Professionals from 13 countries and diverse backgrounds composed the audience. The participants were not only members of national armed forces, but also civilians operating in the field of cultural heritage protection, archaeologists and historians.
The course was designed to enhance NATO’s Cultural Property Protection (CPP) capabilities and to establish a new structured and institutionalized forum of discussion. The lectures addressed a number of issues. For instance, on the opening day the conversation focused on the value and utility of CPP and on the way in which it should be implemented in the Military Decision Making Process.
A number of case studies were presented to illustrate both good and bad practice (Afghanistan, Iraq, Macedonia, Libya). Members of the Blue Shield emergency assessment mission to Libya (Dr. Kila, Karl von Habsburg and Dr. Walda) presented the results of their investigations and described their efforts to compile a non-strike list. A list that was then forwarded to NATO and might have been at the base of the care and attention paid by the Alliance in avoiding sites of cultural relevance during the ‘surgical strikes’ on the Libyan territory.
Members of the Austrian Armed Forces briefly introduced the principles of international law that are regulating the protection of cultural property in times of conflict. In addition to this, the Austrian Defence Academy engaged the participants in a practical exercise based on a scenario commonly used for the ordinary training of their National Army.
The course was not structured to deliver a complete and exhaustive training on CPP matters. It appeared more like a round table where, after each presentation, the audience would come alive with questions and suggestions to find a way forward. What was clear, by the end of the week, was that at both national and international level there is a general and widespread lack of concrete measures to enforce and implement of the provisions of the 1954 Hague Convention. One fundamental question was also that there is not a commonly agreed definition of the professional figure of the Cultural Property Advisor or Specialist. It seems that the rising awareness of the fact that cultural heritage should be taken into consideration during military operations has created a new professional niche. However, until this professional figure is not formally defined the risk is that all the efforts of good will made by NATO (or by any national military force) will be vain and might result in a further loss of credibility.
To close the course CDR Hallett introduced one of the tools that could be used by anyone who felt the need to stimulate a change of approach within NATO. He presented the Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre and its database. By registering to the database it is possible to submit observations, sugestions and comments on specific issues related to NATO operations. The database can then be accessed and all the entries queried. Obviously, the contributions submitted need to meet certain criteria to be taken into consideration and included in the database, but once accepted they are analysed and become part of a corpus of information that can be beneficial to others and that can eventually stimulate a process of change within the Alliance. It is hard to predict how effective this tool might be. However, for those who believe that we are in desperate need of a radical change in the way in which the military are approaching cultural heritage issues, it might be worth a try!