Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Humanitarian Military Intervention or Policing

by Wesley Gibbs

As I was reading the article by George Lucas Jr., I was at first pleased with much of the analysis he makes about the difference between war and humanitarian military intervention. His point about how the goals and strategies used in intervention will always be hard to identify was one I agreed with. Even after finding points I disagreed with, I still got some overall enjoyment out of reading his article. While I read the article, one thing kept bothering me though. The thing that kept bothering me was a point he made early in the article that stated that in humanitarian interventions the military should act more closely to a police force than a military. He said that they should incur more risks on themselves rather than on the individuals that they are supposed to be intervening on behalf of (as in trying to reduce collateral damage). I see a huge problem here due to the fact that a military is not a policing organization, and that even when a police force deals with similar situations it does not incur as much risk on itself as Lucas seems to think.

First, there is the fact that the military is not a policing force. They are used for this occasionally (more often in modern times), but the primary purpose of a military is to defend its own borders and fight wars. Lucas admits to both of these, but he also says that the world is moving away from the “normal kind” of aggressive war. This is sort of true, but the possibility of an aggressive war is still there. Thus the military is still trained to fight wars. This means that they have to be able and ready to kill if necessary. Police are trained in similar ways, but they have more constraints that determine whether or not killing is appropriate. The military lacks many of these constraints and this lack is necessary in order for them to remain an effective military. The military is effective as long as it can carry out its primary purpose, which is to fight war. If the military were bound by the same constraints as police was, they would no longer be able to carry out their primary function.

The military could just apply these apprehension tactics to times when they are involved in humanitarian military intervention. These apprehension tactics are the main way that the military could avoid collateral damage. The problem here is that when the military is needed for humanitarian intervention, there is normally some kind of aggressive action going on. The military needs to be able to effectively deal with this aggressive threat and not be crippled by the need to apprehend subjects. The aggressive side is not going to try to apprehend any of the soldiers, thus the risk that Lucas mentions. Lucas fails to understand that much of the time this aggressive side within a country is still going to target the other side, even with the presence of a foreign military to enforce peace. Since one side is still attacking the other (or both are attacking each other), innocents are going to be killed. If the military is forced to follow something close to a police mandate while the intervention is going on then more innocents are going to die due to the military’s inability to effectively combat the threat. In situations similar to those that take place during a humanitarian military intervention, the police actually follow tactics that are similar to those that the military uses.

First and foremost of these similarities, is the fact that police are allowed to take forceful action in order to protect their own lives or the lives of others around them. Police are allowed to do this in a sense that is similar to the military’s. If a person is within 15 feet of a police officer, they are allowed to shoot him because he poses a threat to their well being. This seems reasonable, as it is moral for the officer to protect his own safety as well as the safety of possible innocents in the vicinity (it is also the function of law enforcement to protect the safety of innocents in society). This would even seem sort of reasonable to apply similar constraints about imminent threat and the response allowed to the military during humanitarian military interventions, except for one major difference. This difference is that the people that the military are dealing with during an intervention are normally carrying heavier weapons that pistols, uzis, or knives. The knife or pistol they are carrying is a backup weapon rather than their primary. Their primary weapon is normally an assault rifle of some kind. Many would argue that this is no different than what police have to deal with in modern times, but that is where military or paramilitary organizations come into play.

In the United States, if a situation escalates to certain point, SWAT or HRT are called in to deal with it normally with a military group on standby incase neither of these organizations can handle the situation. These organizations are not in many respects police oriented. SWAT stands for Special Weapons And Tactics, thus stating in their name that their weapons but more importantly, their tactics are different than those of a regular police force. HRT is the federal version of SWAT and stands for Hostage Rescue Team and their training and tactics are very similar to those of SWAT. The difference is that HRT operates on a federal level while SWAT is localized. Both of these groups are called in to deal with certain situations that police may come across (ex. hostage situations, terrorists, well-armed gangs, etc.). These groups are paramilitary in nature, that is that there training and tactics are similar to those of a military organization. Since these groups are paramilitary in nature (in some countries they are military, Great Britain has SAS, Germany has GSG-9, France has GIGN, etc.), their tactics take more of a military approach (thus the name paramilitary). They tend to kill the hostile group rather than attempting to capture them alive. Apprehension is not the tactic often used by SWAT, HRT, or similar organizations because it puts innocents at a higher risk of injury than just eliminating the aggressive individuals. Even though eliminating these aggressive individuals could lead to civilian casualties in the process, the cost is normally much lower than if they attempted apprehension. These groups are even expected to acted this way since there is a part in their operating rules and regulations in which it specifies that they are to neutralize any target who is posing a threat to an innocent. At other times it is necessary due to the nature of the confrontation. Many of the situations they deal with are hostage-based situations, but there are also ones where they are required to take down heavily armed gangs and organizations.

Situations similar to both of these are likely to arise when there is a humanitarian military intervention in a country. The forces fighting in the nation in which the intervention is taking place are posing a threat to the civilian population (thus the intervention), and at the same time they are normally heavily armed. So if the military takes to operating along the lines of the police organizations they most closely resemble, then they will still be killing the majority of the resistance that they encounter. This would be due to the threat that these resistance groups pose the safety of the civilian population. Another reason the military would be forced into killing the majority of these forces is due to their right to protect themselves, which the police also have. If a gang that is only going to be arrested and imprisoned would rather shoot it out with SWAT than go to jail, it is unlikely that an aggressive force within a nation is going to surrender especially when they are very well armed. This would then justify the military’s actions in these situations even when using police standards because the police are expected to protect the civilian population and to protect themselves as well.

Lucas states that the military needs to act more like a police force when participating in humanitarian military intervention, but they would lose their effectiveness as a military force if they had to do so. Even if one applies police standards to what the military does it is often easy to see where they can be justified in their actions. The actions that are taken by a military to still effectively combat the aggressive force and preserve civilian life are the best available at this time since apprehension is not a very viable option. Police organizations often use elimination tactics by way of paramilitary or military organizations when operating within their duties as police in order to protect as many civilian lives as possible.


Anonymous Mitch Ullman said...

I'm going to shamelessly rip this from Ryan, who does an excellent job of citing his blatant rip from WSJ. Heck, I'll just send you to his blog

The long and the short of it is that the military will have to use different tactics which are, I think, what Lucas was attempting to get at. Just read the article. I think I'm going to add the book they talk about, "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam," to my Amazon queue.

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Kim Morrison said...

I don't think the military's use of police tactics would weaken their ability to fight effectively as they are designed to do. The military police function quite well in combat situations even though they're main purpose at home is to police. It's this ability to be military and also police that allows them to work effectively when policing any where they are sent. However, I don't think the MPs are the only ones who do policing so training other units in certain police tactics may actually help them. The main problem for any soldier (MP or not) is determining who the enemy is and who the innocents are in an area torn apart by what's basically a civil war. Apparently nothing can really be done about that. It would certainly explain why the U.S. military has lost over 2,000 soldiers since 2003. It seems the military could use some backup.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

the different military tactics that are used are not nessicasrly whats right, i feel you are over looing the moral implications here. your content is good and well written but some things are a bit unclear. During wars such as Vietnam it was hard for americans to differenciate who was southern vietnamese and who was northern vietnamese.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Jeremy Page said...

It would make sense that the military would act more as a police force than a raw military power, but only (to me) to gain some sort of public image advantage. I think maybe that the word "humanitarian" would play a role in the toning down of military action. Maybe it is somewhat unacceptable to lose more soldiers due to the circumstances and limited tactics they are required to use, but I think in this case the individual loss of soldiers will have less of an impact than the wholesale loss of image by the intervening country. It's not practicality. It's politics.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous steven grueshaber said...

I have to go with Mitch on this one. Although the military may not be designed as a policing force, they would not be utilizing standard combat tactics. If you're causing a massive war during a humanitarian intervention, I think you're missing the point.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Adam Johnson said...

Regardless of which action type is appropriate (police or military), it's silly to send a group of people trained for one to do the other, or both.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous jamie mccall said...

I'm going to agree here...the military, given our current concept of it - cannot be acting as a police force. I suppose it is conceivable that we could train and produce a military which could be used for policing, but that does (as everyone has mentioned) seem to take away from the point that a military fights wars - they shouldn't be policing.

10:49 AM  

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