In recent years CIMIC became almost a synonym for participation in missions abroad. Most of NATO and EU member countries went through Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other deployments abroad, where their armed forces stood up for a broad range of tasks in close cooperation with the local population. Between the 90’s and 2015, this framework of multinational operations under NATO, UN, or EU arguably brought in most CIMIC experience, and it naturally shaped our understanding and perception of CIMIC roles and tasks. In this period, CIMIC was a part of broader nation-building and peace support toolkit put in use in foreign and often very socio-culturally different countries from a Central Europe perspective.
The annexation of Crimea and subsequent low-intensity armed conflict with separatists in Eastern Ukraine, which escalated into a full-blown Russian invasion on 24. February 2022 triggered a chain of major reactions. NATO and foremost eastern flank states are beefing up the allied military presence, and overall defense posture. Flagship examples are enhanced forward presence deployments, which bring many CIMIC interactions abroad yet on allied territory. Both countries of deployment and countries where deployed forces are coming from are targeted by subversive propaganda and disinformation.
At the same time, Europe’s southern border got its own experience of migration pressures originating in the Middle East and the Maghreb conflict areas. Such development was usually intrinsically connected with social upheavals, political instability, violent extremism, and terrorism. Several national governments reacted by deploying armed forces in support of police, border control, and other law enforcement agencies. While southern and eastern flank threats are very different in many aspects, both present significant security challenges bringing our attention from foreign deployments back home.
Also, other changes in the security environment are increasing pressure on the use of armed forces during peace on their territory. First, it is climate change with unpredictable and extreme weather. From floods, heat waves to wildfires, and heavy storms, we increasingly face extreme situations, which are overwhelming to civil crisis response agencies. Such scenarios involve the capabilities and capacities of armed forces. The same problem was already experienced during the second wave of COVID-19 when without the armed forces’ direct and indirect participation, many public health, and crisis management systems would arguably crumble. We see a rise in the use of armed forces at home or allied territory, and we have reason to expect this trend to grow in the coming decade. Hand in hand, there is a need to rethink the legal framework, roles, and tasks of CIMIC to adapt it effectively to changed circumstances of force deployments and interactions with own populations.
Recent experiences of V4 countries with armed forces deployment at home are tied with battling the COVID-19 pandemic, response to natural or man-made disasters, and support of law enforcement in border security or terrorism-related situations. Three main areas can be identified: adequacy of the legal framework; crisis management system asymmetries; interagency cooperation and collaboration.
Adequacy of legal frameworks
Democratic constitutions and laws strictly define and limit the use of armed forces. This is especially true during the peace and the use of the state’s own territory. Also, regarding national security tasks, considering the non-military crisis response and relief actions are coming only after the primary core tasks of armed forces defending the state against foreign invasion or another type of armed aggression, securing sovereignty, and territorial integrity, and fulfilling the obligations arising from international agreements. This setting might restrict and limit effectivity of homeland armed forces’ prolonged deployment. Such deployments might be necessary to deal with complex crisis scenarios triggered by severe outcomes of climate change, terrorist threats, public health emergencies, or other situations. Therefore, it is necessary to review the dedicated legal framework, tasks, and processes of the national security system to determine which reforms and changes are needed. Recent experience with the use of the armed forces to battle the COVID-19 pandemic is an ideal starting point to do so.
Crisis Management System Asymmetries
In homeland deployment, the basic rule is that the nature of the challenge determines who is the leader, who is supported, and who is the supporting organization. The armed forces in the peace are naturally a supporting organization in crisis response and management efforts. However, they often bring in essential capacities like large-scale planning and logistics or unique capabilities like the deployment of military hardware. Also, compared with other agencies, the armed forces can quickly offer a big pool of trained personnel. Such asymmetry brings armed forces into a situation when their role is to support, but as they carry the key weight of crisis response or management efforts, armed forces in such situations de facto lead. It should also, be noted that prolonged deployments may excessively burden the armed forces’ resources and mess with their mandatory training processes and other responsibilities.
Neither armed forces nor dedicated civil agencies can alone cover all ever-growing security challenges. The national security system needs more people to face the changed reality of the security environment.
The crisis management system asymmetries can be to a significant degree attributed to evaporation of civil defense, privatization of health care providers within an integrated rescue system, and rather ad-hoc development of firefighters, police, and other security and rescue forces. Reinforcing currently understaffed and underfunded civil agencies might not be easy under budgetary restrictions resulting from the recession caused by the pandemic. Neither broad usage of armed forces as last resort responders without additional resources and legal framework changes will deliver desirable outcomes. From the armed forces’ point of view, a viable solution might be found in rethinking our reserves and active reserves systems.
Interagency cooperation and collaboration
Armed forces interoperability is usually discussed in regards to cooperation with other allied or partner nations’ militaries. In homeland deployment, we need to refocus on interagency cooperation and collaboration with the police, border patrol, firefighters, and other relevant security or rescue agencies. Also, homeland deployments might be in need to include not only state-level but also municipal and local. Of course, NGOs, civil society groups, and even unassociated volunteers should be considered while thinking about potential homeland deployment cooperation issues in the future. Successful cooperation is based on a common language, the same terminology, the use of the same procedures, and the tools to communicate and plan, transferring data and information. Establishing, developing, understanding, and accepting the cooperation will bring vital, mutual benefits to all participants.
While adequacy of the legal framework, asymmetries within the crisis management systems, and interagency cooperation are key issues for future CIMIC arrangements, there are further topics deserving more attention. First, there is the topic of civil preparedness and national resilience. These are key enablers for armed forces to focus on their primary tasks. Moreover, there would not be much for armed forces to defend if the government and society lose their ability to function. There is an intrinsic interdependency between armed forces proveness and civil preparedness. The civilian sector broadly supports military operations, while armed forces help secure and defend the civilian sector’s functioning. This relation should be at the center of CIMIC’s focus from strategic levels down to tactical and practical matters. Aside from NATO’s seven baseline requirements, which address “material” aspects of resilience, we need to nurture and cultivate “psychological” aspects of resilience both individually and collectively.
The role of the CIMIC, in this case, is to inform and promote armed forces as respectable, professional role model state institution toward the general public and build unique relations with specific audiences.
Participation should be built and cultivated in several areas like youth work and education, military veterans, former policemen, firefighters, and other professionals possessing valuable skillsets and experience, reserves, and systematized work with volunteers.
As a vital subtopic of civil preparedness, we identified civil participation and engagement in national security. Neither armed forces nor dedicated civil agencies can alone cover all ever-growing security challenges. The national security system needs more people to face the changed reality of the security environment. While professional forces create the very core, they need to enhance their capacities and reach through broad civil participation. Participation should be built and cultivated in several areas like youth work and education, military veterans, former policemen, firefighters, and other professionals possessing valuable skillsets and experience, reserves, and systematized work with volunteers.
Lack of proper crisis and strategic communications often diminish the effectiveness of institutional efforts in general and cause an unnecessary negative public opinion, which tends to trigger hasty and backfiring political decisions. CIMIC can play an important role of “translator” of military-style communication into a format suitable for the general public and help to create much-needed proximity between society and armed forces, which are highly trusted yet mainly unknown and distant in public perception. Communication activities should also become a routine element of joint interagency exercises of crisis management, and this should go hand in hand with creating dedicated communication capabilities and capacities of all relevant actors.