2022 - REPORT - ACTING TO PRESERVE THE HUMANITARIAN SPACE: WHAT ROLE FOR THE ALLIES AND FOR NATO?

Rodrigue DEMEUSE (Belgium) - REPORT

19 November 2022

While the needs of civilian populations trapped in increasingly numerous, protracted and complex conflicts continue to grow, humanitarian organisations have never faced so many obstacles in responding to them. Violent attacks are frequently perpetrated against their personnel, despite the protection that international law provides. In addition, ever more restrictive administrative and legal constraints hinder their missions. 

Yet their role is vital, since by assisting the most defenceless people who are affected by violence, humanitarian actors foster conditions for a return to stability and peace in countries at war. In a globalised world, the consequences of a conflict can be felt across borders and far from combat zones. Thus, humanitarian action also contributes indirectly to the security of countries across the world, including Allied nations. Pushing back against the shrinking of humanitarian space is therefore both a moral and security imperative for Allies and the Alliance.

NATO's new Strategic Concept, adopted by the Heads of State and Government at the Madrid Summit in June 2022, recognises the scale, gravity and security impact of the humanitarian challenges posed by the current rise in violence against civilians in conflict situations. The brutality of Russia's latest illegal invasion of Ukraine since 24 February 2022 tragically demonstrates the truth of this statement. 

Given the situation, this report initiates a reflection on the role that the Alliance can, and must, play at the national and collective levels to safeguard humanitarian action in the context of conflicts. In particular, it urges Allies and, where appropriate, NATO bodies to continue integrating this issue into their doctrines and military practices; to work towards improving the application of international law worldwide; to remove the constraints weighing on humanitarian actors; and to increasingly share perspectives and best practices between Allied nations and with their partners.