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EU at the UN

The EU's commitment to effective multilateralism, with the UN at its core, is a central element of its external action. As a UN observer with enhanced status, the EU delegation coordinates with its 28 Member States to speak with one voice. The EU also works closely with the UN secretariat and its agencies, funds & programmes, partnering on a range of global issues and challenges.

Mr. Chairman,

The EU finds the topic of today’s panel on the use of military assets in natural disaster relief to be extremely important.

The unparalleled scale of the disaster brought about by the Indian Ocean Tsunami late in 2004, and again manifested by the South Asia earthquake in 2005, reminded the entire world of the devastation that can be caused by a natural disaster. 2006 and 2007 have also been afflicted with an increasing number of natural disasters, including floods (like we have seen this year in Indonesia and Pakistan), earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, heavy snowfalls, landslides, droughts, affecting millions in Asia, Africa, South America, Europe and North America, affecting both the developed and the developing world. It is often developing countries that are the most vulnerable to the immediate and the long-lasting effects of such natural disasters.

This is particularly important in the present era of rising climate change which, as Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also stated, is expected to cause more severe and more frequent natural hazards. We are in fact dealing with a global threat that must be taken seriously and we cannot afford the luxury of excluding complementary forms of assistance such as the use of military assets.

We believe that organizations with a humanitarian vocation and mandate should be at the forefront of humanitarian aid. However, recent natural disasters have shown that national and international military forces can play an important role in providing support to search and rescue efforts, and where appropriate to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, particularly in the early stages of an emergency caused by a natural disaster, when there are often no other available capabilities. The logistical support and expertise associated with such assets can prove invaluable in terms of transporting relief assistance and in reaching remote and vulnerable communities. Naturally, the use of such assets should be cost-effective and at the request of affected governments.

In this regard, the EU emphasizes that the Oslo Guidelines on the use of Military and Civilian Defense Assets for Disaster Relief are to be fully respected as should also be the case with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, independence and impartiality, as well as the relevant provisions of international law. The use of these assets – regardless if they are provided bilaterally or multilaterally – should also be based on assessed needs and therefore appropriate to the size, scale and specific requirements of the emergency. This naturally requires that the affected government and the humanitarian actors working on the ground, rapidly and effectively provide information.

Regarding the Oslo Guidelines, the EU encourages Member States, as part of their preparedness activities, to review and consider integrating them into national disaster preparedness plans and national policies. Successful coordination of the use of military assets is also a key to better efficiency, as was the case in the 2000 Mozambique flood response where the assets were centrally tasked in a joint operations center involving the affected government, the UN and the providing governments. Efforts like these are of utmost importance and should be emulated in order to avoid bottlenecks, delays and duplication in the distribution of relief supplies.

Mr. Chairman,

We see military assets as a complementary tool to existing relief mechanisms and not as an independent instrument. Their use is exceptional and should be relative to the scale of response. Prevention and risk reduction strategies, on the other hand, should be the norm and constitute a first line of attack. In this respect, we recall the priorities established by the Hyogo Framework of Action which are key to strengthen future disaster reduction activities.

We are committed to continue our efforts in helping build stronger capacity for rapid response regarding natural disasters. At the same time, in cases where military assets can be useful or are in fact the only alternative, the EU also sees merit in being able to rely on their added-value in the relief operations of affected countries.

Before I conclude, I would like to pose two questions:

    1) How does the Panel consider Member States could best integrate military assets into response mechanisms and activities in a way that local actors and partners would feel most comfortable?

    2) In the Panel’s opinion, which were the most successful cases of use of military assets in the recent past and what elements do you think most contributed to that positive assessment?

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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