Civil-Military Coordination is one of several coordination mechanisms that have been developed in peace operations. It is important for the CIMIC Officer to understand the role coordination plays in the system, and to contextualise the role of CIMIC within this broader role.

This chapter explains why coordination is needed, and sheds light on the concept of coordination and how it is applied in the peace operations context. The chapter highlights a number of factors that hinder coordination and discuss the core elements of coordination. The chapter concludes with a case study of the coordination mechanisms in Sierra Leone at the time of the deployment of UNAMSIL.

Coordination in Complex Peace Operations

It is clear that despite a growing awareness in the 1990s that the security, socio-economic, political and reconciliation dimensions of post-conflict operations are inter-linked, the agencies that undertake these operations have been finding it extremely difficult to meaningfully integrate these different dimensions into coherent country strategies. The failure to effectively coordinate humanitarian relief, development and security programmes has been identified as a major cause for concern by most of the major evaluation and best-practice studies undertaken over recent years. For instance, the ‘Joint Utstein Study of Peacebuilding’, that analysed 336 peacebuilding projects implemented by Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Norway over the last decade, has identified a lack of coherence at the strategic level – what it terms a ‘strategic deficit’ – as the most significant obstacle to sustainable peacebuilding. The Utstein study found that more than 55% of the programmes it evaluated did not show any link to a larger country strategy (Smith, 2003:16).

According to the OECD, coherence implies an overall state of mutual consistency among the different policies and actions of various agencies.

In the peace operations context, coordination can be understood as the effort to ensure that the peace, security, humanitarian and development dimensions of an intervention in a particular crisis are directed towards a common objective.

Everybody wants to Coordinate but Nobody wants to be Coordinated

There is a saying in the relief community that sums up the core dilemma of coordination: ‘Everybody wants to coordinate but nobody wants to be coordinated’. According to Antonio Donini, one of the leading researchers in the humanitarian coordination field, ‘few knowledgeable persons would dispute that the effective provision of humanitarian assistance requires that duplication, waste and competition among agencies be avoided.’ (Donini, 2002). Peter Uvin adds that ‘all documents on peacebuilding stress the need for improved coordination: there is no single need more emphasised.’ (Uvin, 1999:18). And yet, effective coordination in the field has proved difficult to achieve.

In an example from her experiences in Mozambique, Sam Barnes echoes the feedback received from people in many other similar situations. She reports that the ‘meaning of coordination varied depending on which of the stakeholders employed it at a given moment and that the various stakeholders competed to place their agencies at the forefront of the process to enhance their own legitimacy and subsequent fundraising capacities.’ (Barnes, 1998). Uvin provides a useful list of reasons why effective coordination appears to be so elusive: ‘The lack of coordination is partly due to widely recognised factors: the multitude of actors, often numbering in the hundreds […]; the high cost in time and money that effective coordination entails; the need for donors to satisfy their own constituencies and serve their national interests; competition for influence and visibility between donors; and the general unwillingness of actors to limit their margin to manoeuvre by the discipline of coordination. Note that multilateral agencies and international NGOs share most of these problems, with the additional problem that the financing structures of humanitarian and development assistance place them in competition with each other.’ (Uvin, 1999:19).

Civilian Context

CIMIC personnel investigate, analyse and assess the civilian context to assist in the execution of military tasks.
(Canadian Army Lessons Learned Centre, 1999)

So what does Coordination mean?

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English explains that cooperation means ‘working together for a common purpose’, while coordination means ‘making things, people and parts function together efficiently and in an organised way.’ The Collins Cobuild English Dictionary provides an insight into coordination that seems even more relevant for our purpose. It defines coordination as ‘the organisation of the activities of two or more groups in such a way that each may work more efficiently and be aware of what the other group(s) are doing.’

The most authoritative definition of humanitarian coordination appears to be that coined by Minear and Chellia: ‘Coordination is the systematic utilisation of policy instruments to deliver humanitarian assistance in a cohesive and effective manner. Such instruments include: 1. strategic planning; 2. gathering data and managing information; 3. mobilising resources and ensuring accountability; 4. orchestrating a functional division of labour; 5. negotiating and maintaining a serviceable framework with host political authorities; and, 6. providing leadership. Sensibly and sensitively employed, such instruments inject an element of discipline without unduly constraining action.’ (Minear and Chellia, 1992:3).

The Dimensions of Coordination

There are many factors that frustrate coordination, but two deserve particular attention. The first is the sheer number of international and local actors involved, and the second is the wide-ranging scope of activities undertaken by these actors. The interaction among this large number of actors and the interplay among the multiple dimensions explain the complexity inherent in post-conflict reconstruction operations. To these we can still add an infinite number of complicating factors including, amongst others: the language and socio-cultural gaps between those undertaking post-conflict reconstruction programmes and the beneficiaries they are intended to assist; and, the inconsistencies and selectivity of the neo-liberal international policy regime that serve to compound existing global inequalities (Pugh and Cooper, 2004:197).

The information revolution has multiplied the number of actors involved in post-conflict reconstruction operations. It has amplified the influence of the media, nurtured a more educated and better informed public, and increased the number of institutions and agencies engaged in peace, security, relief and reconstruction actions.

The Political Dimension

At the strategic level the UN Security Council, the AU Peace and Security Council and the conflict management bodies of the African sub-regional organisations are responsible for peace and security related matters. Very often one or more of these bodies will have been responsible for facilitating the peace process and they will continue to support the peace process as it unfolds.

These bodies are likely to have a representative or office in the country, or send envoys that will visit the country regularly to engage with the parties to the conflict. Where an UN or AU peace operation has been deployed it is typically headed by a civilian Special Representative. In UN peace operations the Special Representative will have the support of a political affairs section for strategic and national level political processes and a civil affairs unit that has a presence throughout the country to engage with local government, community and traditional leadership structures.

The Special Representative and his or her staff, other envoys, diplomats and visiting delegations will provide ongoing support and mediation services to the parties to the peace process. It will be necessary to coordinate the various efforts aimed at supporting the negotiation process so that the international community is consistent in the messages communicated to the various parties. It is not uncommon for parties to switch between mediators or to otherwise manipulate a peace process if the various external players are not coherent in their support. These processes need financial support and technical assistance, and coordination will include the mobilisation of funds and the division of labour among the various agencies to support these various processes.

The Security Dimension

In many conflict situations the AU or UN will deploy a peace operation to stabilise the situation and to monitor and support the peace process. The bulk of a peace operation’s efforts and resources will be focused on ensuring a safe and secure environment so that the rest of the conflict resolution and reconstruction work can be carried out without fear of disruption. Although the peace operation may be involved in Security Sector Reform (SSR), it is common for the actual training, transformation or establishment of new police and/or defence force to be supported by one or more bilateral partners.

Where a peace operation has been deployed it often becomes a natural point of convergence for the various international agencies and NGOs but, as has been highlighted elsewhere, this does not imply a management or control function. AU or UN operations have no power or authority over other agencies. Increasingly, however, the AU and UN recognise the importance of coordination and it is now common for the military component of a peace operation, in addition to coordination functions elsewhere in the mission, to have CIMIC Officers, and sometimes units, dedicated to this task.

Coordinating Humanitarian Assistance

Ensuring a coordinated humanitarian response to a crisis is an immense task, regardless of the size of the emergency

As the coordinating body for international humanitarian assistance in complex emergencies and natural disasters, OCHA staff must interact with, and build consensus among, many different types of actors, including governments, military groups, donors, UN agencies, other secretarial departments, the Red Cross movement and NGOs.

While ultimately working towards a common goal, the immediate interests of these groups may sometimes be at odds. The World Bank, for example, might call on a government to increase taxes while UN agencies and NGOs are seeking tax exemption on the importation of local goods and local staff salaries. What’s more, even within the UN System, perceptions of what needs to be done to improve the humanitarian situation might differ. Aid workers may seek access to vulnerable groups in areas that UN peacekeepers wish to restrict for security reasons.

As a result, coordination is rarely straightforward and never easy. But when done well, coordination can make the difference between a timely and effective response or none at all.
(OCHA Humanitarian Affairs Officer)

The Socio-Economic and Reconciliation Dimensions

The socio-economic and reconciliation dimensions are the traditional focus of post-conflict reconstruction programmes, and there is a wide range of role-players in these dimensions. The first of these are the members of the UN System, commonly referred to as the UN Country Team (UNCT). The UNCT is headed by a Resident Representative, who is typically the head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The Resident Representative (RR) is also the Resident Coordinator (RC) of the UN System in the country and often also the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC). The members of the UNCT include the UNDP, World Bank (WB), UN High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR), World Food Programme (WFP), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organisation (WHO), UN Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and others. All of these agencies, funds and offices have their own mandates, budgets and programmes and the RC/HC’s function is to ensure that the UNCT develops a coherent programme in support of the needs of the country where they are based. The members of the UNCT meet on a regular basis and use various coordination mechanisms to harmonise their policies and programmes.

The other members of the humanitarian relief and reconstruction community include: international and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs); international multilateral donor agencies like the European Union (EU) and European Commission (EC); and, bilateral donor agencies and independent organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Although these various relief and reconstruction agencies are often viewed as highly independent because they lack a formal organisational hierarchy, they actually form a closely interconnected network linked by various value chains. For instance, many NGOs operate as implementing agents for UN agencies, while the donors may fund both the UN agencies and the NGOs at various levels in the value chain. An improved understanding of these inter-relationships may reveal opportunities for enhanced coordination.

From a coordination perspective, the donor agencies deserve particular focus as a relatively small number of donor countries (approximately twelve) are responsible for funding the vast majority of post-conflict reconstruction programmes. Most of these countries are also important players in the peace and security dimension. If the coordination among the donors can be improved it should have a substantial impact on the cohesion of post-conflict reconstruction operations.

Peace operations also have an increasingly important role to play in the socio-economic and reconciliation dimensions of post-conflict reconstruction operations. There has been a growing realisation that, in order to contribute to sustainable peace, peacekeeping missions need to have multidimensional mandates that incorporate political, security, socio-economic and reconciliation aspects. This implies greater scope for duplication and competition between the peace operation, the UNCT and the rest of the relief and reconstruction community, but also more opportunities for synergy and coordination as these various role-players increase their interaction and understanding of each other’s roles, mandates and operating cultures.

Coordination with Internal Actors

The internal actors would include: the government of the day; the parties to the conflict; and, the private sector and civil society in all its shapes and sizes. In principle, the host government and community should play the lead role in the peace process, since it is indeed their own future that hangs in the balance. Unfortunately, in many cases, the capacity of the internal actors has been so severely diminished by the conflict that it is unable to fulfil this role and as a result the international aid community, by default, plays more of a leading role than is desired. At a minimum, coordination processes should ensure that the internal actors participate in all decisions that affect them, and that a process is in place to support them to develop the capacity to play their rightful role. This adds a capacity building dimension to coordination, because if the international community is going to be successful it needs the host community to take ownership of the process. If it does not initially have the capacity to set priorities and generate policies as to how these priorities should be pursued, it is in the international community’s interest to develop that capacity as a prerequisite for further success.

The Scope of Activities that Need to be Coordinated

The other factor that inhibits coordination is closely related to the first, namely its multidimensional nature. Peace operations combine conflict prevention, peacemaking, security operations, humanitarian relief and recovery operations, transitional justice and rule of law programmes, human rights monitoring and education, political transition support, and institution building in a multilayered, multidisciplinary and multifunctional peace operation that is intended to build positive momentum for peace across the whole conflict spectrum. In order for such a positive momentum to come about in a post-conflict society, every individual must make thousands of micro-decisions about their own security, shelter, health, well-being, employment, education and future prospects. Peace operations need to reflect this multifaceted nature of society and therefore consist of a large number of programmes designed to have a system-wide impact on the peace process across the whole conflict spectrum.

These programmes are often grouped together in clusters and sectors. For instance, the Utstein Study referred to earlier, grouped the peacebuilding programmes it researched into four clusters: security; political framework; socio-economic foundations; and, justice and reconciliation. Another example of clustering, this time from an actual operation, is evident in the 2004 draft UN strategy document for Iraq, where a number of clusters are identified, namely: education and culture; health; water and sanitation; infrastructure and housing; agriculture; water resources and environment; food security; mine action; internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees; governance and civil society; and, poverty reduction and human development. The point is that the large number of specialised programmes and diverse range of thematic areas covered in peace operations do have the potential to be more systematically categorised and grouped together in clusters, sectors and other groupings for coordination purposes.

The reality, however, is that most of these programmes are planned and implemented in relative isolation by specialists in different agencies. Most programmes are resourced through headquarters and the little coordination that does take place is about implementation, not design and strategic coherence. Programme managers are held accountable to their own institutions against their plans and budgets. Implementation is further hampered by internal rivalries, information hoarding and a lack of understanding of a common purpose. This makes the coordination and synchronisation of peace.

Core Elements of Coordination

Separating Coordination and Management

There should be a clear distinction between management and coordination. Decision-making takes place in the management function, while the coordination function is used to exchange information. If these two functions are separated, coordination will not pose a threat to any unit or programme. This is because each individual agent will retain full control over their own decision-making function.

For coordination to be palatable to defensive institutional cultures, it has to be non-threatening. And for it to be non-threatening it has to be voluntary, and free of any decision-making power over the participating agency.

Strategic Direction

One of the prerequisites for a coherent peace operation is a clearly-articulated overall strategy against which individual units, offices and programmes can benchmark their own plans and progress. The overall country strategy is produced by the cumulative and collective planning efforts of all the units, offices and programmes in the system.

The peace and security aspects of such an overall strategy are derived from the UN Security Council resolutions, and in the case of the AU also the AU Peace and Security Council, that determine the mandate of the mission and the strategic plans developed by the Special Representative to implement that mandate. The humanitarian and development community’s strategies are derived from common assessment and appeal processes that may result in a Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP), a Common Country Assessment (CCA), a UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) or a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) – depending on the specific case.

The peace operation, the UN Country Team and other external actors, such as the NGO and donor community, need to work closely with the internal community, including both government and civil-society representatives. This is done with a view to developing one common country strategy.

Planning and Assessments

In order to achieve the desired level of synergy it is now becoming common practice to enrich planning at the higher or home headquarters level through integrated planning mechanisms and joint assessment missions. Planning for peace operations typically make use of some sort of system that bring various UN departments and agencies together to provide input into the planning process. It is also now common practice to undertake joint assessment missions that assist in ensuring that there is a common understanding of the problems that need to be addressed.

At the field headquarters or mission management level, the Special Representative and other senior managers coordinate with the representatives of government, parties to the peace process, heads of the various agencies, organisations, diplomatic missions and international organisations. They use various regular and ad hoc meetings to achieve their coordination objectives. The senior managers also make use of a number of strategic planning instruments to encourage a broadly cohesive approach within the peace, security, humanitarian and development community – and to ensure that this approach supports the needs and priorities of the host community. Apart from the common strategic planning frameworks introduced above, missions also use various other mechanisms to exchange information among components at the HQ level. The Joint Mission Analysis Cells (JMAC) is one example. The JMAC is a jointly-staffed unit where the information gathered by various components (military units, military observers, police, political affairs, civil affairs, human rights, etc.) is collated and analysed. In this way the mission management benefits from one consolidated information picture about the mission and the peace process that has been informed by all the different perspectives within the mission.

Mobilising Resources

The international community has developed various tools to mobilise resources. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) coordinates the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP). The CAP is first and foremost a strategic planning and coordination tool. The humanitarian community sees the CAP as the main strategy-setting tool in responding to man-made and other slow-onset disasters.

In the development dimension, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) or the World Bank will typically take the lead in coordinating fundraising for common priorities through donor conferences.

In some cases transitional appeals are launched on the basis of a Common Country Assessment (CCA), and then serve as the foundation for a UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) and/or a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), as appropriate. Once the funds have been allocated the coordination shifts to implementation and operational coordination.

In the case of UN peace operations, the missions are funded through assessed contributions. Part of the work of the CIMIC Officer will be to understand how these different funding mechanisms work, and which mechanisms within and outside the mission budget can be accessed to facilitate specific projects, e.g. Quick Impact Projects.

Operational Harmonisation

The humanitarian and development communities have developed various coordination frameworks that they use in all situations where they are operational, regardless of whether they operate alongside a peace operation, or not. In any given situation, the UNCT and other humanitarian and development role-players would thus have been engaged with prior to, and during the conflict period. It is important for those who deploy after the signing of a peace agreement to develop an understanding of existing UNCT and humanitarian coordination mechanisms, so that they can harmonise their own coordination efforts with those of the UNCT and RC/HC.

In UN operations a practice has developed whereby one of the Deputy SRSGs is typically from the humanitarian or development community, and has the RC/HC function. The Deputy SRSG RC/HC would regularly meet with all the actors in the humanitarian and development community to ensure that there is close coordination between the peace operation and the humanitarian and development community.

At the operational level, one would typically find that coordination takes place within clusters and sectors such as health, water and sanitation, shelter, refugees and IDPs, DDR, security sector reform, justice sector reform/rule of law, and so on. There have also been initiatives to create synergy across clusters, such as the UNHCR’s 4Rs concept – repatriation, rehabilitation, reintegration and reconstruction. The 4Rs concept aims to ensure linkages between all four processes, so that durable solutions for returning populations can be fostered.

Military and civilian actors have developed several coordination forums over the last decade. The military coordinates through Civil-Military Coordination Centres (CMOCs), CIMIC centres, CIMIC houses, or Civil-Military Affairs branches, depending on who implements the concept. The humanitarian inter-agency approach to coordination would typically include a neutral coordination platform known as Humanitarian Operations Centres (HOCs) and Humanitarian Information Centres (HICs). Normally OCHA would be entrusted with facilitating the humanitarian coordination arrangements. The UN Joint Logistical Centre (UNJLC), of which WFP is the custodian, would coordinate logistical aspects of a humanitarian mission. For the development dimension UNDP, in support of the RC, will provide a Development Assistance Coordination Office (DACO) or at least a development coordination officer.

Many of these coordination tools are mirrored at the tactical level, and adjusted to the practical realities on the ground. For instance, in Afghanistan some CIMIC units have developed the CMOC into a mobile concept where CIMIC Officers would visit the humanitarian and development agencies in their area of operations. The mobile CMOC concept was developed because the humanitarian agencies were too busy and thinly staffed to attend coordination meetings. In another situation, sector and battalion-level CIMIC cells established CIMIC houses. The CIMIC house was located outside the military compound, so that civilians could easily make contact with CIMIC Officers without first having to go through a military security checkpoint and sign-in process that most civilians find intimidating and frustrating. The CIMIC house is open to local and international NGOs and UN agencies and serves as a focal point for information, and a facility where meetings can take place.

The various coordination mechanisms at the strategic, operational and tactical levels all aim to encourage the flow of information between different components, dimensions, clusters and sectors, and among the different actors in these various networks. The coordination mechanisms also serve as vehicles through which joint operations can be planned and synchronised. On a more practical level, coordination facilities assist with the sharing of resources and the centralisation of key areas into common service points. For example, the UNJLC is one such common service point through which all the different aid agencies can manage the clearance of their goods through customs, etc. The HIC is an attempt to collect all available humanitarian information and make it available to the wider humanitarian and development community.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The country strategy initiative should be supported by a monitoring and evaluation system. Such an inter-agency initiative should not only provide feedback on individual and overall progress, but also encourage programmes and agencies to participate in the overall coordination process. All actors should be requested to report on the steps they took to synchronise their plans and operations with the others in the system, and with the overall objectives of the mission. In this way the evaluation process becomes normative: it encourages and rewards behaviour that enables coherence and it discourages and sanctions behaviour that inhibits coordination.

Another important element is the ability of the system to monitor the effect it is having on its environment. The project-cycles of the different programmes and agencies need to be synchronised to ensure that their combined and cumulative effect on the host society is positive. Projects must be consistent and delivered at a rate that can be absorbed by the local communities. When the ultimate aim of the international operation is sustainable peace, then the overall strategy and the pace of its implementation has to reflect the optimal relationship between delivery and absorption.


There is no single liaison framework that can ensure coherence at the country level. Instead, good coordination requires a web of coordination structures at all levels, working both from the bottom up, and from the top down. This is necessary to ensure feedback in both directions. At the senior management level the appointment of a Deputy SRSG RC/HC, resulted in a significant improvement in synergy between the peace operation, the UNCT and others in the humanitarian and development community . At the operational and tactical level a vast network of liaison and coordination mechanisms exist. Such networks feed the system with the information it needs to remain focused on those areas that require the most effort, while staying true to the overall goals and objectives of the mission. The CIMIC function fits into this larger peace operations context, where it represents the military component of the peace operation. CIMIC officers need to have an overview of where they fit into the larger peace operations environment, and they need to know whom they can turn to elsewhere in the system for specific needs.