Humanitarian Aid and Medical Diplomacy

12.08.08 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Department of Defense has updated its policy on “humanitarian and civic assistance activities,” which are “conducted in conjunction with authorized military operations” abroad.  See DoD Instruction 2205.02 (pdf), December 2, 2008.

Medical assistance is a potentially important element of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, argued a senior military medical officer earlier this year.  See “The Role of Medical Diplomacy in Stabilizing Afghanistan” (pdf), by Donald F. Thompson, Defense Horizons, May 2008.  (Interestingly, however, he noted that such assistance can sometimes backfire by “undercutting the confidence of the local population in their own government’s ability to provide essential services.”)

Former Senator Bill Frist has called for increased investment in medical diplomacy, and warned against letting U.S. adversaries get “ahead” on this front.

“We cannot allow countries in direct security and economic competition with America … to use health diplomacy as a means of building new alliances, attracting new followers, or otherwise strengthening their position vis-a-vis our nation,” he wrote (pdf) in Yale Law and Policy Review (Fall 2007).