Military Forces, Coercive Signals, and Disaster Response Effectiveness

By Melissa Carlson and Vinod K. Aggarwal

Natural Hazards Review, 2021

Why do governments deploy their armed forces to respond to certain foreign natural disasters but not others? What factors influence successful coordination between national and foreign militaries implementing disaster response activities once on the ground? We argue that when relief-sending countries deploy their military forces to respond to natural disasters abroad, they can signal their hard power capabilities to the crisis-affected government as well as the other foreign governments involved in disaster response. These strategic considerations directly shape foreign governments’ decisions to deploy their military forces and a crisis-affected government’s decision to accept these forces. These strategic considerations likewise constrain on-the-ground coordination between foreign and national militaries involved in the response. By leading governments to prevent and/or stall the provision of critical services and aid to crisis-affected individuals, these strategic considerations can negatively influence the effectiveness of disaster response. We assess our argument through three in-depth case studies of the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the 2011 Tohuku Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, and the 2015 Earthquake in Nepal.

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