particularly in the area of civil-military cooperation.
As you may be aware of, the Austrian Armed Forces’ objective in terms of security strategy will be to strengthen and improve measures pertaining to national and international humanitarian disaster relief. This corresponds to the new security strategy, "Variant F2 - Enhanced Coopera-tion”.
With its "Profilvariante F2 - gesteigerte Koopera-tionen” [Profile variant F2 - enhanced cooperations], the Austrian Armed Forces will have the reinforcement and improvement of measures pertaining to national and inter-national humanitarian disaster relief, in the sense of the new security strategy.
It shall in particular take place on both a national and an international level after natural and technical disasters with a focus on qualified tasks like transport, air, NBC defence, engineers and search&rescue forces.
I would also like to thank the Disaster Relief Unit of the Austrian Armed Forces, in short AFDRU, and all the ones participating in it, who managed in the last week of September to pass the INSARAG External Classification of the United Nations as a "Heavy Urban Search and Res-cue Team” and who are now a team classified worldwide for the next five years until the next reclassification.
This exercise has shown how civil-military coopera-tion can function in a simple, uncomplicated manner; it has to be noted that not only active and militia personnel of the Austrian Armed Forces were deployed, but also civilian dog handlers with their search dogs.
Finally, it should not be forgotten that the Republic of Austria, pursuant to art. 222 of the Treaty on the function-ing of the European Union, is bound to the solidarity clause and is thus obliged to give assistance after terrorist attacks. Therefore, possible operations and cooperations in the field of disaster relief are being considered. Forums like the Blue Helmet Forum can contribute to specialist discussions here.
General Mag. Edmund Entacher
Chief of Defence Staff