Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies (CHRHS)

Surmounting Contemporary Challenges to Humanitarian-Military Relations

Humanitarian-military relations has emerged as an important and ever-expanding field of policy analysis and practice. However, this strand of literature, and the associated policy discourse, suffers from three overarching deficiencies.  First, the field remains empirically sparse. Second, this field of policy discourse remains fragmented. It is largely based on case studies, with little social-scientific comparative analysis undertaken thus far. There has also been little to no effort made to incorporate theoretical and empirical insights from the broader field of social-scientific literature on civil-military relations, a rich strand of analysis that dates back at least to the middle of the 20th century. Third, this field has not been agile in its responsiveness to current events. This field of analysis remains largely stunted and disassociated in any useful way from the challenges of the real world.

This research examines the state of this discourse and recommends steps toward correcting these deficiencies. The paper is based on an assessment of available primary and secondary literature, as well as 38 semi-structured interviews conducted with a wide array of professionals engaged in different dimensions of humanitarian-military relations.

This project was conducted as a research stream under our Carnegie Corporation of New York funded project Civilian-Military Coordination in Humanitarian Response: Expanding the Evidence Base.