Roundtable 'Protecting civilians in high-intensity warfare: learning from Ukraine'

As the war in Ukraine brings back the spectre of conflict involving at least one great power, NATO countries are adapting their military posture for territorial defence at home. Alliance forces on the eastern flank were doubled, doctrine is being revised, and command structures have been modified. Where these adaptations are falling short, however, is in preparing for protection of civilians during a potential high-intensity conflict.  

Although Russia’s full-scale attack has clearly shown both the impact on civilians and the significance of their responses to the conflict, most countries’ current strategic planning provides little guidance on the role of civilian populations in a great power conflict, nor does it examine existing assumptions about civilian behavior in war. Existing assumptions and procedures are rarely shared or tested among national and international actors present in the same space, creating potential for an uncoordinated response that could create greater risk of civilian harm. Voices questioning the applicability of previously developed – but rarely institutionalized – PoC measures to the more intense conflicts have also been prominent, despite the threats civilians are likely to face.  

The roundtable was moderated by Dr Karolina MacLachlan who leads CIVIC’s work with NATO, the EU, and European governments. She was joined online by Dr Kaleigh Heard, an Associate Lecturer in Human Rights and the Deputy Director of the MA in Human Rights programme. Mr Alexander Grif, CIVIC’s Kyiv-based Country Director for Ukraine who has worked is some of the most violent conflicts in the world, including Syria and Myanmar, spearheading protection initiatives and LTC (ret) Tom Shepard who is an experienced strategic leader educator, his last active duty position was as the Director of Regional Studies for the US Army War College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Dr Karolina MacLachlan is visiting BALTDEFCOL for two days to explore cooperation avenues between CIVIC and the College. CIVIC has been a vital and unique player in the Protection of Civilians movement for two decades. CIVIC has long worked with NATO actors and national governments to support the design and implementation of POC procedures, including
in Ukraine.  


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