This guest blog by Lenin Tinashe Chisaira (candidate on the UCC LLM International Human Rights Law & Public Policy programme) reflects on his experience in the Viking18 civil-military training exercise in Custume Barracks, Athlone.
The Exercise Viking18 on civil-military cooperation in crisis response and peace operations was conducted from 16th – 26th April 2018 at sites in Brazil, Bulgaria, Finland, Ireland, Serbia and Sweden, with over 2,500 military personnel and civilian humanitarians simultaneously working on the same fictitious scenario in real-time. The Swedish Armed Forces are the primary coordinator and host of the exercise, in conjunction with the Folke Bernadotte Academy (the Swedish agency for peace, security and development). The Viking training exercises are held every four years; therefore 2018 was an opportune time for the dozen law and international relations students from University College Cork who applied and got selected to participate in the exercise. It was an informative and hectic week for students interested in international humanitarian law.
The exercise is conducted in real-time. The Exercise Viking focused on the fictional State of Bogaland, whose map, however, is modelled on Sweden. There is an excellent level of seriousness from both military, police and civilian participants and that makes the whole exercise worthwhile. The Exercise Viking indeed develops a sense of ‘on the ground’ experience for all participants.
In Ireland, the exercise was conducted at Custume Barracks in Athlone, County Westmeath. The participating UCC team was joined by other students from University College Dublin and NUI Maynooth. Students were divided amongst dedicated Irish Aid mentors, and they participated in the simulated ground operations of some humanitarian aid agencies. These agencies included the Red Cross, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN Mission in Bogaland (UNMIB), the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and non-governmental organisations (NGO).
As UCC students, we had some helpful prior pieces of training in Cork, conducted by our UCC coordinators Dr Dug Cubie from the School of Law and Dr David Fitzgerald from the School of History. We also had a briefing from Comdt Laura Fitzpatrick, from the Defence Forces Ireland. She is also the Chief Instructor at the United Nations Training School Ireland (UNTSI).
As a participant, I was first deployed to the Red Cross office and then to the OCHA office due to the availability of experienced mentors. My day during the exercise would start at 0700hrs each morning with breakfast and then going over the events of the previous night. Information was shared via email, telephone and especially dedicated social media and newspapers. I would draft emails to seek clarity on specific issues with the military side of the exercise.
There were also daily briefing meetings. As a participant, I attended the OCHA briefing meetings with humanitarian agencies where we planned activities such as the deployment of secure aid convoys to disaster-affected regions of Bogaland. This participation in meetings was very informative as it informed how civilians and the military should communicate in a conflict zone.
I also managed to attend some army briefings as an observer, notably the morning Commanders Briefing and the Operations Briefing. During the Commanders Briefing, leaders of each army unit from intelligence, operations, legal and others would brief the commander about the situation on the ground and discuss the planned activities for the next 24 hours. This method was also the situation with the Operations Briefing.
On the overall, the Exercise Viking was a critical and practical element to my LLM experience in Ireland. I imagine that it was similarly helpful and practical for all the other participating students, civilian, police and military personnel from around the world. It added a real-world dimension on what life and interaction would be like in a humanitarian situation, in conflict areas.
The only downside is that the exercise is only held every 3-4 years, which means such an opportunity would only be availed to students and other stakeholders in the year 2021.
For future participants, the training is a once in a lifetime event, and it adds to the practical side of learning. It is a welcome experience that holds together lessons from international humanitarian law, international relations, development planning, crisis response, and conflict resolution and human rights sides. And yes, in the end, we were awarded #Viking18 pins and certificates for successful participation in Exercise Viking 18.