New Course Brings Humanitarian Perspective on Conflicts in the Indo-Pacific

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Public Affairs

CAMP H. M. SMITH, Hawaii -- Fifteen U.S. Marines from various units under 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force participated virtually in the first official Humanitarian Assistance Response Training (HART)-Conflict course run by the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DM) Jan. 3-6, 2022, at Camp H. M. Smith, Hawaii.

The four-day course was designed to provide the joint force an understanding of how to support and, if necessary, perform humanitarian assistance in times of conflict. The course covered topics such as the humanitarian notification system, civil-military coordination mechanisms, preparing for large-scale civilian displacement, humanitarian conflict analysis, access and security, and the consequences of armed conflict and war.

“The HART-C course challenges U.S. Indo-Pacific Command planners and operators to consider the consequences of military operations on both civilian populations and the humanitarian community who will serve those in need in conflict scenarios,” said Gregory St. Pierre, an instructor with CFE-DM for the HART-C course. “The course looks at both complex emergencies and conflict scenarios to uncover how militaries may interact with civilian populations in crisis.”

For more than 20 years, the CFE-DM has held a monthly course for the joint staff on humanitarian response during disaster situations in the Indo-Pacific region. In the evolving era of great power competition, the center became aware that military interactions with civilians and humanitarians may not be limited to peacetime response to natural disasters.

“We want to prepare for the next fight, not the last fight,” said Maj. Robert Boudreau, a HART student and the Civil Affairs Detachment 22.1 Commander with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Hansen, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, Okinawa, Japan. “Case studies and lessons-learned should be adopted for the Marine Corps’ next challenges in the littorals. This course improved the students’ awareness for developing civil considerations within the operating environment, which is invaluable in future planning.”

The populations of the Indo Pacific are highly urbanized and clustered in littorals, which means any complex emergency in this area of responsibility will almost certainly result in significant numbers of civilians being directly impacted, St. Pierre said. Our planners and operators need to be ready to meet those challenges and uphold our requirement to minimize civilian harm as specified in the Laws of Armed Conflict.

While the course was held virtually this year, future iterations will be held in person to ensure optimal group discussion and collaboration. This will allow for several guest lecturers and speakers to include panelists from the U.S. interagency, United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross, think tanks and academics, and other members of the humanitarian community.

“In addition to taking steps to avoid causing harm to their own military operations, U.S. military leaders, planners, and their security partners need a sophisticated understanding of the international organizations that operate in these environments to best engage them and enable their capabilities for response,” said Josh Szimonisz, the HART Program Manager.

Currently course attendees include U.S. military members and civilians but instructors at the center recognize the importance of combined efforts with security partners.

“The target audience for the two HART courses is the U.S. Joint Force,” said Szimonisz. “However, much of the content presented in both courses is used for other engagements with partners and allies around the region.”

During the course instructors used a variety of case studies on recent major urban operations to further emphasize the impact conflict can have on civilian populations. At the end of the course students are put to the test through a small group mission analysis. Together they must assess a potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific and map out how civilians could be impacted by military operations.