Overcoming Protection of Civilian Failures

May 10, 2017


In developing a concept on the Protection of Civilians (PoC), NATO should consider a cautionary
approach, recognizing that the policy adopted by the Warsaw Summit emerges from decades of failure
to protect civilians in conflict (NATO, 2016). These failures range from ethnic cleansing in the Balkans,
genocide in Rwanda, civilian casualties in Afghanistan, security gaps in Libya, and the inability of the international community to protect civilians during the war in Syria.

(Access full report here)

The reasons for failure are well documented. Inadequate military planning to assess the nature of the
threat, insufficient use of force to counter the threat, and a lack of political will to intervene in situations
of violence are some of the reasons why protection efforts have failed. These failures have led to the
evolution of international norms and standards on the conduct of war, the emergence of PoC as central
to the mandate of UN peacekeeping missions, and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) framework. The
need to develop more preventative frameworks is inherent in each of these approaches, recognizing
that international action often comes too late in the conduct of hostilities to prevent large-scale
violence. Even when the international community agrees to take action with the aim of ending a
conflict, peace operations are often limited in political scope and financial resources.

This paper will explore what the international community has learned from such failures, and how
NATO’s emerging concept on PoC might consider addressing these challenges. Recognizing that many
protective actions carried out by NATO missions occurred after grave violations had already taken place,
the role of NATO in conducting PoC functions during all phases of conflict including prevention,
response, and rebuilding will be considered.


This paper will show how NATO action in Bosnia and Kosovo presents a broad range of PoC capabilities within NATO that offer early lessons learned (Kjeksrud, Ravndal, Stensland, de Coning & Lotze, 2016).  Which is counter to the view of some scholars that NATO has only been concerned with protecting civilians in the context of the intervention in Libya, and in civilian casualty mitigation in Afghanistan. The paper will further address PoC challenges in Libya and Afghanistan, and comparative UN approaches.

This paper will also explore how the emerging NATO framework for PoC can address historic failures and current challenges. The proposed NATO concept consists of three PoC pillars; Mitigate Harm (MH), Contributing to a Safe and Secure Environment (C-SASE), and Facilitating Access to Basic Needs (FABN). Understanding the Human Environment (UHE) is an essential requirement for all pillars. (Read more here).


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