Issue 56 - Article 3

The CIMIC Centre of Excellence: improving cross-organisational perspectives on civil-military interaction

January 9, 2013
Lieutenant Colonel Heiko Herkel
United Nations Mission in Nepal - Nepalese Military Distributes Polling Materials

Modern militaries no longer engage in combat operations alone, but are increasingly involved in supporting humanitarian response, stabilisation and reconstruction in contexts where insecurity, or a lack of willingness or capacity, prevents governments, international organisations and non-governmental organisations from taking up these responsibilities. In disaster relief operations this is less of an issue, while in complex emergencies, where conflict and insecurity are key features, some types of interaction between humanitarian actors and the military can undermine humanitarian principles. This is particularly problematic in counter-insurgency operations where a ‘clear-hold-build’ approach is applied. This involves clearing an area of insurgents and then maintaining sufficient security to allow the implementation of stabilisation and reconstruction programmes. As many humanitarian actors are reluctant to operate under such circumstances, foreign non-military governmental agencies and for-profit contractors inevitably end up taking their place.

The Civil-Military Co-operation Centre of Excellence

The Civil-Military Co-operation Centre of Excellence (CCOE), formally established in 2007, is a multinationally-sponsored institution providing capacity for reviewing and improving policy, procedures and training in civil-–military cooperation and related areas for NATO, the UN, the European Union (EU) and the CCOE Sponsoring Nations (SNs). The Sponsoring Nations are Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia.  However, contrary to the CCOE’s aims, the EU has not made use of this offer, while involvement in UN projects is limited. The CCOE believes that a thorough understanding of the principles, procedures and worldviews of humanitarian actors is key to advising militaries on how to implement effective civil– military interaction. Offering opportunities to civilian actors to better understand the military is a secondary field of activity. The dissemination of knowledge and training to NATO and SN troops regarding appropriate civil–-military interaction is intended to improve how they approach, understand and respect their civilian counterparts. What differentiates the CCOE from other such centres is the comprehensive spectrum of training offered to both military and humanitarian organisations.

Vital to the CCOE’s work is its relative independence. Standing outside the NATO Command Structure, and not committed to any national command in regard to content, allows for innovative thinking, including new perspectives on how to interact with humanitarian stakeholders. CCOE personnel are experienced in engaging with civilian actors in joint missions, and have a good understanding of their principles and concerns. CCOE uses these insights to stimulate improvements in NATO procedures. In addition, CCOE’s involvement in policy and lessons-learned discussions within NATO, and in humanitarian policy fora such as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)’s meetings on the use of Military and Civil Defence Assets (MCDA), are crucial to developing a comprehensive understanding of both sets of actors.

NATO can be resistant to change, and initiatives like these are not always welcomed. There is also considerable mistrust and resistance among humanitarian actors when being approached by the military, or even by the CCOE. The CCOE takes every opportunity to engage with humanitarian actors around how to improve civil–-military interaction to help increase understanding and build trust. This includes explaining the role of military actors in humanitarian response and the legal obligations of the military with respect to relief activities. The CCOE also analyses the position papers of humanitarian organisations and maintains regular dialogue with them to better understand their perceptions of Civil– Military Cooperation (CIMIC), learn about their experiences of dealing with the military, better recognise good and bad practices and monitor any policy developments as a result of this engagement. The CCOE participates in the annual meeting of the Consultative Group on MCDA and sub-working groups, visits NGOs and international organisations, invites them to discussions, workshops and courses at the CCOE and participates in workshops and exercises organised by humanitarian actors.

The revision of NATO’s CIMIC doctrine

In 2008, the CCOE assumed responsibility for reviewing NATO’s doctrine for CIMIC, AJP-9. The original document, ratified in 2003, largely reflected experience from the Balkan wars, and as such had lost operational relevance due to changed mission environments, notably Afghanistan. In assembling a community of interest to draft the new doctrine, the CCOE invited several non-military organisations to contribute, including OCHA, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM); several academics also participated in the conceptual development of the doctrine. A key contribution of the humanitarian organisations involved was the addition of a chapter to the doctrine which describes the different types of civilian organisations the military is likely to encounter on missions, including how they operate, how they are organised and funded, and to what degree, under what circumstances and in which situations they are able to cooperate with the military. Such contributions are of great value since they convey a sense of counterparts’ perceptions and degree of acceptance of the military’s approach to civil–-military interaction.

The CIMIC doctrine was revised in parallel with NATO’s top-level doctrine (AJP-01) and the direct subordinate doctrines on Intelligence (AJP-2), Operations (AJP-3) and Planning (AJP-5). Regular harmonisation between these documents ensured that CIMIC was not unnecessarily compromised, and that, as far as possible, the key requirements for successful civil–-military interaction were covered. For example, a paradigm change was made to the section on the Intelligence Domain, which developed from a restrictive ‘need to know’ to a ‘need to share’ culture, supporting the proactive sharing of classified and unclassified information.

Drafting and reviewing other NATO doctrines

Since civil–-military cooperation and interaction are of relevance in all potential scenarios and mission types, a number of doctrine reviews require special attention given the potential impact military activities can have on other actors. Considering these effects and providing advice on how to mitigate them is a main task for CIMIC personnel, and needs to be reflected in all relevant doctrine. Consequently, the CCOE comments on reviewed, or newly drafted, doctrine to ensure that CIMIC and civil–-military interaction are taken into consideration in the planning and conduct of military missions. Relevant doctrinal themes include ‘Military Involvement in Stabilization and Reconstruction’, ‘Support to Civil Authorities’ and ‘Targeting’. Targeting is the process of selecting and prioritising potential targets and the corresponding action to be taken, bearing in mind operational requirements and capabilities as well as – from a CIMIC perspective – the potential impact on other actors and the civilian population. For example, a decision regarding whether or not to destroy a bridge to hamper opposing forces’ movement and supplies would have to consider the impact on local civilians and humanitarian actors.

Involvement in policy reviews

NATO’s military policies are usually drafted and reviewed by NATO Headquarters (NATO HQ) in Brussels. However, in the case of CIMIC policy the CCOE was asked to provide an initial outline and comments on subsequent drafts. NATO HQ has also taken up the CCOE’s recommendation that humanitarian and development organisations be invited to provide comments on future drafts. At a recent meeting with key humanitarian interlocutors (ICRC, IFRC, OCHA and IOM) it was suggested that comments be solicited from the IASC Task Force on Humanitarian Space and Civil–-Military Relations. Drafting is still at an early stage, and how much of this input will be incorporated into the final document depends ultimately on whether it accords sufficiently with the interests of NATO member countries.

Contribution to reviews of Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) are the lowest level of commonly applied instructions, and are officially disseminated as a Allied Command Operations Manual. Going further down into practicalities, TTPs are important because they address military units and individuals that are in regular contact with humanitarian organisations and other civil actors in the field, assessing the overall situation and providing advice on the impact of military activities on the civil environment and vice versa. Current ambitions for increased and more direct military involvement in stabilisation and reconstruction require special attention and new approaches to balance the pros and cons not only for the benefit of NATO as an organisation, but also for the sake of the overall effectiveness of all contributors. Consequently the CCOE provides a balanced view which recognises potential negative impacts on civilian stakeholders, and which ultimately also supports the military in efficiently achieving its mission.

Concept Development and Experimentation

Concept Development and Experimentation (CD&E) is a NATO process for developing and testing new approaches and solutions to current and potential operational challenges. Those concepts that are successfully tested and accepted by NATO are then taken into consideration during policy and doctrine reviews. The CCOE, holding the largest group of experts on CIMIC and Civil–-Military Interaction (CMI), supports NATO agencies working on CD&E and proposes new research themes.

The CCOE also indirectly supports CD&E through its articles and other publications, which cover subjects such as gender, the protection of cultural heritage and good governance. The Centre also shares knowledge on new approaches and good practice, raises concerns and challenges military and civilian actors alike to reconsider outdated and often entrenched views. For example, following practical trials and testing it is now standard practice to deploy all-female military teams in Muslim contexts, and specific issues and challenges facing women and girls are now more explicitly taken into account in stabilisation and reconstruction operations.

Education, Individual and Collective Training

Military personnel must be prepared to plan and act based on latest policy, doctrine and TTPs. As Department Head (DH) for NATO CIMIC and CMI Education, Individual and Collective Training, the CCOE is responsible for translating operational requirements into effective training products, and it has designed a NATO CIMIC and CMI Training Landscape covering the training requirements for individuals of all military command levels, from the strategic level to the operational and tactical levels. The courses and related curricula are to be applied in all accredited CMI and CIMIC courses in any NATOassociated training institute beyond core CIMIC personnel and providing interoperable training standards for all other entities involved in NATO training on CIMIC and CMI. Given CCOE’s scope, it is important to ensure that this training benefits humanitarian personnel as well, reflecting issues of concern to them and giving them the opportunity to influence military course participants and familiarise themselves with their military counterparts, and the range of military support that can be made available. Humanitarian personnel actively participate in simulations and training exercises, and feed into the design and learning objectives. The CCOE develops CIMIC and CMI-related ‘injects’ which usually involve sending a report or statement to a simulated TV news programme, to which the military participants are expected to react during the simulated military exercise, in accordance with accepted standards and good practice.


By taking a proactive and consultative approach to engaging with humanitarian actors through initiating meetings and involving them in training and doctrine development, the CCOE has made a significant contribution to improving civil–-military cooperation and interaction. The CCOE serves as an important entrypoint for humanitarian actors to engage in dialogue with the military on civil–-military interaction, and can also explain military doctrine, procedures and attitudes to humanitarian counterparts. The CCOE has found that some of the most useful input and feedback on CIMIC doctrine and guidelines has come from external non- NATO sources.

The CCOE’s approach to engaging with civilian actors involved in delivering humanitarian and development assistance has enabled it to build trust with these organisations and to better understand their principles, objectives and culture. As a result, NATO and the humanitarian and development communities are more open to engaging constructively with each other.

Lieutenant Colonel Heiko Herkel is Staff Officer Concepts, Interoperability, Capabilities, Civil–-Military Co-operation Centre of Excellence.


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