Humanitarian Spaces: Understanding Military-NGO interaction in conflict and disaster


This paper is a precursor to an in-depth study being carried out with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and RMIT University, outlining the need for improved understanding of the challenges and opportunities of Military-NGO interaction in complex post-conflict spaces.

It is well known that military and NGO operations occupy overlapping spaces in conflict environments, with distinct and divergent cultures and mandates for those operations. However, their understanding of and attitudes towards each other and their missions are equally significant in defining their capacity and willingness to work constructively in tandem. Indeed, the minimum requirement of civilian and military organisations is to work in the same location, if not necessarily cooperatively or collaboratively.
Harris highlights that as a result of geo-political and combat developments globally, key actors now regularly find themselves outside of their traditional zones of operation – militaries as peacekeepers, transitional police; NGOs operating in increasingly violent environments, while attempting to maintain independence.

Humanitarian Spaces outlines important differences in the meaning of common terminology, such as “humanitarian” and “CIMIC/CMCoord”, the combination of significant security needs and human needs necessitating distinct multi-sector responses to conflict, and the difficulties of perceptions of conflict response operations by those affected, as key difficulties to be investigated by the proposed project.

The full study aims to build an enhanced understanding of the NGO-military interface in post-conflict engagements, with a view to improving practice and outcomes in these complex environments. The study is to look at the ADF and NGOs with significant presence in Australia to establish a deeper picture of the current level of civil-military interaction, discern the main drivers for these interactions in a range of settings, and to as what the parties perceive to be the specific key benefits from improving these interactions, and a path to achieve such improvement.

This paper provides overview of the current landscape in civil-military discourse and the identifiable challenges and developments. It continues to assess where the proposed study will sit within that discourse and the benefits of further investigating lines of communication in this space.


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