Rome '08 Workshop

Dealing with Crises in Iraq and the Middle East—The Importance of Civil-Military Integration 

Ms. Renée S. Acosta

Global Impact CEO 

Ms. Renée S. Acosta


What I have to offer today is a different perspective, some information, a description of some projects underway, and some ideas for the future. I can plainly say that the world’s richest nations are heavily dependent on the surging growth of the less developed nations for their, and parenthetically for our, future prosperity. I can also say that developing nations have obliged this dependence by opening their markets to trade and foreign investment on an unprecedented scale—look at the recently announced agreement between China and Angola. But as these markets open and expand, what is our responsibility? 

All of us have responsibility: governments, the private sector, and NGOs. In the past those responsibilities were specific to each sector, and that is where the complexities lie. While governments have been traditionally responsible for infrastructure, safety, security, education, and so on, there is now a blurring of roles between governments, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations. This is well understood by those at this workshop. 

At Global Impact, we developed a chart (see next page) that expresses our view of the “course of history” regarding humanitarian relief and development. 

The desired end state is naturally the fourth quadrant: sustainability. 


We begin in the first quadrant, with the preferred route of prevention moving straightforwardly through development to sustainability. But as fate would have it, a situation develops and some early warnings emerge. This situation could be the south Asia tsunami, the Lebanon conflict, or the Myanmar or China disasters, to name just a few. So we all rally and hence we abandon development and move quickly to relief or, as expressed in the second quadrant of my chart, preparedness and relief. This involves scrambling for resources, locating resources, getting them to the location—all with little or no real coordination or preplanning. By using the term preparedness, we are being kind to ourselves. There is a flaw in the rush to provide aid. For example, in the aftermath of the tsunami there was enough money in contributions that the region could have leapfrogged to having schools wired for computers. Instead the area was rebuilt as it was, not as it could have been. 

Graph of Humanitartian Relief & Development Course of History

When the developing situation is a natural disaster, life is easier because we usually do not have those pesky political considerations. Of course this does not include Myanmar, which, as a savvy cab driver in D.C. observed, was a natural disaster that became a man-made disaster. 

But let’s suppose the disaster is political, or man-made, as we say in our world. Then the decision to offer help begins with “If we will help” rather than “When will we help.” In the world of NGOs, the reason for the disaster is moot. For NGOs the only question is how to offer aid, and that aid is offered with a blind eye to the belief systems or actions of those in need. To others that aid could be considered “aiding and abetting the enemy.” This is a real point of contention when it comes to working collegially with the government. 

Now we are working in the second quadrant and moving to the third quadrant, representing rehabilitation. But we never make it to rehabilitation because of a short circuit: the money, the political will, the interest run out and we are back where we started, at the first quadrant. We are in a trap—development short circuits to early warning, preparedness, and relief and then cycles back to development. A case in point: In 2005 there were two high-profile international disasters: the tsunami in Asia and the earthquake in Pakistan. These two events alone raised more than $2 billion to help survivors, and as I noted earlier, the area was rebuilt as it was, not as it could have been. 

Afghanistan is a perfect example of this cycle. Of the organizations Global Impact funds, 18 NGOs are supporting 58 programs, 2 of which have closed because of safety concerns. In Iraq, 6 organizations are supporting 17 programs and another 6 have closed because of safety concerns. Some NGOs feel that being identified with any government or the military of any country endangers their programs and their safety. On the other hand, in the toughest spots on earth, safety and security need to be provided—my earlier point about the role of government. 

Back to the chart: NGOs are geared toward development and sustainability but the money and political will are not. What can happen with a developing situation is that the long history of working in a region is not recognized or respected by those entering in crisis mode and those relationships are not preserved for the aftermath, when sustainability can occur. It is the NGOs’ relationships with local governments and with citizens and programs that create stability and the potential for sustainable development. 

This happens again and again: The overlooked third quadrant. What we know for certain is that disasters will occur; those of us at this workshop could perhaps and with reasonable accuracy predict where one will occur and the nature of the event. But next time, let’s use that awful crisis to push our accumulated resources and efforts to rehabilitation, giving us a better chance of sustainability. I submit that this is where the political will and the allocation of resources will make the biggest impact. It is where we will not only save lives but lift nations up to those who contribute to the overall good. 


To begin addressing the differing missions, views, and activities of all those concerned with delivering humanitarian assistance and stabilizing affected regions, Global Impact has developed a program named Global Reach. The mission of Global Reach is to maximize available resources to save lives and, most important, it is supported by preplanning. At this moment, Global Impact has memoranda of an agreement with the United States Southern Command, Joint Forces NATO, and a strong working relationship with the United States European Command. These working relationships allow the voice of the NGO community to be heard at the most senior levels of command and have resulted in exercise design, training and participation, and joint humanitarian assistance projects. The primary objective is to build trust and confidence. This program is built upon joint effort, and further along it is our intention to engage the private sector as well; they will, after all, profit from rebuilding. 

The U.S. military’s thinking about their contribution to all this is evolving as well. The military has traditionally focused on disaster relief missions, with relatively few activities associated with development and sustainability (save for their work involving “theater security” matters). That is changing. For example, the Navy’s new Cooperative Maritime Strategy places real emphasis on developing the ability to generate longer-lasting relationships and partnerships with other countries through the use of naval assets. Global Reach works across all quadrants—preparation and relief and, increasingly, development and sustainability. 

Part of the friction we have encountered as we launch Global Reach, inter alia, is the perception on the part of some NGOs that having the military move into development and sustainability will somehow upset their funding streams and control over their world. This speaks only to the reason to work on ways to do this successfully for all concerned, especially on behalf of those who need the help the most. By joining together, partnering organizations combine their resources and strengths, offset their weaknesses, and offer the strongest effort possible to provide assistance to those in need around the world. With a different perspective and a different mindset, we can overcome the differing missions, views, and activities to work together and perhaps make the biggest impact of all. 

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