Cover image courtesy of SchoolsHistory.org.uk.
–by Tyris Foster–
“Increasingly, US forces will be called upon to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief at home and abroad. As one of the few nations in the world with the means to rapidly and effectively respond to disaster, many nations depend on us for assistance”
-General Colin Powell
Commonly thought of as an overly aggressive, overpaid, and war seeking institution within the federal executive, the United States (US) Department of Defense (DoD) is in fact one of the most effective and dependable humanitarian assistance assets that the US can employ across the globe with little to short notice. DoD Foreign Humanitarian Assistance (FHA) is designed to directly relieve or reduce human suffering, disease, hunger, or privation – inter alia. With the US DoD designing a Foreign Humanitarian Assistance (FHA) line of effort around the universal known humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence, very clear and distinct questions are manifested. Why would our DoD, inherently determined with the execution of war, be directly involved with humanitarian assistance? What outcomes does the DoD seek? How does the DoD execute these humanitarian missions? Who are the beneficiaries? Although the US DoD is inherently concerned with the execution of war, ever-more important is the maintenance of peace. Specifically, peace on the African continent which provides the greatest potential for growth, development, prosperity, and peace across the globe going forward into the future.
“Historical examples clarify everything and also provide the best kind of proof in the empirical sciences.”
-General Carl von Clausewitz
Humanitarianism has a long, enduring, and rich history with the Armies of the world. The general public at large generally associates military involvement and relief efforts. Recordings date the earliest cases of humanitarianism and militaries past Alexander the Great, nearly 2,500 years ago and spanning the early civilizations of the world. Originating as primarily logistical, military administrations sprang up to support civil populations across the globe. Essential supplies such as food, water, medicine, etc. were distributed by these early humanitarian armies. Then, as now, there was an element of “why” that existed – what were the motivations of these early humanitarian armies? The belief was widely accepted that uplifting the capabilities of civil populations would ultimately ease the stressors on the military logistical supply systems when the time of need arose.
By the time the world became subject to revolutions in America and Europe, the age of enlightenment, the role of armies in humanitarian assistance had become as foundational to military doctrine as battlefield strategy or tactics. Napoleonic era Europe brought forward the ideas of the military as an agent of social structural change, an idea that is still present today with militaries across the globe. An emphasis on martial law became predominant, armies would be capable of administratively running a government; self-sufficient and possessing trained specialists in fields from water purification to financial management and professionals such as medical doctors, civil engineers, and lawyers. The militaries of the world became go-to resources for the most critical of situations, capable of delivering aid while keeping a government afloat until civil authorities could take over, completely autonomously. The foundation for the military as an agent of humanitarianism was set.
“The ideas that underpin our modern world – meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on – were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon.”
A new revolution would be consequence of the first and second world wars; the world got serious about humanitarianism. “The willingness of states to become more involved in the organization and delivery of relief owed not only to a newfound passion for compassion but also to a belief that their political, economic, and strategic interests were at stake.” The choice of an agent to pursue humanitarianism as a means to achieve a security of these interests was simple – the state’s agent of change would lead the charge, the military would once again be at the fore. Humanitarian agencies and states entered into a codependent relationship, though the former was more dependent on the latter than the reverse. World War II marked a step for the US into sole power status as the conclusion of the war left the world in shambles while the US remained unscathed. A reorganization in 1947 merged the Departments of War and Navy into the National Military Establishment, and following a name change a few years later, the DoD would be born.
1948 marked a watershed year for the worldwide recognition of the DoD as an agent of humanitarianism as the Berlin Airlift and Marshal Plan kept an entire region afloat.
Early in 1948, Generalissimo Stalin of the Soviet Union decided to block the land routes leading into Berlin, Germany, leaving two million Berliners and eight thousand occupation forces without necessary means of survival. The DoD would come to the aid of the city, with General Lucius Clay establishing Operation Vittles. Over 11 months, American “bombers delivered 2.3 million tons of supplies to the blockaded city.”
Ravaged by war and continuous strife, General and Secretary of State George C. Marshall called for a comprehensive plan to rebuild Europe. Congress would pass the Economic Cooperation Act – commonly known as the Marshall Plan – in March of 1948, funding that would go toward bringing “extensive investment into the region.” The US State Department acknowledges the implementation of the Marshall Plan as one of the “great humanitarian effort[s]” of all time. The ideas of Marshall would set the stage for the upcoming Berlin Airlift, also institutionalizing and legitimizing “the concept of US foreign aid programs” The route was now paved for the future Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.
Food and various supplies awaiting loading onto a US Air Force transport plane by US Army Soldiers. A coordinated effort between all branches of the Department of Defense brought much needed supplies from warehouses and factories in the United States to the homes of citizens in Berlin.
The 1950s and the development of the newly formed United Nations (UN) brought another era into the DoD as an agent of humanitarianism idea. Peacekeeping operations were brought to the fore as a cornerstone of humanitarianism. Consistent with the universal principles of humanitarianism, peacekeeping is operationalized by the UN as being used to “not only maintain peace and security, but also to facilitate the political process, protect civilians, assist in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants; support the organization of elections, protect and promote human rights and assist in restoring the rule of law.” This newly theorized arm of military humanitarianism would prove to be essential as decolonization took hold of a majority of African nations in the 1960s. Contemporary humanitarian assistance in the mold of the DoD as an agent of humanitarianism begins in conjunction with this decolonization; the birth of new countries would allow for the US to test this new idea.
1961 brought the Foreign Assistance Act to the US; solidifying funding and firmly placing humanitarian assistance, legally, as a foundational aspect of US foreign policy – Unsurprisingly, the US DoD would be heavily integrated in the implementation of the act. “In 1993, President Clinton designated the Administrator of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as the Special Coordinator for International Disaster Assistance. However, it was acknowledged that “USAID, the U.S. entity responsible for international disaster response, [was] not manned or equipped to respond alone. Therefore, [the] DOD [had to] provide much needed manpower and equipment to meet the demands.” The US ranks number one as a donor or foreign aid, sitting atop a landslide when compared to other countries. An OECD estimate attributed approximately $13.29 Billion from the US to humanitarian aid across the world.
The DoD and Humanitarianism in Africa
The DoD role in humanitarianism in Africa can be divided into three general purposes. First, global health management and assistance in Africa; second, economic growth upon the African continent; and finally, democracy, governance, and conflict prevention in Africa.
There has been a sharp growth in the amount of funding devoted to Global Health, particularly in relation to HIV/AIDS programs. Since 2001, the US budget for global health has doubled and initiatives in 2005 were developed “with the goals of 7 million new infections, treating 2 million HIV-infected individuals, and caring for 10 million infected people and AIDS orphans.” HIV/AID funding is not stand-alone, however, within the global health sector. The US Air Force notes that “Child Survival and Maternal Health projects aim to reduce infant mortality by, among other interventions, decreasing the incidence of acute
respiratory infections, diarrheal disease, measles, and other illnesses that occur in the first 28 days of life and combating malnutrition, and to improve the quality of child delivery facilities and raise nutritional levels of mothers. Funding for these activities has grown by 27% in the past four years. Congress has placed special attention on other infectious disease activities — mainly those addressing malaria and tuberculosis — increasing spending by 43% since FY2001.”
Being the largest of the three pillars of DoD humanitarianism, the implementation and patterns thereof have been varied. “Basic Education programs, which encourage countries to strengthen their educational institutions and policies and reduce barriers for girls to attend school, have received nearly a three-fold increase in funding since FY2001. Resources for higher education, on the other hand, have declined slightly over the same period.” An emphasis has been placed on development in the agricultural sector within economic growth, as the problem sector for over two decades leading up to the 2000’s. Particularly, science and technological advances are being used to increase crop yields, reduce poverty and hunger, develop trade opportunities for farmers, and teach sound environmental management practices for sustainable agriculture.
Democracy, Governance, and Conflict Prevention
Arguably the most important component to a state taking full advantage of aid that is delivered is the effective governance and democratic institutions of a state. Since fiscal year 2001, there has been a rise of over 20% in funding toward improving democracy, conflict, and conflict prevention. Key components of this pillar include “strengthening the performance and accountability of government institutions, combating corruption, and addressing the causes and consequences of conflict.”
Essential to an understanding of the DoD as an agent of humanitarianism in Africa is being able to analyze the continent and various ways in which the department has, and continues to, address humanitarian needs. Essential to the US DoD in Africa is the Geographical Combatant Commander (GCC) who exercises command and control of all US and allied coalition forces operation in the area of responsibility (AOR); to an extent, the GCC may have operational control of individuals from other governmental agencies, to include the State Department and CIA, to name a few. The GCC, while being responsible for addressing the potential and escalation of conflict on the continent, also leads efforts in humanitarianism. The US Africa Command (USAFRICOM) responds to humanitarian needs and requests across the continent. From northern Africa and the deliverance of humanitarian aid in concert with USAID and the Red Crescent following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya; Western Africa and the DoD’s swift assistance in providing medical teams to slow the spread of Ebola; Central Africa and the DoD fighting corruption and seeking to bolster democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Persistent attempts to open trading routes and bolster economic growth in Tanzania and eastern Africa; Southern Africa and the combination of global health, economic growth, and democracy building; the following case studies demonstrate the fluidity and flexibility that the DoD exhibits in its humanitarian efforts across the continent.
North Africa: Libya, Operation Odyssey Dawn, and a Concerted Effort
Two C-130 military transport planes, multiple pallets of aid supplies, two-thousand blankets, over nine-thousand multi-liter water cans, all done by DoD personnel in order to support a people struggling to survive in war-torn Libya. In 2011, military strongman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was subject to overthrow during a vicious civil war, the priority of the US was not to intervene militarily, however, instead focusing “primarily on humanitarian efforts,” stated then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. With the confusion on the ground, the stability, logistical networks, and calming presence of the US military on the ground delivering supplies undoubtedly contributed to calming the violence – coordination between the DoD and civil humanitarian aid organizations such as the Red Crescent and USAID served nothing more than to build trust and demonstrate the inherent role of humanitarian that the DoD serves today.
Much like what could be seen generations before, aid and personnel prepare to load a military transport aircraft as the US DoD takes lead on humanitarian aid efforts in a foreign country.
West Africa: The DoD, Ebola, and the US Role in Global Health Aid
The largest and most protracted Ebola outbreak in history made its way to the western coast of Africa in 2014, forcing the US Military to take on a Herculean humanitarian effort, stated Administrator Rajiv Shah of the USAID. Further, Shah stated that the DoD “has been critically important,” noting that having Naval medical labs in place, in the contaminated area, was cutting diagnostic times from seven or eight days down to five or six hours. Of the nine mobile labs provided near the Liberian town of Monrovia, seven were DoD labs, one a CDC lab, and one an EU lab. Increasingly important in stopping the spread of Ebola during this outbreak was the training, resources, and communication to citizens of the countries affected. Training would ensure adequate knowledge on burial procedures and safe handling; resources would ensure sufficient equipment needed to train locals would be on hand; communication would spread the word and allow for maximum participation in training. Lead on this humanitarian endeavor was none more than the US DoD – reaching out as an agent of humanitarianism for the betterment of the world.
A US Navy Officer (Medical Doctor) evaluates an Ebola Virus specimen, and renders it safe for further analysis. Why, however, are these DoD service members willing to place themselves into harm’s way?
Central Africa: Turmoil, Democracy, and the DRC
Building the necessary institutions that are needed to encourage and facilitate the growth of democracy in the DRC is a topic that is commonly overshadowed. Initiatives at the lowest levels, such as helping families and teaching small business owners, leave the initiatives that set the foundations for freedom and a free market way of life, as an afterthought. The US DoD and the government of the DRC hold a special bond, with an agreement on humanitarian aid from the DoD coming into effect in 2011. Of focus in this democracy building effort by the DoD is establishing Military Justice engagement to stem the lawless outlaws traversing the country, taking the lead on education and providing the groundwork for legal studies through the Defense Institute for International Legal Studies (DIILS). Establishment of justice systems in coordination with trained law professionals was seen as a main line of effort toward bolstering institutions. US Army AFRICOM Planning Director, Lieutenant Colonel Michael McCullough stated that “the results of this comprehensive approach to Rule of Law is paving the way to a more educated and professional military that is becoming more accountable for its actions.” Invaluably, this emphasis on legal improvements has and will continue to improve DRC domestic and democratic institutions.
Colors are passed as an outgoing US Commander exchanges command with an incoming DRC commander for the Office of Security Cooperation. The US and DRC have an ongoing Security Cooperation program centered on democracy building
East Africa: Tanzania and Encouraging Economic Prosperity
August 1998 marked a new beginning for the cooperation of Tanzania and the US, as terrorist bombings in Der es Salaam brought the importance of Eastern Africa into international importance. The realization that economic stability played heavily into ensuring no terror organization could seek haven deep within the contours of the country. While not directly involved with the stemming of Tanzania’s economy, the DoD participates in humanitarian aid through extensive economy growing activities, to include the stemming of illegal poachers who enter the country to kill and traffic animals for profit. “This illegal poaching and hunting funds transnational criminal activity, a lot of these funds have been engaged with transnational terrorist activity.” Further, “studies have been conducted and have included evidence that illegally trafficked goods from Tanzania have been distributed throughout the world to include parts of Asia, South America, and North America.” The DoD’s determination to prevent illegal poaching is essential in preserving the economic prosperity and humanitarianism in the countries of East Africa. This determination ensures that these countries, and the communities within, are able to live a full life free of harm from illegally funded organizations or poverty from illegally funded organizations siphoning local funds.
A US Marine speaks with Tanzanian park rangers when out on a simulated reconnaissance patrol and land navigation exercise in Selous Game Reserve. Key to the economic humanitarian assistance the DoD provides in East Africa is the prevention and stopping of illegal poaching operations.
South Africa: Education and Building Toward a Better Future
“These sort of partnerships benefit the citizens of both countries, extending far beyond just military capability improvements to yielding the better life that science helps create,” stated US Navy Lieutenant Commander Carl Pearson, referring to the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS). Representatives of the United States Military Academy at West Point, the DoD’s premier university and leadership academy for new Army officers, gather in a small classroom located in Muizenberg, South Africa, and promote STEM to the future generation of South African leaders. Utilizing the traditional discovery learning model, the West Point contingent focused on teaching through math. “We want to build a stronger South Africa and continent from a medical perspective to a banking environment and mathematics is the gateway,” stated AIMS South Africa director Barry Green. Outreach activities such as this undeniably introduce young US leaders to the future leaders of South Africa, perhaps ten or twenty years out. The idea of humanitarianism through education, as a means to achieving the aforementioned ends – Global Health, Economy Building, and Democracy – has been shown to be perfected in this example by the US DoD. Through education, the future of the country holds the potential to affect all three ends, themselves.
USMA West Point mathematics professor instructs students in mathematics as part of the DoD’s African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) STEM program.
As has been displayed, the connection of Armies, militaries, and the DoD as an agent of humanitarianism has been unwavering and consistent throughout history. Humanitarianism through the DoD has taken a new role in contemporary Africa, as the DoD contributes in efforts that encompass the full spectrum of humanitarianism. Global health, Economic growth, and democracy building, all of which are used of means of achieving US national security ends. While the country at large may have its own motivations, the individuals on the ground that help collectively represent that professional obligation, a dedication to duty and urge to help others.
This post may have been edited by admin for clarity and length.
Ahearn, Timothy. ‘Civil Affairs Soldiers enhance Tanzanian counter illicit trafficking operations’, United States Africa Command (2018).
Cuny, Frederick. ‘Use of the Military in Humanitarian Relief’, PBS Frontline (1989).
McCullough, Michael. ‘Military Justice Engagement and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): A Case Study in the Potential for Defense Institution Building in Austere African Environments’.
Phillips, Al. ‘West Point Promotes STEM Learning in South Africa’, Department of Defense (2018).
US AFRICOM Public Affairs. ‘AFRICOM Supports U.S. and International Response to Libya Crisis’, United States Africa Command (2011).
US AFRICOM Public Affairs. ‘Democratic Republic of Congo Partners with U.S. to Build Capacity during LION ROUGE’ United States Africa Command (2013).
Barnett, Michael and Thomas Weiss eds. Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics. Ithica and London: Cornell University Press, 2008.
Clausewitz, Carl Von. On War. Translated and edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976, 170.
Department of State. ‘Agreement between the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Government of the United States of America Regarding the Reduction of Debts Owed to, Guaranteed by, or Insured by the United States Government and its Agencies’, State.Gov (2011).
Department of State. ‘Marshall Plan 1948’, State.Gov Archives (2009).
Goldfein, David. ‘Joint Publication 3-29: Foreign Humanitarian Assistance’, Joint Chiefs of Staff (2014).
Oldmixon, Peter. ‘Department of Defense Road Ahead for Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Relief’, United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College (2011).
Pellerin, Cheryl. ‘USAID Administrator Praises DoD Effort in Ebola Fight’, DoD News, Defense Media Activity (2014).
Smith, Rhonda and Babara Stansfield. ‘The Process of Providing Humanitarian Assistance: A Department of Defense Perspective’, Department of the Air Force Air University and Air Force Institute of Technology (1995).
Tarnoff, Curt and Larry Nowels. ‘Foreign Aid: An Introductory Overview of U.S. Programs and Policy’ CRS Report for Congress (2004).
United Nations. ‘What is Peacekeeping’, United Nations Peacekeeping.
Lundy, Susan. ‘The Berlin Airlift: The Greatest Humanitarian Aid of All Time’, Rotary International (2015).
‘Berlin Airlift: The Berlin Blockade/Airlift’ Schoolhistory.Org.Uk.
DoD Photo Gallery, https://dod.defense.gov/Photos/Photo-Gallery/igphoto/2001132982/.
Marine Corps Photos, https://www.marines.mil/Photos/igphoto/2001026922/.
The CNN Wire Staff. ‘U.S. focuses on Libyan humanitarian aid’, CNN (2011).
Willsher, Kim. ‘Cruel despot or wise reformer? Napoleon’s two faces go on view’ The Guardian (2017).
 Rhonda Smith and Babara Stansfield, ‘The Process of Providing Humanitarian Assistance: A Department of Defense Perspective’, Department of the Air Force Air University and Air Force Institute of Technology (1995), 1-2.
 David Goldfein, ‘Joint Publication 3-29: Foreign Humanitarian Assistance’, Joint Chiefs of Staff (2014), I-1.
 Ibid., I-3.
 Carl Von Clausewitz, ‘On War’ Translated and edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976, 170.
 Frederick Cuny, ‘Use of the Military in Humanitarian Relief’, PBS Frontline (1989).
 Kim Willsher, ‘Cruel despot or wise reformer? Napoleon’s two faces go on view’ The Guardian (2017).
 Barnett, Michael and Thomas Weiss eds. Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics. Ithica and London: Cornell University Press, 2008, 107.
 Ibid., 108.
 Susan Lundy, ‘The Berlin Airlift: The Greatest Humanitarian Aid of All Time’, Rotary International (2015).
 Department of State, ‘Marshall Plan 1948’, State.Gov Archives (2009).
 ‘Berlin Airlift: The Berlin Blockade/Airlift’ Schoolhistory.Org.Uk.
 United Nations. ‘What is Peacekeeping’, United Nations Peacekeeping.
 Peter Oldmixon, ‘Department of Defense Road Ahead for Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Relief’, United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College (2011), 1.
 Curt Tarnoff and Larry Nowels. ‘Foreign Aid: An Introductory Overview of U.S. Programs and Policy’ CRS Report for Congress (2004), CRS-20.
 Ibid., CRS-9.
 Ibid., CRS-10.
 Ibid., CRS-11.
 Ibid., CRS-12.
 The CNN Wire Staff, ‘U.S. focuses on Libyan humanitarian aid’, CNN (2011).
 US AFRICOM Public Affairs, ‘AFRICOM Supports U.S. and International Response to Libya Crisis’, United States Africa Command (2011).
 Cheryl Pellerin, ‘USAID Administrator Praises DoD Effort in Ebola Fight’, DoD News, Defense Media Activity (2014).
 DoD Photo Gallery, https://dod.defense.gov/Photos/Photo-Gallery/igphoto/2001132982/.
 Department of State, ‘Agreement between the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Government of the United States of America Regarding the Reduction of Debts Owed to, Guaranteed by, or Insured by the United States Government and its Agencies’, State.Gov (2011).
 Michael McCullough, ‘Military Justice Engagement and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): A Case Study in the Potential for Defense Institution Building in Austere African Environments’.
 US AFRICOM Public Affairs. ‘Democratic Republic of Congo Partners with U.S. to Build Capacity during LION ROUGE’ United States Africa Command (2013).
 Timothy Ahearn, ‘Civil Affairs Soldiers enhance Tanzanian counter illicit trafficking operations’, United States Africa Command (2018).
 Marine Corps Photos, https://www.marines.mil/Photos/igphoto/2001026922/
 Al Phillips, ‘West Point Promotes STEM Learning in South Africa’, Department of Defense (2018).