With NATO and its member nations increasingly providing support to local forces through security force assistance (SFA), it is necessary to look at how both assisting and assisted nations can and should put civilians first in the design and implementation of support activities, including in train, advise, and assist missions.

CIVIC contributed to these reflections with a chapter in a new book, “Promoting the Rule of Law and Good Governance – SFA Implications in International Initiatives“, by the NATO Security Force Assistance Center of Excellence (NATO SFA COE).

In chapter 6: “Reinforcing Civilian Harm Mitigation in SFA: Best Practices, Lessons Learned, and Suggestions for NATO and NATO Nations”, we analyze how SFA can affect the protection of civilians and call on NATO and NATO nations to adopt a proactive approach to civilian harm mitigation (CHM) during SFA. Mitigating harm is necessary in order to not only reduce the negative impact of their activities on civilians in fragile settings, but also to help produce positive outcomes for mission success.

As threats to civilians vary across contexts and pose a variety of challenges to security and defense forces, this chapter offers a comparative overview of issues posed by SFA activities in the Middle East (high intensity warfare in an urban context) and in the Sahel (counter terrorism operations in the context of long lasting intercommunal violence).  It also presents a set of tools and approaches that assisting powers should explore to further reinforce risk reduction and harm mitigation in their SFA activities, including better integration of CHM in partnership agreements, adopting of a robust set of safeguards, and developing operational planning tools such as protection of civilians (POC) capabilities assessments in order to inform operational design in ways that address key POC gaps in local forces. The chapter also recommends the use of training modules proposing a practical approach to risk reduction in different environments.