October 15, 2014
President Obama is sending thousands of US troops to West Africa to fight the deadly Ebola virus. Their mission will be to construct treatment centers and provide medical training to health-care workers in the local communities.
But is it really a good idea to send soldiers to provide this sort of aid?
Here are 3 reasons why militarizing humanitarian aid is a very bad idea:
1. Militarized Aid Erodes Humanitarian Principles
Humanitarian aid must be perceived as neutral and not driven by political or military objectives. Using the military in a humanitarian crisis works against that and potentially instigates further unrest.
Attacks against humanitarian personnel have been rising in the past decade precisely because of a perceived blurring of humanitarian, political, and military goals.
And our track record in Africa warrants such skepticism. In the past six years, the US military has expanded its troop presence in Africa via humanitarian missions specifically designed to establish points of entry for future military missions.
Local communities face a hell of a bind: if they don’t accept help from the military, they run the risk of missing out on much-needed humanitarian aid. That erodes the trust needed to establish a working relationship between aid workers and local communities.
2. Militarized Aid is Ineffective in the Long Term
Militarized aid is often backed by huge budgets that are supposed to be spent quickly.
Indeed, the Department of Defense has already allocated $1 billion to fight Ebola.
The pressure to spend massive amounts is often coupled with pressure to achieve short-term political goals.
That, in turn, translates into an ineffective use of funds. Accountability and follow-up are in short supply, too, meaning the same mistakes get repeated over and over.
3. Militarized Aid Diminishes the Supply of Civil Aid
Many politicians who support militarized aid claim that the military is the only institution capable of handling the humanitarian crisis at hand.
If this is true – and too often it is – this highlights the neglect of civilian-led programs that are more likely to get the job done.
By constantly relying on the military for humanitarian efforts, we’re stifling efforts to grow civilian-led organizations that can handle the complicated logistics necessary to address large-scale humanitarian crises.
Produced by Amanda Winkler and co-written with Nick Gillespie, who narrates. Camera by Jim Epstein with Anthony L. Fisher.