Preparing to Protect: Advice on Implementing NATO's Protection of Civilian Policy

In 2007 and 2008, widely-reported mass civilian casualty incidents in Afghanistan began to affect the perceived legitimacy of NATO operations, especially in the eyes of civilians. Commanders also recognized the intrinsic tactical and strategic value in further reducing and addressing the civilian harm caused by their actions. Minimizing civilian harm required understanding its cause, issuing new tactical guidance, and strengthening post-harm practices, including investigations, tracking and analysis of harm, and monetary payments to civilians harmed by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations.

In 2010, NATO created a Brussels-based office focused on the protection of civilians within the operations division. However, protection of civilians from harm by others – such as government forces, militias, or extremists – was not its remit. This reflected its mandate in Afghanistan, as NATO was not directed to protect civilians from physical harm, even as attacks on civilians had serious consequences for the country. In 2011 this approach changed as NATO’s mission in Libya was explicitly mandated to protect civilians under threat of attack. Over the preceding decade, the United Nations Security Council had increasingly authorized Chapter VII coalition and peace operations to protect civilians under threat.

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