Civil protection as an instrument of German stabilization efforts

by Viola Csordas, Maren Jaschke, Fredrik Wallin, Sabrina Manteuffel · April 17th, 2023.

Despite its enormous potential, politicians overlook the peacebuilding effect of disaster management bodies and civil protection. However, these institutions can strengthen social cohesion, contribute to women empowerment and prevent extremism. 

When people affected by natural disasters feel left alone, they lose trust in state structures and the values of the international community. To avoid and prevent this, effective support against the effects of disasters can curb extremist narratives and help contain systemic conflicts. In competition with authoritarian forms of society, the western value system has lost a great deal of credibility and attractiveness in recent years. A new focus on aspects of reform that are geared even more closely to human security can serve as a unique selling point for the West in the systemic conflict. 

Key Points

  1. Germany's stabilization efforts should give greater priority to civil protection in order to promote societal resilience holistically in partner countries.
  2. Civil protection and voluntary work improve social cohesion, prevent extremism and restore trust in state structures.
  3. Berlin should invest in the analysis of past and existing measures in order to generate knowledge about which approaches are particularly promising.

Invest in a Holistic Approach

Due to climate change, natural disasters will become more frequent and intense. It is important to address this holistically. So how can German foreign policy strategically reconcile internal and external security with combating the climate crisis and its foreign policy committed to human security? For the national security strategy, it is crucial to strengthen societal resilience in both Germany's foreign and security policy engagement in the context of conflict prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding. That means promoting multiple actors reaching from state civil protection in the partner countries, other security sector actors, civil society structures and volunteers. There already exist promising approaches for this.

Germany should specifically invest in three areas: First, in giving greater weight to civil protection measures within Germany's stabilization commitment. Second, in the combination of technical competence with approaches to peacebuilding and the prevention of extremism. And third, in generating knowledge about what approaches work.

Promising examples include measures by the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) and analyses by the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF). Financed by the German Federal Foreign Office, THW has for many years been implementing projects abroad with selected partner countries such as Iraq (since 2018), Jordan (since 2016) and Tunisia (since 2012). The projects aimed to set up, train and equip volunteer structures in civil protection. Moreover, DCAF is conducting a study in four countries on existing mandates and opportunities of the security sector in relation to climate change and specifically disaster risk reduction. The study deals with the potential of the security sector for peacebuilding and strengthening social cohesion.

Source: DCAF


Strengthen Civil Protection in the Stabilization Efforts

The projects by THW demonstrate the great potential to strengthen overall societal resilience at the practical level, which is necessary due to natural disasters that occur more frequently and with greater intensity. The projects aim to train partner countries to be able to fall back on volunteer structures in the event of a disaster, in order to be able to act more comprehensively themselves. This is important for three reasons: First, the volunteer teams reinforce the state rescue services, which do not always have sufficient capacity, especially in remote areas. Second, during the earthquake in Turkey it was again confirmed that local forces, which are already present when disaster strikes, rescue a majority of survivors. This is mainly due to the longer reaction times of national and international rescue services, and it illustrates how important it is to promote structures at the local level that are ready to be mobilised immediately and on site in the event of an emergency. And third, actively strengthening the resilience of society as a whole can also reduce vulnerability to natural disasters. The aim is to create the conditions that ensure that extreme weather events do not turn into catastrophes with high costs for life and property.

The DCAF study shows that civil protection places special demands on the skills, equipment and financial resources of the responsible actors in the security sector, such as authorities, the military and the police. However, donors, e.g. of capacitation measures, exclude the targeted promotion of these functions.

Source: JCC (provided by THW)

In the event of a natural disaster, sufficient personnel with technical skills are required for rescue operations. However, this staff must also be able to understand risk factors and scientific data as well as to integrate needs-based assessments into strategic and operational planning processes. When it comes to fulfilling material needs, for example, vehicles, rescue equipment, equipment for protection and communication must be kept ready. Moreover, their benefits are not necessarily limited to emergencies. Particularly poorer and fragile countries, such as Sierra Leone – one of the case studies for the abovementioned DCAF study – cannot always provide readily available operational equipment. International donors should therefore provide these countries with financial resources so that they can carry out their civil protection tasks. This financial support includes: the provision, maintenance and operation of equipment and vehicles (in several of the countries examined, for example, fuel allocation was insufficient), as well as education and regular training of the emergency services. Working in a highly complex area also requires close coordination with a wide range of other actors: Among them are other organizations in the security sector, such as civil protection, military and police, but also civil authorities such as meteorology, agriculture and urban planning, as well as church actors or the Red Cross/Crescent.

In addition to the civil protection authorities and institutions, the military and police often also play a central role in civil protection. Depending on the national structure, they are either the main actors, support civil structures or coordinate the various actors in the security sector. Direct contact with the civilian population requires a high level of civil-military skills from the military and police. Dealing sensitively with civilians is particularly important in disaster situations and in contexts where uniformed personnel are viewed with skepticism based on past experience. However, most of the security actors surveyed do not have sufficient skills in that regard.

Within its stabilization commitment, Germany should give greater weight to the area of civil protection. First, the voluntary work model of the THW and many other actors in German civil protection is a unique instrument that should be further expanded and be used in other regions of the world. Second, the training, equipping and advising of partners in the security sector, for example as part of the capacitation initiative, should increasingly focus on building capabilities for civil protection. An important element here would also be support for the establishment of appropriate governance and management structures within the partner institutions in order to use these capacities effectively, efficiently and accountably. Third, Germany should work to ensure that the UN Peacebuilding Commission or mandates for CSDP and UN peacekeeping missions attach greater importance to civil protection and civilian components.

Source: JCC (provided by THW)


Combine Peace Promotion and Extremism Prevention More Consciously

The example of the THW projects and the DCAF study also shows the potential to use cooperation with regards to civil protection in promoting peace and preventing extremism as well as thereby strengthening social cohesion and achieving peace and women-empowering effects.

The THW projects show how the involvement of citizens in voluntary work in state action strengthens social cohesion. This happens because state and civil society actors come together to solve problems together - both in preparation and training, as well as during actual operations. Particularly the practically oriented training courses help bring conflicting population groups into contact and reconcile them. For example, a training session with participants from the Kurdistan region of Iraq and from central Iraq was consistently regarded as positive. In Jordan, Jordanian civil protection officers are training Syrian refugees, which has led to successful joint operations. In the long term, this can contribute to rapprochement between the refugee and Jordanian host communities. This great peace-making potential was also evident during a recent deployment in the regions of Turkey affected by the earthquake: Volunteers from the Kurdistan-Iraq region worked together with Turkish emergency services.

These elements are also highly relevant for the prevention of extremism. In Tunisia, volunteering enables young people to integrate socially and gives them a wider perspective. This involvement in civil society structures and the opportunity to make an active contribution to society, as well as to feel respected and useful, can prevent young people from joining extremist groups. Volunteering also conveys common values and norms, such as commitment and helpfulness, while respecting the variety of the most diverse social groups.

Finally, these projects can promote and include women - in the spirit of feminist foreign policy. In addition to targeted support for women, the projects can also change the position of women in civil protection in general. For example, in Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia women make up between 26% and 45% of the volunteers and furthermore fill some of the managerial positions. Where women and men work together on a common cause, gender-specific reservations and biases are dismantled. Despite this enormous potential, politicians have so far perceived THW projects more from a technical perspective and overlooked the potential peace-building effect.

Source: DCAF

The first results of the DCAF study make it clear that active support for civil protection by the security sector influences the perception of the latter and subsequently the state in general by the population: the support and assistance provided by the military and police in emergency situations gives civil society the feeling that the state cares for the people and their well-being. In addition to direct deployments, the military and police were able to appear in a new and more positive light through social sensitization (e.g., at gamified DRR action days, where employees of civil protection, fire brigades, police and military exchange information on DRR with citizens in a playful way) or joint exercises. This even reduced existing reservations based on human rights violations, corruption or war. Support by the security sector in emergency situations thus restores trust and contributes to reconciliation processes. In some cases, there is also potential to employ demobilized combatants or former members of the security sector in civil protection as part of peace processes and structural reforms of security sectors. The provision of such an alternative livelihood prevents further conflicts.

Despite these promising possibilities, there is hardly any integration between the various instruments and there remains a strong separation between security sector reform measures and peacebuilding measures. In order to be able to use the potential described, German engagement must consistently pursue a networked and long-term approach. The networked approach should bring together perspectives, actors and financing instruments from the areas of stabilization, peacebuilding, dealing with the past and reconciliation as well as the prevention of extremism, climate security and disaster risk reduction. At the same time, long-term perspectives beyond annual funding periods are required. In Tunisia, for example, the THW was able to anchor voluntary structures deeply in society through its long-term commitment. Short project timeframes cannot do that.

Invest in Impact Evaluations

The intersection between climate change impacts, civil protection, stabilization and peacebuilding is a relatively new field. Therefore, Germany should also consciously invest in the analysis of past and existing measures in order to generate knowledge about which approaches are particularly promising. For example, German security and development policy should review the THW projects mentioned from the point of view of their peace-enhancing effects and contribute to the creation of impact models for future projects. The Federal Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defense should accompany newly implemented measures, for example in the field of capacitation measures, from the start in such a way that learning effects and knowledge generation are possible. Another important instrument that Germany should specifically promote are peer-to-peer exchanges between regional partners for a goal-oriented exchange of experience.

Looking to the future, Germany can strategically and practically combine peacebuilding, stabilization, adaptation to climate change and the prevention of extremism in the field of civil protection and at the same time strengthen the attractiveness of the Western value model compared to authoritarian competitors in the system conflict. This requires civil protection to be prioritized in foreign policy tools, networked and long-term approaches, and investment in knowledge generation.

This blog post was originally published in German as a contribution to the 49security blog.


Front picture: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid/​Flickr

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