STUTTGART, Germany — When there is a crisis, the Red Cross and the U.S. military often find themselves in the same place.
On Thursday, military officials with U.S. European Command wrapped up two days of meetings with the International Committee of the Red Cross’ representative to the European Union and NATO, part of an effort to open up communication and possibly include the Red Cross in some of EUCOM’s disaster response preparations and exercises.
“You guys — as soon as there is a conflict you are one of the major actors… and we want access to all the stakeholders,” said Francois Bellon, head of the ICRC delegation to the EU and NATO.
Because the Red Cross is such a major player in conflict and crisis zones, it makes sense to learn more about their mission, EUCOM officials said.
“It makes sense to exchange business cards now, before a crisis,” said Mike Anderson, EUCOM’s acting director for interagency partnering.
While Bellon agreed, he also emphasized that talking or taking part in some EUCOM exercises doesn’t amount to a “partnership.”
“We can operate only if we are accepted by all the main stakeholders,” said Bellon. “But we cannot afford to take a political side.”
Without maintaining its neutrality, the ICRC would be unable to deliver humanitarian relief in virtually every conflict zone on Earth, whether Afghanistan, Syria or Mali, Bellon said.
During a briefing with EUCOM staff on Wednesday, Bellon talked about the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria, where some U.S. lawmakers have called for an international military intervention to end the bloodshed and protect civilians. While the Red Cross intends to increase its mission in Syria, Bellon said the humanitarian crisis is still a long way from what occurred in the Balkans in the 1990s.
“We should not now over-exaggerate the humanitarian problem,” he said. “It certainly is not the gravest humanitarian crisis in the world today. It’s not Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1993.”
In addition to meetings with EUCOM staff, Bellon also met with the commanders of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe and Africa at their respective headquarters in Stuttgart.
The Red Cross’ relationship with the military has steadily evolved during the past decade, sparked by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Bellon. After that, the ICRC began establishing ties with combatant commands, beginning with U.S. Central and Southern Commands.
“It’s a little strange we only arrive today (in Stuttgart),” Bellon said. “We should have been in contact much earlier.”