XIAN, September 23 (ChinaMil) -- 83 high-ranking military officers from 58 countries around the world gathered in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China on September 22, 2014 to participate in the 8th Senior Workshop on International Rules governing Military Operations (SWIRMO).
Initiated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the SWIRMO has been held for 8 consecutive years since 2007, aiming to drive home to the military the humanitarian rules on the battlefield through lecture, discussion, case study and presentation.
This is the first time that SWIRMO was jointly organized by ICRC and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in China. The reporter learnt that the Chinese military regards the workshop as a good opportunity to demonstrate its national and military image, while foreign participants are full of expectations for the “experience of the world’s largest military”.
The informal reception on the evening of September 21 for all participants was a typical western-style buffet party. After a brief speech by Mr. Peter Evans, delegate to the Armed and Security Forces from the ICRC Regional Delegation for East Asia, participants wearing the military uniform of 58 countries fanned out for meal and free discussion. “This year’s SWIRMO surpasses all previous ones in terms of international participation and the military rank of participants,” said Chen Geng, vice president of the PLA Xi'an Institute of Politics.
It is learnt that the 83 officers are assigned by the military and the defense ministry of their respective nation. Every year ICRC would send invitation letters to the 80-odd countries where it has offices.
Peter Evans told the reporter in an interview that high-ranking military officers from the U.S., China, North Korea, Ukraine and Russia are all invited to participate this year.
“Are Russian and Ukrainian participants going to be in the same group?” According to the SWIRMO custom, the 80-plus participants will be divided into groups with about 10 people in each group in order to facilitate communication. There are six groups this year, including three speaking English and one speaking Russian, one speaking French and one speaking Spanish.
“Of course they are both in the Russian-speaking group. This workshop won’t avoid any hard topic, and all participants can share their practical experience. The SWIRMO has no political aim, nor does the ICRC take any political position. I’m sure these high-ranking military officers all understand the rules. Besides, what we are concerned about is the food and clothing issues for civilians in eastern Ukraine, not its political destination,” answered Peter Evans.
Moreover, the workshop pays special attention to countries where humanitarian crisis is possible. This year’s SWIRMO has participants from Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Peter Evans. “Although there is no war in China, China is still an important subject of the workshop because China is a key component of the United Nations peacekeeping forces. Moreover, Nepal is equally important because it has a peacekeeping training base,” added Peter Evans.
The 8th SWIRMO kicked off in Xi’an on the morning of September 22. As the first speaker, Major General Yan Jun, deputy secretary-general of the PLA General Political Department (GPD), introduced that the cooperation between the Chinese PLA and ICRC in international rules governing military operations started in the 1990s. He said that China has assigned one or two colonel-level officers to participate in SWIRMO every year since the very beginning.
“This year’s SWIRMO is special because it features a more international participation with participants from the 58 countries all being colonel-level officers, while those in the past were mostly lieutenant-level ones. It also includes discussion, debate and sand table presentation while there were only lectures in previous workshops,” added Yan Jun.
The ICRC is responsible for the course design and systematic process of the workshop. According to Peter Evans, a one-hour speech by Chinese military officers is arranged on the last day, which “is a precedent in SWIRMO history”. Many foreign officers expressed their expectation for this speech because they want to see “how China trains its over two million soldiers” and “how the Chinese military solves problems”.
China assigns the largest “delegation” this year. Among the six Chinese participants, one is from the PLA National Defense University (NDU), one from the PLA Navy, and others are instructors on relevant subjects from the PLA Xi'an Institute of Politics. “The basic principle of selection is the understanding of law and competence in English,” said an officer from the PLA GPD.
After the opening ceremony, the 83 participants began the six-day-long workshop including classroom instruction, group exchange, panel discussion and simulation presentation. The only goal of the workshop is to instill the participants with humanitarian rules on the battlefield, so that they will practice those rules and incorporate them into the military operations of their own countries.
Peter Evans told the reporter that according to ICRC’s survey, most high-ranking military officers well understand the international rules and laws governing military operations, “but when on the battlefield, they tend to focus more on how to pull the trigger to achieve their goal and easily ignore the rules”.
“Then how do you influence those officers’ mind within six short days?” Peter Evans explained that the SWIRMO targets high-ranking operation officers, the people who make plans and give orders on the battlefield. “If we can make them give more considerations to civilian casualty when making plans and selecting schemes, they will pass on this awareness to their troops during everyday training.”
Every year SWIRMO invites serving or recently retiring high-ranking military officers with rich real-combat experience to be instructors. “We don’t want the officers to just sit there as students. We encourage them to speak up and share their views,” said Peter Evans.
After the opening ceremony, reporters were asked to leave the venue, to whom Peter Evans explained that according to experience, it’s hard for the officers to fully express themselves when reporters are present. “So, there will be no note-taking or recording throughout the workshop, so as to encourage free exchange of information.”