International Order & Conflict
Issue Brief

The Military and Civilian Protection: Developing Roles and Capacities

in Program

(Chapter 4 in Resetting the Rules of Engagement: Trends and Issues in Military-Humanitarian Relations, Victoria Wheeler and Adele Harmer (eds.), Humanitarian Policy Group Research Report 21, March 2006)

Soldiers are increasingly being asked to perform roles in protecting the civilians of other states. While it is assumed that the political ends of peace operations should create environments with fewer threats to civilians, how far can military efforts go to prevent conflicts, support peacebuilding and serve humanitarian goals? What role can troops play in directly protecting civilians? This chapter, drawn from a research report released by the Humanitarian Policy Group, explores these questions and traces the evolution of military roles related to the protection of civilians in the midst of conflict.

Author Victoria Holt identifies at least six approaches to ‘civilian protection’ involving military forces. She assesses the capacity and emerging doctrines of multinational and national military forces related to the task of civilian protection and draws lessons from recent operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq. The paper concludes that there is a gap between the idea of intervening to protect civilians and the military preparedness to do so. Possible efforts aimed at diminishing this mismatch include: clarifying the concept of ‘civilian protection’ among the humanitarian and relief community, the peace operations community, and the military community; and enhancing the capacity and doctrine of military forces to undertake such missions. Such steps are necessary if the rhetoric of ‘civilian protection’ is to be matched by the readiness and ability of military forces to actually ensure the safety of non-combatants.


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