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WHOS RIDING SHOTGUN?

CYCLONE NARGIS, JOINT OPERATIONS


AND THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT

COL Stephen R. Dalzell

Joint Forces Staff College


Advanced Joint Professional Military Education
Class 0902
21 September 2008

Faculty Advisor: Thomas Nelson


Seminar A

Biography
Colonel Stephen Dalzell is and Army Reserve AGR officer, currently serving as
the Army Reserve Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy and Integration (G-5). He was
commissioned through ROTC at the Claremont Colleges in 1983. COL Dalzell earned a
BA in International Management from Claremont McKenna College in 1983, an MA in
National Security Studies from the California State University, San Bernardino, in 1988,
and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in
2006. Prior to his current assignment, COL Dalzell served in Armor positions in Korea
and the National Training Center and in Civil Affairs positions in troop program units;
the Army Reserve Personnel Command; the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve; and the
Joint Staff.

Introduction
In the spring of 2008, one natural disaster above all drew attention from a world
numbed by war, genocide and cataclysm. Cyclone Nargis struck Burma1 on May 2 and
emerged as the deadliest cyclone in more than two decades, leaving 138,373 dead or
presumed dead, destroying 450,000 houses, and causing $2.3 billion in lost income and
$1.7 billion in lost property (IRIN, 22 July 2008).
This carnage was accompanied by a political drama on the global stage. Burmas
military government is among the most politically restrictive in the world, 2 and the
country was again the focus of criticism as another bitter election loomed. Nonetheless,
international aid was immediately offered when the scale of the damage was seen. But
the Burmese government rejected efforts to help, whether from other countries,
international bodies, or non-government organizations.3

This impasse led many world

leaders to invoke The Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a developing norm calling for
international intervention when a state is unable or unwilling to prevent massive human
suffering. Invoking R2P is generally envisioned when human activity creates a complex
emergency, but the logic could be extended to natural disasters exacerbated by
government action or inaction.

While the current government prefers the name Myanmar, US government policy states the
democratically elected but never convened parliament of 1990 does not recognize the name change, and the
democratic opposition continues to use the name Burma. Out of support for the democratically elected
leaders, the U.S. Government likewise uses Burma. (State Department website for Burma)
2
On the Freedom House scale, Burma was one of eight countries given the worst possible score (7) for
both Political Rights and Civil Liberties in 2008, even worse than in previous years, due to increased
economic mismanagement and exploitation, including dramatic fuel-price increases in August 2007, and
for the violent repression of subsequent protests. China scored 7 and 6, respectively. (Freedom House).
3
This is not unique, of course. Nearly a quarter-million Chinese died after the Tangshen earthquake in
1976, while the Communist regime literally buried the evidence of their own incompetence. (Danshar).
However, the Chinese government seems to have learned from this experience, and welcomed international
relief following the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.

The possibility that armed forces could be used to support humanitarian


intervention raises questions of military strategy, doctrine and capabilities. While such
intervention was ultimately avoided in the case of Cyclone Nargis, this case provides a
vivid real-world example of how such a mission might evolve, and can be mined for
lessons at various levels. The inescapable conclusion is that US strategists and planners
must look at humanitarian intervention in response to natural disasters as an important
scenario for military operations in the 21st Century, and ensure our forces are prepared for
the challenge.

The Ends: Humanitarian Intervention as Strategic Option


The Responsibility to Protect can only be understood in the context of evolving
attitudes toward such untraditional strategic imperatives. Finnemore, Bass, and others
have analyzed the development of humanitarian intervention as an international standard,
agreeing that material self-interest is rarely sufficient to explain why countries intervene.
The reigning moral code evolves, and then shapes strategic decisions. Finnemore
unintentionally underscores her own point by excluding interventions responding to a
natural disaster because they are deployed in a completely consensual manner for their
logistical and technical capabilities. (Finnemore, p. 53) While that may be generally
true, her assumption about a clear line between the two reveals a mindset that may itself
evolve as well.
R2P began developing in the late 1990s as a way to guide humanitarian
intervention due to two factors: The international communitys failure to effectively
respond to bloodshed in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda; and then-Secretary General Kofi

Annans contention that national sovereignty is at times subordinate to international


protection of human rights. These factors led to the creation of the International
Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), whose 2001 report, The
Responsibility to Protect, became the landmark document defining this principle.
(Weiss, pp. 21-22.) The principle became international doctrine in 2005 when it was
unanimously approved by the United Nations World Summit. (Patrick); even if that
official position was somewhat less assertive than the ICISS version. (Bellamy, pp. 62224)
R2P is not without its challenges, both practically and theoretically. Daniel
Warner contends, The (ICISS) blinked because it looked into an abyss.(Warner, p.157)
Sovereignty is not violated first by another states intervention, he argues, but when the
first state cannot control events in its own territory. Once that occurs, a short-term, stateled operation to stop the killing is one possible result, but he argues the international
community should also imagine longer-term, non-state interventions. He could have
added that we should also imagine R2P beyond manmade crises.
Taking the discussion to this level requires a distinction between physicalsecurity interventions--where the primary justification for intervention is to stop
violence and restore a level of individual safety--and human-security interventions,
focusing on providing shelter, food, water, and medical care. Today, even R2P advocates
concede mass suffering by itself would not justify an uninvited humanitarian
intervention. Only the most extreme activists argue there is no difference between
regimes that let sanctioned militias kill thousands and ones that allow flood, disease or
famine to do so.

This was the issued raised when the Burmese regime blocked foreign relief and
controlled efforts of those within the country. When Nargis hit, three US Navy ships
were days away, and the USS Essex alone carried 1,800 Marines, 23 helicopters, and five
amphibious landing craft. (Naing). US Pacific Command offered at least 15 times to use
these resources to help distribute relief supplies, but was rebuffed each time by the
Burmese government. (Navy Times, Ships leave Myanmar coast...) Days went by and
casualties mounted, until 43 members of Congress asked President George Bush to
strongly consider supporting international efforts to overcome the Burmese
governments intransigence, including providing material support to a peaceful
humanitarian intervention. (US lawmakers..., AFP) Former USAID director Andrew
Natsios called for unilateral American intervention, starting with relief airdrops (Naing),
and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called for the UN to direct airdrops of
humanitarian aid as an expression of R2P. This public debate may have helped UN
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon push open the Burmese barriers to international relief
(Moran), resolving the crisis but not policy question.
But what if one imagines a different pre-disaster Burma? What if the cyclone had
hit a few weeks later, after the national election, and Burma was already torn by riots
over the results? What if the Burmese military had already lost control of part of the
worst-hit region, and could not militarily contest a humanitarian intervention? If the
political and military risks of intervening were lower, would the international community
have acted more forcefully?
US policy provides little answer. While the US approved R2P in the UN vote,
there is no ratified treaty or US security strategy to implement it. Discussions in military

journals (see Rice and Dehn, and Heinze) focus on legal aspects of the doctrine, not on
the operational challenges. Nonetheless, military strategists must often look into the
abyss, as Warner challenged, and foresee situations beyond current policy and reality.
So if a Nargis Plus disaster occurred, what would US options be? While the specifics
would be subject to the specific situation, several broad courses of action could be
considered:
1) The Candy Bomb: In the late 1940s, US pilots tied handkerchief parachutes
to candy bars and tossed the precious treats down to a starving Berlin. Current military
capabilities allow todays joint force to execute much more significant deliveries without
boots on the ground. (Candy Bombing for 2008, Los Angeles Times) Regardless of
local opposition, the international community could simply drop needed supplies
throughout an affected area and fly away. If the first drops included satellite phones and
batteries (cell-phone towers were among the first casualties of Nargis), the operations
teams offshore could coordinate drops with partners within the target nation,
complicating any efforts of the government to interrupt the distribution of supplies. Such
a campaign would retain partial respect to the sovereignty of the country, and minimize
the chances for combat.
2) The beachhead: An escalated option would be to establish a temporary base
for the distribution of supplies to local partners, without creating a fixed autonomous
zone. If the target cannot contest the foreign presence, the international force could
deliver supplies and vehicles for local distribution without a major military presence.
The challenge of this option is the very real risk of mission creep. What if the relief

goods are being hijacked five miles from the base? The supply point could become a
FOB, then a base camp, then the hub of an entire occupation force.
3) Unicefistan: Theoretically, a UN agency, a regional organization such as
ASEAN, or another entity could lead an international human-security intervention.
Could the relief effort be given enough force-protection mobility and firepower to
minimize theft of commodities, assaults on aid workers, and other violence, without
creating a state within a state?
4) The Velvet Hammer: Even in a permissive environment, there is no such
thing as humanitarian relief without a physical security component. Groups and
individuals expel citizens from homes or temporary residences; gangs hijack relief
supplies; and individuals rob, rape, and assault others. If these were the major obstacle to
effective humanitarian assistance, a disciplined and well-equipped military force could be
the initial core of the operation, for both physical security and provision of relief.
Regardless of the level of foreign military involvement, devising an exit strategy
will probably be a bigger challenge for humanitarian intervention than the entrance
strategy. The closest parallel to the 2008 Burma example, Operation Provide Comfort,
combined traits of human-security and physical security interventions, and successfully
protected the Kurds from Saddams retribution and delivered relief to them, but it was not
initially planned to create a permanent autonomous state. And while the US was willing
to sustain that military effort due to the broader impasse with Iraq, it is unlikely that the
West will again commit such resources to defending a sub-national region once its
intervention has broken the states claims to sovereignty.

The point is not that human-security interventions will be common or easy, but
that they are conceivable. And if a requirement is conceivable, the strategist must assess
if the country will have the ways and means to execute it.

The Ways: Doctrine for Humanitarian Intervention


The US militarys doctrinal stance is clear from the first page of Joint Publication
3-07.6, Joint Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for Foreign Humanitarian
Intervention: FHA provided by US forces is generally limited in scope and duration.
The assistance provided is designed to supplement or complement the efforts of the host
nation (HN) civil authorities or agencies that may have the primary responsibility for
providing FHA.(JP 3-07.6, p. I-1)
Later in the same chapter, the tone shifts, admitting, military forces and OGA
(other government agencies) can expect to encounter three types of operational
environments when providing FHA: permissive, uncertain, and hostile. (JP 3-07.6, p. I9). Throughout the document, hostile connotes a situation where banditry or other
small-scale violence may take place (p. IV-3), not an open interstate conflict over
humanitarian assistance. For example, the section on Security begins with force
protection and notes the joint force may be tasked to provide security for other personnel
and assets, including HA recipients, ports and airfields (pp. IV-15 to 16). The
alternative that an operation would begin with military action to secure large areas and
provide constant military presence over an entire region is not addressed, nor does it
merit inclusion in the list of top eleven training situations to consider (p. V-4).

These initial assumptions affect doctrine from the senior leadership to the lowest
troops. The US Ambassador to the affected nation is responsible for declaring the
occurrence of a disaster or emergency in a foreign country that requires US FHA
support, says JP 3-07.6, (p. II-2.)--assuming we have an ambassador in the country, that
the host nation requests assistance, and that the ambassador can overcome disrupted
infrastructure to coordinate a response. (M)embers of FHA forces also are subject to
HN law and to actions in HN criminal and civil courts. (JP 3-07.6, p. A-2.)--assuming
the host-nation supports the US operation and the only issues are from individual or
small-group criminal activity, negligence, or other bad behavior. But what if the servicemembers very presence were the criminal act?
The requirement in this case is simplejoint and Service doctrine should be
rewritten to account for a truly hostile operational environment, and provide detailed
concepts to help the joint force commander with this most challenging of scenarios-being both a humanitarian and warfighter, with the emphasis on the former.

The Means: Capabilities for Humanitarian Intervention


If both strategy and doctrine fail to account for the possibility of a forcible
human-security intervention, it is not surprising that capabilities may not support such
operations. This is particularly true since current US policy and military culture leads the
Defense Department to avoid creating enduring capabilities specifically based on a
requirement derived from stability operations, much less FHA. These lesser included
cases are to be met by forces designed to support major combat operations. While this
principle may be sound, its application needs to be guided by an open-minded view about

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they ways lessons can be applied to capabilities. The quantity and diversity of stability
operations around the globe make them an excellent laboratory for insights about
required capability.
The actual response to Cyclone Nargis and a hypothetical intervention scenario
yields several areas for future investigation:
Water transportation. While helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were important in
areas such as Burmas Irrawaddy Delta, water transportation was the most
effective form of bulk transportation. Two months after Nargis struck, the 10
helicopters used by the World Food Program (WFP) in Burma had flown 463
logistical sorties, carrying 506 tons; the WFPs three barges and four riverboats
had moved 3,500 tons of humanitarian goods. (WFP, Two months later) This
advantage would be multiplied in an R2P intervention in a coastal zone.
Compared to delivery by air, a tactical waterborne cargo capability gives the
option of a discrete, but direct, handover of supplies at the place of our choosing.
Communications: Many participants in stability operations, including NGOs,
IOs, and militaries other than the US, rely on cell phones instead of radios or
satellite phones. By knocking down cell-phone towers, Nargis knocked out
virtually all cell-phone coverage in the affected areas of Burma. In a permissive
environment, other civilian means may fill the gap. However, an R2P
intervention would require the friendly network to link the secure military
networks needed for physical-security operations and the unclassified but
sensitive information on the civilian relief side. Force planners need to identify
how to span the different systems and integrate the two faces of the operation.

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Civil Affairs (CA) capacity: A military-led human-security intervention would


require both CA generalists to orchestrate the relief operation, coordinating with
the combined and joint military forces, NGOs, IOs and willing national partners;
and functional specialists to stabilize economic and political systems while
keeping them responsive to changing conditions. This role would be different
from recent conflicts in that the combat-arms force on the ground would be
smaller than a post-conflict scenario, but the likelihood of armed conflict would
limit the presence of civilian coordinators at the tactical and operational level.

Conclusion
Humanitarian interventions are the future, and US participation should arise from
advance planning and advance consideration in our strategy, doctrine and capabilities.
However, the form of these interventions will not fit a single model, and the lines
between physical-security and human-security interventions will continue to blur. One
scenario, a military intervention to assist civilian recovery in opposition to the ruling
government, would pose unique challenges to US forces. Recognizing this challenge and
preparing for it will not only let the U.S. conduct these operations more effectively when
tasked, they will enhance our ability to conduct joint activities across the range of
military operations.

References
Bass, Gary J. Freedoms Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention, Knopf, 2008.
Bellamy, Alex J. The Responsibility to Protect and the problem of military
intervention, International Affairs 84 (2008), pp. 615-39.
Burma, United States Department of State, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35910.htm

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Burma, Fund for Peace database,


http://www.fundforpeace.org/web/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&i
d=49&Itemid=274
Candy Bombing for 2008, Los Angeles Times, 16 June 2008.
Cohen, Roberta. Disaster Standards Needed in Asia, Brookings Institute, June 2008,
http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2008/06_disaster_standards_cohen.aspx.
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May 2008,
http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hPO2MLLSjeGpyy8HovSoFud0ZFVA.

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Warner, Daniel. Responsbility to Protect and the Limits of Imagination, International


Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Autumn 2003), pp. 154-59.
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copy provided by authors.

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