Monday, October 06, 2008

The Museums Will Be Protected Next Time Round

The military has just released FM 3.07, its new field manual on Stability Operations.  Those concerned that the lessons of the looting of the Iraq National Museum might not have been learned will be pleased to find that among the "Essential Stability Tasks" is that of protecting key personnel and facilities. The eight tasks under this heading include the requirements to "protect and secure places of religious worship and cultural sites," and to "protect and secure strategically important institutions (such as government buildings;medical and public health infrastructure; the central bank, national treasury, and integral commercial banks; museums; and religious sites)."

A bare mention, but nonetheless extremely important, and arguably far more consequential than the ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention. It means that cultural heritage protection is now embedded in the task matrix that operational planners will take as the starting point for future war planning. This is a victory for all those who have been working inside and outside the military and defense establishment to make sure that the U.S. never again acts with the indifference towards cultural heritage that it did in April 2003. 

The field manual also mentions cultural heritage protection in a very prominent place: the epigraph to Chapter 5 quotes Harry L. Coles and Albert K. Weinberg's history of Civil Affairs, Civil Affairs: Soldiers Become Governors:

Because of the ideological aspect of the struggle and because the United States acted as  a member of a coalition of Allies, U.S. military leaders sometimes had to add to their traditional roles as soldiers those of the statesman and the politician. They were beset by the problems of resolving conflicting national interests and of reconciling political idealism and military exigency. On another level—in feeding hungry populations, in tackling intricate financial and economic problems, and in protecting the cultural heritage of a rich and ancient civilization—they had to exercise skills that are also normally considered civilian rather than military.

Whether this quotation means that Civil Affairs will develop the capacity to protect the cultural heritage of a rich and ancient civilization is not clear. Certainly, the record in Iraq and Afghanistan does not reflect any major beefing up of capacity in that regard yet. But with Corine Wegener and others pushing hard on this, we may well also see a great improvement in the military's ability to protect sites and museums during transitions.

What still needs to be done is to help the military to think -- now, not when it is too late -- about what tactics and tools it can and should be prepared to use to secure and protect museums and archaeological sites (as well as other cultural sites).

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