Amid appalling news of man-made brutality from Yemen, Syria and other conutries a ray of humanity penetrates, recalling senior military figures who have advocated a constructive use of military skills, in environmental work, emergencies, peacekeeping, peace building and – first and foremost they would say – defence of their country’s border.
Michael Harbottle, a former chief of peacekeeping forces in Cyprus, pointed out the advantages of using military skills and equipment in What is Proper Soldiering? p15:
“From time immemorial armies and navies have responded to calls for help in peacetime. Now the air forces can provide an additional dimension to that help by being able to transport aid and rescue teams into remote and isolated areas not easily accessible by land. Flooding and earthquakes have been the more prevalent disasters for which all three services of the armed forces have been required. The navy with their small craft have provided a means of reaching and bringing to safety stranded victims of cyclone disasters”.
General Eustace D’Souza (Mumbai) gave a memorable and well-received One World Trust lecture in the House of Commons in 2001.
He spoke about his work promoting the creation of a structure for environmental protection within the three Indian armed services, so that today every unit has a specific environmental role to play. He regarded this as central to global security and part of the whole ‘web of life’.
The San Diego UnionTribune reports that in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Federal Labour Agency chief Frank-Juergen Weise formally initiated a pilot project on Thursday.
Refugees from the Syrian bombardment are learning how to reconstruct houses and acquiring other civil reconstruction skills at a German military education centre where, for 12 weeks, military experts are teaching 120 refugees engineering, construction, sanitation and other skills in three four-week courses. “The goal is for these young people to get good basic training,” the defense minister told reporters.
Von der Leyen said the idea is that the eventual rebuilding of Syria will need “more than just new stones, it will take people with confidence and diverse skills.” Even if the refugees decide not to return home, the programme will help them to acquire the skills they need to work in Germany. Ali Sharqi, a Syrian refugee, took time out from learning how to repair a damaged house to talk with reporters; his primary goal is to learn a marketable skill. As the minister, Ursula von der Leyen said, “We don’t know how long it will take until they can return, so they have to be able to make a living while they are here”.
Eirwen Harbottle recalls meeting Dr (later Prof) Ewan Anderson (geopolitics, Durham University), who has carried out research and practical studies in the Middle East on water and minerals resources issues, international boundary disputes, particularly relating to water, refugee movements, development, minerals and strategic resources. He discussed a joint project in which he would analyse the scientific research presently carried out by different armed forces into environmental/climate issues, while Michael Harbottle would concentrate on the psychological impact on military thinking.
She added that it was clear that individuals in the armed forces who were engaged in environmental protection and allied research, were developing a very different mindset from the old, traditional ideas about ‘expertise in warfighting’ being the basis of security.