Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Understanding medical civil-military relationships within the humanitarian-development-peace ‘triple nexus’: a typology to enable effective discourse


The interface between humanitarianism, development and peacebuilding is increasingly congested. Western foreign policies have shifted towards pro-active stabilisation agendae and so Civil-Military Relationships (CMRel) will inevitably be more frequent. Debate is hampered by lack of a common language or clear, mutually understood operational contexts to define such relationships. Often it may be easier to simply assume that military co-operation attempts are solely to ‘win hearts and minds’, rather than attempt to navigate the morass of different acronyms. In healthcare, such relationships are common and more complex - partly as health is seen as both an easy entry point for diplomacy and so is a priority for militaries, and because health is so critical to apolitical humanitarian responses. This paper identifies the characteristics of commonly described kinds of CMRel, and then derives a typology that describe them in functional groups as they apply to healthcare-related contexts (although it is likely to be far more widely applicable). Three broad classifications are described, and then mapped against 6 axes; the underlying military and civilian motivations, the level of the engagement (strategic to tactical), the relative stability of the geographical area, and finally the alignment between the civilian and military interests. A visual representation shows where different types may co-exist, and where they are likely to be more problematic. The model predicts two key areas where friction is likely; tactical interactions in highly unstable areas and in lower threat areas where independent military activity may undermine ongoing civilian programmes. The former is well described, supporting the typology. The latter is not and represents an ideal area for future study. In short, we describe an in-depth typology mapping the Civil-Military space in humanitarian and development contexts with a focus on healthcare, defining operational spaces and the identifying of areas of synergy and friction.

  • health services administration & management
  • medical ethics
  • public health
  • qualitative research

Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no datasets generated and/or analysed for this study. No additional data are available.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.