International Order & Conflict
Project Note

Operationalizing Protection of Civilians in NATO Operations

Key article offering practical guidance as NATO considered the drafting and adoption of their POC policy

  • August 21, 2020
  • 10:04 am

In 2014, after more than a decade of combat operations and hard-learned lessons in Afghanistan and Libya, NATO began discussions to develop a Protection of Civilians policy. The paper below, written in 2015 by Marla Keenan and Alexander W. Beadle, identified elements of what NATO needed to consider for a policy on the Protection of Civilians to be comprehensive and successful. They addressed conceptual and practical recommendations, including that NATO should consider protection from their actions as well as from the activities of other armed groups. Later that year, they published this paper, Operationalizing Protection of Civilians in NATO Operations, and subsequently briefed NATO’s Operations Policy Committee in January 2016 during consideration, drafting and adoption of the policy.

The article provides a recent historical look at the challenges in previous NATO missions, including documenting how ISAF came to understand the importance of protecting civilians from their operations. The report identified guidance and tactical directives in place in Afghanistan that led to a decrease in civilian harm; this illustrated that protection from one’s actions was feasible and possible for NATO missions. The report also focused on a conceptual approach to protection. It offered a proposed framework for NATO to address the protection of civilians from the harms of other actors, including seven threat scenarios for civilians. Each scenario “poses a fundamentally different threat to civilians in terms of which civilians are at greatest risk, how they are targeted, what capabilities the perpetrators rely on to conduct violence, and what kind of civilian suffering it is likely to produce.”

The policy, adopted in July 2016 at the Warsaw Summit, reflects much of this conceptual thinking.

Read the paper in Stability Journal.

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