With the end of the Cold War between the East and West in Europe, it is frustrating that we should now be witnessing so many “hot” wars in the form of intrastate conflict in so many regions of the world. The main victims are civilians—the endangered species of modern day conflict.
It is no wonder that the military should be regarded as the enemy, the purveyors of violence. In many cases, anyone in uniform is feared and looked upon with considerable suspicion by the population—even the United Nations peacekeepers. But the military have a unique potential to provide the sense of security people long for.
If there is to be peace, it will not evolve from a mere absence of war. Peace comes only when the structures of peaceful co-existence are in place; where there is peace of mind that enables people to live peaceably with their neighbors—communally, nationally, and internationally–free of tension, fear, and the sense of being constantly under threat. When these criteria do not exist, there will always be potential for unrest and violence.
Military solutions, such as enforced peace, do not fulfill these fundamental requirements, but the military do have the skills, the technical capabilities, the infrastructure, and logistical assets that can contribute to the building of peace. This requires a change of mindset by the military, but it does not call for radical adjustments to their role. The attributes they have to offer are attributes that they also require for their traditional military purposes.
While accepting that the primary role of the military is defense of national security, there are other, equally appropriate roles. I set these out as:
b. Disaster relief
c. Environmental security
Peacekeeping and building
In nearly all UN operations, safeguarding of the civil and human rights of the civil population caught up in the violence has been as much the task of the peacekeeper as that of ending the fighting. More recently in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda, a parallel humanitarian aid operation has been a major aspect of these UN operations. The contribution that the military can make to the success of such aid programs is immense, both within their own capacity and in facilitating the safe distribution of aid.
Over the years, military forces from many countries have quickly responded to the calls for help following major natural disasters. Their advantage over civil rescue operations is that they can move rapidly by air, land, or sea, and possess the infrastructure required for immediate siting of the essential services under a single command and control system. Earth-moving machinery, medical teams and tented hospitals, communication and transport units, food and water can all be flown or parachuted to the site within a short space of time.
The military has an important contribution to make to the welfare of the environment. Since conflict often originates from the environmental and ecological consequences of natural disasters and human mismanagement, the infrastructuring expertise and technology possessed by the Armed Forces should be utilized to their full potential to combat environmental hazards.
In short, while retaining their traditional role, the military can also provide a valuable service to the community. A soldier joining the Armed Forces would do so with the knowledge that her role involves much broader responsibilities than just those of war fighting.