And Civitas can fuck off n\’all

The 250-page study from right of centre think-tank Civitas said that creating a new force of troops entirely focused on humanitarian relief would allow Britain to mount swift emergency relief operations to deal with famine and disaster.

Civitas said emergency relief was the most effective form of aid because its immediacy meant it was not prone to the corruption and waste which have bedevilled long term British aid programmes in other countries.

The think-tank said the UK’s aid policy was “naïve” because it was founded on “ideological conditioned fantasies and delusions” about “the behaviours of rapacious political elites in poor countries”.

Civitas said: “The armed forces have the capacity to deliver certain key kinds of emergency aid more quickly and more effectively than any NGO or international aid agency.

“Given the threat to core capacity presented by the Coalition’s deep cuts to the Defence budget, it would serve two complementary goals if some of DfID’s excessive and unmanageable budget were transferred to the military.”


The idea of training a force to specialise in disaster relief has merit. Sniffer dogs and infra red detectors to aid after earthquakes, food transport specialists for famine hit areas, combat accountants (in PJ O\’Rourke\’s great phrase. People with wads of cash who know how to bribe to get things done.) and so on.

Why anyone would think that infantry or armoured troops would be any good at this is beyond me. You might as well say that all MPs should be trained to do something useful with their lives. They\’re simply mutually incompatible propositions.

21 thoughts on “And Civitas can fuck off n\’all”

  1. I don’t agree with Civitas on many things, but on this one they have a good point, and your knee-jerk rejection of their argument is not, I would guess, based on sound knowledge of disaster response strategy.

    Military contributions in the past have been extremely useful in saving lives and getting a region back on its feet in the days and weeks following a major disaster. For example, troops on the ground, with the right equipment, are able to restore vital transportation networks to allow desperately needed food and medicines to get to affected areas, for example.

    The rapid restoration of services at Sendai Airport in Japan by American armed forces after the Tohoku Tsunami in March 2011 was a major factor in allowing emergency relief to get the region, much of which was flown in by the Royal Australian Air Force. The only people available with the heavy lifting capability and resources to get this done were the US armed forces, and it could not have been done by anyone else within the time frame that it took them.

    In addition, in developing countries where government systems have more or less broken down due to a major disaster, foreign armed forces are able to maintain order so that affected civilians can be offered relief supplies.

    Giving armed forces an opportunity really to save lives, rather than taking them, I suggest, would be a much better and more effective use of our limited resources in helping other people around the world.

  2. But, Tim has a minor point – it’s not the infantry or the cavalry. It’s the RLC and the Royal Engineers, with a bit of Signals in there to provide the comms. And the Navy and Air Force for your heavy lift.

    And, to be honest, a whole bunch of more-or-less disciplined people, used to working in harsh conditions, don’t require 4 star hotels (okay, except the Air Force and that’s only the air crew themselves) and aren’t going to pull out if the food is a bit samey – even the combat arms might have their uses.

  3. If we could manage the Fire Service strikes without the UK going up in flames (and using the delapidated Green Goddess kit because the strikers refused to allow the military to use their shiny red stuff), I suppose we might have some uses in the arena.

    It will still be politicians’ ego-propping rather than Defence of the Realm but that really is rather a good thing? DotR does require an existential threat to the country …

  4. Pingback: Put the military in charge of Britain's foreign aid – Telegraph Blogs

  5. What about a world-wide anti-disaster service using the new generation of hybrid airships that will soon be with us. Heavy lifting, complete flying hospitals (with equipment to set down large medical facilities on the ground and evacuate medical cases smoothly) food and water delivery and no need for runways, mooring masts etc.

    Call ’em Thunderbirds.

  6. Just because an idea isn’t ‘obviously insane’ (my interpretation of Tim’s thoughts on the proposal) doesn’t mean that it isn’t ‘simply stupid’ or, pace #5, ‘probably an even more egregious waste of the tax-paying public’s money than DfiD’.

  7. RAF helicopter crews don’t need hotels (not all the time anyway) and can deliver aid.

    The military has been vandalised by recent governments when it has always been obvious, to me at least, that, as stated, RLC, Signals, RE and other specialist units supplemented by Hercules (can land on rapidly prepared landing strips), helicopters (Chinook is excellent) and movements staff can deploy very quickly. Navy vessels and RFA can carry vast quantities of materiel.

    An expanded military increases our own defence capabilities, employs tens of thousands of people in highly skilled careers and allows us to project our country better. The RE actually has bridge building kits and can lay roads and tracks, essential post natural disasters.

    Although the money would notionally be foreign aid, the reality is that the salaries would be paid to Brits and specialist kit could be built in UK factories.

    It’s a win-win, IMHO.

  8. If your country is hit by a major disaster, pray there’s a US Navy carrier group nearby.

    Just the ability a Nimitz class carrier has to produce fresh water by the megalitre is incredibly useful, let alone the helicopters, surveillance aircraft, specialist engineers and just plain grunts who can dig out wreckage or dig latrines to order and are disciplined enough not to loot and rape their way across your town,

    And though we Brits don’t have the ships and planes any more, we can probably still muster the disciplined grunts, and a pastor or two.

  9. Tim, you ask “Why anyone would think that infantry or armoured troops would be any good at this is beyond me. ”

    The answer is in the article you cite. Civitas is not talking about armored troops, but about:

    “dual-use helicopters, planes and ships” as part of a sweeping overhaul of UK aid policy, it said.”

    What might be an ideal ship to provide disaster relief?

    • Something with its own inexhaustible power supply?
    • Something able to produce a million gallons of fresh water every day from sea water?
    • Something with 4 or more hospitals containing medicines and other emergency supplies?
    • Something with its own airfield? And helicopters? So that fresh water and medicines and food can be distributed, and people needing critical medical attention can be evacuated?
    • Something with a global communications facility to assist in the coordination of regional disaster relief?

    Americans call these vessels aircraft carriers.

    Recall that in 2004, immediately following the Indian Ocean tsunami, America sent the USS Abraham Lincoln – along with its entire Carrier Strike Group – to Aceh Province in Sumatra. At the time you may also recall much of the rest of the world snickered about that cowboy George Bush who could only think of sending a military ship to a disaster site. In addition to the aircraft carrier, America sent many other military ships and aircraft, along with their trained personnel.

    I think it’s clear from the article you linked that these are the kinds of military resources Civitas is recommending U.K. develop for a disaster relief force, of course scaled to a budget U.K. can afford. Civitas is not suggesting armoured troops or military police.

  10. John (and Tim)

    Agree with all your comments about the efficacy of various types of military hardware, and Aceh is a good example.

    However, why not send military police? Looting is a regular problem following disasters. The very fabric of society is ripped apart as even the formerly prosperous, left destitute, are tempted to steal from their neighbours. The result – honest people are reluctant to leave disaster zones when warnings are received; they are in too much of a hurry to return once the disaster itself has passed but before infrastructure is made safe and sustainable.

    Local policemen may be equally affected by the tragedy, and local police forces are of varying quality the world over. Foreign military police, who can’t take home with them anything they steal, might more effectively prevent looting.

    Following the security of the human body and of critical infrastructure, security of private property is the next foundation for the restoration of order.

  11. Actually, infantry and armored troops are very good at distributing disaster relief.

    Our militaries have:
    1. A large number of decently disciplined people (that you’re already paying) sitting around waiting for a bit of hard work to come their way.

    2. The equipment and training to rapidly move those people across the globe.

    3. The materials and expertise needed to setup a comprehensive logistics structure – providing energy, food & water, medical, and repair capabilities – out in the middle of nowhere (while being shot at).

    There’s little reason to believe that creating *another* government organization to duplicate some of the functions of an already existing one is going to get you better outcomes.

    Heck, take us (or US) as an example – our military does amazingly good work in rapid response to disasters – except inside the US where FEMA has control.

  12. One of my last jobs in the military was at a unit whose sole purpose was moving cargo from MPS ships to shore to support amphibious invasions.
    We moved rolling stock, containers, pumped fuel and water ashore – all to locations that had no deepwater facilities (or actually had no piers or waterfront at all – straight to the beach).

    In the last 10 ears the unit has deployed once in support of combat operations. It has gone into operation about every other year for disaster relief somewhere.

  13. Richard // Jan 2, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    You would send military police – you’d send a whole slew of different specialties (police/medical/engineering/supply). But MP’s are a small percentage of the force so you send some regular troops in also. 1. Because the troops tend to like doing this stuff almooost as much as actual warfighting and because they’re dual-use.
    You can send them out on security patrols as ees and ears and attach an MP to provide the police expertise when its needed. And if the’re not doing that there are any number of tasks that require one guy managing and a bunch of guys moving heavy shit from one point to another.

  14. In which I find myself (with regret) agreeing with t’blogger.

    The armed forces’ job is to blow things up and kill people (or to be ready and able to do so). Not nice, but there you go. Everything else is a sideline. If their main skill has other uses, great. If training them to blow things up and kill people has beneficial side effects, even better. If they’re good at rescue, grand, but that’s not what we pay them for. Sorry.

  15. Luke…so you would pay them to rest in idleness rather than doing good where their skills and discipline really would be useful? I fail to understand the Bath tendency here. is it a residual bow to Austen – we do not want soldiers to do nasty but useful things when they could escort our young ladies to balls?

  16. I tend to agree with previous commenters, that we absolutely do want to deploy military assets and personnel into disaster zones.

    I profoundly disagree with the Civitas notion of a military derived force dedicated exclusively to disaster relief. Within five years of such a measure, that force would be useless, because it would attract all the wrong sorts of people, and its mission would get incrementally warped.

    We are already fairly good at reacting quickly and with appropriate resources, military, medical, and engineering wise.

  17. So Much for Subtlety

    Surreptitious Evil – “But, Tim has a minor point – it’s not the infantry or the cavalry. It’s the RLC and the Royal Engineers, with a bit of Signals in there to provide the comms. And the Navy and Air Force for your heavy lift.”

    I don’t see why the infantry and cavalry wouldn’t be useful. Sure it is not their main job and they should not specialise in it, but when a disaster hits you need able bodied people used to taking order who can actually get things done. All sorts of things. No end of things really.

    “And, to be honest, a whole bunch of more-or-less disciplined people, used to working in harsh conditions, don’t require 4 star hotels (okay, except the Air Force and that’s only the air crew themselves) and aren’t going to pull out if the food is a bit samey – even the combat arms might have their uses.”

    Indeed. Compare them with the alternative – all those Fionas and Petronellas who make up our foreign aid professionals. How are they going to cope? What use could they possibly be? Can you imagine asking them to bury a few thousand bodies? Look at Haiti where any number of well meaning Americans rushed in and all they seem to have done is stepped in each other’s feet.

    The combat arms have one main task apart from fighting – going places other people have tried hard to stop them going and hence do not have good transportation. That “break in” is their job. Which means they come with vehicles designed to move over rough terrain – tanks for instance. Now there is no need for a MBT in a disaster that I can see, but those CVR(T)s, not that we have many any more, would be useful – they are designed to go places without bridges or proper roods. To help them the Engineers have centuries of experience in rapidly putting up bridges. It is their job after all.

    So they have all the right tools and the right experience. It is the sort of job it is hard to imagine anyone else doing.

  18. Sounds rather colonial to me.
    If your government can’t care fior you why have them.
    The benevolent whites will send in they good guys. Oh and leave when not needed of course.

  19. So Much for Subtlety

    john malpas – “Sounds rather colonial to me. If your government can’t care fior you why have them. The benevolent whites will send in they good guys. Oh and leave when not needed of course.”

    That is the reality of the world. If sh!t needs doing it is only the First World, and the White First World at that, that is going to do much. Whether or not they should is another matter, but China ain’t curing cancer. India is not funding the anti-polio drive. Exactly the same factors – European technological dominance and concern for our fellow (African) man – that drove European colonialism is driving aid in Africa. The underlying reality has not changed. We just don’t like to do it openly or seriously over the long term.

    I don’t think most people got asked whether they wanted a government or not. It sort of turned up post-Independence and said they were in charge now. So the issue is not whether they can care for people or not, but how badly the sheep will be shorn. And whether they will be slaughtered. As Saint Augustine said, the only thing that distinguishes government from banditry is justice and African governments seem intent on proving how little justice they need to provide.

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