Response to “Relations between Archaeologists and the Military in the Case of Iraq”

René Teijgeler

Former Senior Advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture

Utrecht, 8 January 2009

Dear Dr John Curtis,

I read your Forum Paper with great interest and I thank the Institute of Archaeology for giving me the opportunity to write this response. The issue of whether archaeologists should work with the military or not, indeed needs much debate. My main point is that we are in great need of guidelines. Such guidelines would make things clear for all parties involved: the archaeologists, the military and quasi-governmental and international heritage non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Allow me to make a few remarks at the start:

Having said this, let me address some of the arguments Dr Curtis puts forward:

In preparation for the 6th World Archaeological Congress (WAC) in Dublin in 2008, I searched for professionals who might be experiencing similar problems in their relationships with the military. It soon became clear that emergency workers of humanitarian organisations are facing the same ethical and moral problems in their relationship with the military as we do. However, these workers still cooperate with the military, but only under strict conditions! Emergency workers apply several UN guidelines from which I would like to summarise the most crucial principles and concepts below4:

There is no room to explain all the above points, although some of them speak for themselves. It just shows you, Dr Curtis, that we are not the only ones struggling with our ponderous relationship with the armed forces. Possibly archaeologists could learn from Emergency Aid Workers; in our next discussion, we could exchange our views on this matter.

For now it does not come as a surprise to you that I fully agree with your end conclusion: “working with the army has enabled archaeologists to engage in a way that because of the security situation would otherwise have been completely impossible”. However, I might add, only under certain conditions.


1 This resolution includes this paragraph: “Noting the letter of 8 May 2003 from the Permanent Representatives of the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the President of the Security Council (S/2003/538) and recognizing the specific authorities, responsibilities, and obligations under applicable international law of these states as occupying powers under unified command (the ‘Authority’)”. For the complete text, see URL: http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions03.html and select Resolution 1483.

2 See also Emberling, G. 2008. Archaeologist and the Military in Iraq, 2003-2008: Compromise or Contribution? in Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress (4/3), pp. 445-459.

3 Scahill, J. 2007. Blackwater: The rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army. London: Serpent’s Tail.

4 The most important guidelines are:

  1. Oslo Guidelines (Nov 2006) – Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defense Assets in Disaster Relief (during Peace time).
  2. UN Military Civil Defense Assets (March 2003) – Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets to support United Nations Humanitarian Activities in Complex Emergencies (during Armed Conflict);
  3. UN/IASC (2008) – Civil-Military Guidelines & Reference for Complex Emergencies; 4. UN (2008) – United Nations Civil-Military Coordination Officer Field Handbook (Version E 1.1).

For more specific guidelines see URL: http://ochaonline.un.org/.


Rothfield, L. (ed.) 2008. Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press.

Scahill, J. 2007. Blackwater: The rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army. London: Serpent’s Tail.

UN Security Council, 2003. Resolution 1483: The situation between Iraq and Kuwait. [http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions03.html] [Accessed 27 July 2009].

Volberg, T., 2006. The sovereignty versus intervention dilemma: The challenge of conflict prevention. Geopolitics and World Society NOHA 2005/6. Ruhr-Universität Bochum Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict. [http://www.grin.com/e-boeignty-versus-intervention-dilemma-the-challenge-of-conflict]. [Accessed 27 July 2009].