Reflections from the Exercise Viking18 on civil-military cooperation in multinational crisis response and peace operations

Viking18 Red Cross team

Viking18 Red Cross team

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.

On International Law, Military Intervention in Syria and Complexity: Seán Butler IRC PhD candidate

Welcoming Seán Butler, IRC PhD candidate at UCC Faculty of Law


Peacekeeping EmblemMilitary intervention in Syria, in the form of a bombing campaign conducted by Western powers, is a likely event in the coming weeks. With the UK no longer participating due a defeated motion in the House of Commons last week, action will most likely be undertaken by the US, for which President Obama will seek Congressional approval next week, and France. After two and a half years of international inaction in Syria, this new impetus for involvement in the conflict is a result of a chemical weapon attack that occurred in the countryside surrounding Damascus on 21 August, in which somewhere between 400 and 1400 people were killed. There is still a good deal of controversy over whether the attack was committed by forces loyal to the Assad regime or by a rebel group, although the US claims it has evidence that strongly points to the government as the culprits.

What is missing from the above paragraph from an international law perspective is UN Security Council authorisation. The UN Charter is very clear on the issue of the use of force in international relations: it may only be used in individual or collective self-defence (Article 51), or if authorised by the Security Council to “maintain or restore international peace and security”. States are not permitted to use military power to unilaterally enforce another state’s obligations under international norms or treaties (for a discussion of the possible need for such an addition to international law, see Pierre-Marie Dupuy (2012), “Back to the Future of a Multilateral Dimension of the Law of State Responsibility for Breaches of ‘Obligations Owed to the International Community as a Whole’”, 23(4) European Journal of International Law 1059-1069).

Contrary to some media reports, the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine does not offer a viable avenue for engagement, as the version endorsed by the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document only enjoins action under the Security Council umbrella (the original 2001 version proposed by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty does briefly speak of ‘alternative’ avenues to the Security Council, but this does not reflect customary international law). Such an authorisation is not likely given that Russia and China have previously vetoed three draft Resolutions on Syria before the Council, due to political and economic ties to the Assad regime and the fallout from NATO exceeding its Security Council mandate to overthrow the Gaddafi regime in Libya in 2011 (as discussed in my previous contribution to this blog).

The use of chemical weapons does not change the legal landscape in Syria, which leads to the question of why the attack has moved the Western powers to forcefully intervene in the conflict whereas more than 100,000 deaths previously did not. The most likely explanation is that the Obama administration is seeking to deter future uses of chemical weapons both specifically by the Assad regime and more generally by increasing the cost of using such weapons. While this is a noble gesture when taken in isolation, it is morally gruesome when viewed in the light of the many apparently acceptable deaths by ‘conventional’ weaponry in the war and normatively dangerous when seen in the context of its blatant disregard for international law. Such a policy also hints that any intervention will be very limited, with no real attempt to influence the material outcome of the conflict.

While the moral problems of the Western approach to the conflict are perhaps obvious, the impact of the legal problems may require further elaboration. After all, to quote the late jurist Antonio Cassese (speaking on NATO’s ‘illegal but legitimate’ intervention in Kosovo in 1999), ‘should one remain silent and inactive only because the existing body of international law proves incapable of remedying such a situation?’ What is the value in upholding a law that prevents the international community from acting to allay suffering or punish a regime willing to commit atrocities upon its own people?

It is obvious that the Security Council is a highly flawed institution that often fails to act when it is needed most. However, it needs to be viewed as ultimately an arena of political compromise rather than a strictly legal entity. Its composition, in particular its five permanent members and their respective vetoes, stems from a recognition that the sphere of international relations is dominated by a small group of powerful states, between whom a balance of power is necessary to maintain. It must be remembered that the Council’s primary mandate is the maintenance of peace rather than the protection of human rights. In this rarefied air of power politics, international law acts as a language of negotiation, a delineation of what is permissible and desirable. It seeks to map the progression of international consensus with regards to the communal good.

The restrictions on the use of force are designed to ensure its use for the benefit of the international community rather than any individual state’s self-interest. What that ‘communal good’ is should not be conflated with a narrow Western conception of it. While we may abhor the protection of state sovereignty at the expense of human rights, many in the developing world see sovereignty as a crucial bulwark against the onslaught of Western imperialism. Syria is an immensely hard case in this regard, and it is hard to accept the deaths of thousands of people when the West could do ‘something’ about it. What constitutes that ‘something’ is problematic, however, and we are naïve if we believe that Western military intervention will automatically improve the situation.

The Russian and Chinese block on legal action under the Security Council may be representative of self-interest, but it also represents a deep scepticism about what military action can do to improve the situation in Syria. The civil war in Syria is an interlocking series of messy conflicts involving political, ethnic, religious and wider regional interests. It cannot be bombed into a solution. Unilateral military action in Syria not only represents a misguided attempt at ‘doing something’ to deal with the conflict, but disregards the notion that there are conceptions of the communal good beyond what Western leaders narrowly perceive it to be. As such, the victims are likely to be not only the people of Syria, but faith in international law as a means by which that good can be realised.



The world must not stand idly by as Gadafy murders his own people

Dr Siobhan Mullally

This piece was originially published as an Opinion piece in the Irish Times on 12 March 2011

THE CRISIS in Libya presents new Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore with many urgent and pressing questions. As yet, the international community has failed to respond effectively to this unfolding humanitarian crisis. Disagreement at the United Nations Security Council and the threat of veto from both Russia and China is continuing to limit the possibility of a concerted collective response to the crisis. A draft resolution imposing a no-fly zone has been prepared by the UK and France, apparently ready to be formally presented if Libya commits an “egregious act”.

Egregious acts are, however, already occurring, and it is not clear that, even in such an event, consensus would be forthcoming.

Sadly, for observers of the security council, such disagreement and paralysis in the face of mass atrocity is all too familiar.

In the 1990s, the UN’s failure to intervene in Rwanda and Srebrenica contributed directly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, and led finally to the recognition that the UN’s role in protecting civilians was in need of urgent and dramatic reform.

Many international law commentators have pointed to the parallels between the Libyan and Kosovan crises. In 1999, inaction on the part of the Security Council in the face of widespread human rights violations in Kosovo ultimately led to unilateral action by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), without security council authorisation.

The independent Commission on Kosovo, established by the UN secretary general in the wake of the Nato action, concluded that the intervention was “illegal”, but legitimate. The spectre of inaction in the face of a humanitarian crisis could not be countenanced.

Following quickly on the Kosovan crisis, the security council authorised intervention in East Timor, but only when it had secured an invitation from Indonesia, and only after Indonesian and militia forces had run amok, killing, raping and pillaging with impunity.

In his essay “Two Concepts of Sovereignty”, then UN secretary general Kofi Annan called on the international community to reach consensus – not only on the principle that massive and systematic violations of human rights must be checked, wherever they take place, but also on ways of deciding what action is necessary, and when, and by whom.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine, developed through a series of high-level meetings of heads of state and governments in the early years of the new millennium, sought to address the past failings of the UN. At the heart of the R2P doctrine is the commitment by the international community, acting through the UN, to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, to protect populations from genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The crisis in Libya represents precisely the kind of situation envisaged by the R2P doctrine. The possibility of effective action by the UN, however, faces the hurdles of realpolitik and the self-interested disengagement by Russia and China, mindful no doubt of the potential for Jasmine revolutions to extend beyond this Arab Spring.

The security council has taken a first step towards a decisive response to the crisis. Security council Resolution 1970, adopted on February 26th, imposed a targeted regime of sanctions, and, reflecting the commitment to pursue accountability, the security council referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court.

Significantly, the resolution was adopted unanimously, with support from the US. This support reflects the Obama administration’s policy of positive engagement, a welcome reprieve from the Bush administration’s open and hostile opposition to the court.

The swift referral of the situation to the court is remarkable, given the delays that usually accompany negotiations on the role of the court. The referral of the situation in Libya is not without its difficulties, however. Libya is not a party to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, and Col Gadafy has been a vocal opponent, along with other African heads of state, of the court’s role in Africa, calling in particular for a deferral of the arrest warrant against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir.

All of the situations and cases currently before the court concern African states, raising questions as to the impartiality of the court and doubts as to why similar referrals did not occur in the context of Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2009, for example.

For the moment, African states have not opposed the security council’s actions against Libya, though South Africa (a non-permanent member of the security council), is reported to be sceptical of the proposed no-fly zone and possible military action.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has now officially opened the investigation into the Libyan crisis, warning that crimes against humanity may be occurring, and that those responsible will be held accountable.

While these developments are to be welcomed, sanctions and the pursuit of accountability are not enough. Judicial remedies, while important, will not, and are not, deterring Col Gadafy and his forces from committing mass atrocity against innocent civilians. It now seems unlikely the US will support or lead any unilateral action against Libya. Nato continues to discuss its possible role in imposing a no-fly zone.

The doctrine of humanitarian intervention recognises the possibility of unilateral action, when a state’s actions against its own civilians are “so brutal as to shock the conscience of mankind”.

The actions of Gadafy’s forces have clearly met this threshold, shocking and distressing all those watching.

On accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama spoke eloquently of the idea of a just war. He also called for the strengthening of the international institutions and international law. Over the last decade, both the US and the UK have invoked the doctrine of humanitarian intervention to support military action, when the UN failed to act. Over-extended now by conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, and chastened by the errors of past administrations, neither look likely now to act without UN support.

The UN must respond. It is imperative that the security council fulfils its responsibility to the people of Libya, if it is not to be rendered irrelevant yet again in the face of a grave humanitarian crisis. Decisive action, including the immediate authorisation of a no-fly zone, is required.