Not all social and geographical environments are created equal. A main stay of my professional life has been hostile environment or non-permissive environment operations and training. I have developed and run the Hostile Environment Awareness Training course for a number of companies and spent many years working in the non-permissive environment. Although this is a common factor for people who work in these areas, the term isn’t widely known.

It’s Not What You Think It Is

The term “Hostile Environment” is often used, but it can also mean a hostile workplace, due to this confusion most professionals use the term “Non-Permissive Environment”. The definition I will use comes from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (U.S.), this states that the non-permissive environment is:

“An operational environment in which host government forces, whether opposed to or receptive to operations that a unit intends to conduct, do not have effective control of the territory and population of the intended operational area (Uncertain Environment); or an operational environment in which hostile forces have control as well as the intent and capability to oppose or react effectively to operations the unit intends to conduct (Hostile Environment).”

The “unit” in this definition may be military, but in my professional experience, outside of a few large scale security operations, I have worked exclusively with small teams of civilian personnel operating in the non-permissive environment. Training for the non-permissive environment is not limited to military units or civilian teams, it may be perfectly relevant to the individual who travels to regions fitting the above definition.

Bethlehem at the security barrier.

Certainly, ongoing conflict zones and failed states count as non-permissive, but in many countries, stray too far outside the resort and one will be in a non-permissive environment for sure. For this purpose, non-permissive environment training is a must for any avid traveler, as well as those who travel to such places in a professional capacity.

They Are Not The Same

Non-permissive environments vary. Every culture has specific endemic threats and criminal methodologies. Some areas may be risky due to long term abduction, short term abduction, mugging, police extortion, IED’s, or some other specific threat.

With a crew filming migrants in a tunnel, U.S. / Mexico border.

Self-defense in the context of the non-permissive environment is very different to what most people experience in their training. In such an environment there is often no standard justification for use of force. Many people ask if I carry firearms on work assignments, typically the firearm grabs attention instead of deflecting it (a key element). The firearm is of no real use when you are the lone protection element and you are outnumbered an entire region or country to one!

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Sinaloa, Mexico with the largest drug shipment ever caught on film, 360 kg.

Your Best Tool Is Your Brain

In the non-permissive environment, self-defense is about precise and thoughtful decision making, understanding the culture and environment and navigating it delicately. Doing all of this under extreme stress and with mission success as a focus is the key.

Important aspects (best managed prior to departure):

  • Local dress and customs
  • Knowing the players in the local conflicts
  • Coordination with friendly government assets like embassies, NGO’s, and expatriates
  • Knowledge of the legal system
  • Language skills
  • Vetting a network of trusted local nationals to assist in mission goals
  • Knowledge of endemic threats from the population
  • Knowledge of endemic threats in the environment (illness, seismic activity, poor roads, etc…)
  • Selecting vehicles for use
  • Trauma medicine skills (and covertly carrying the necessary equipment)

There Is No Room For Fantasy Or Delusion

No where on this list is “run and gun” skills. If your training for the non-permissive environment involves running around the range in tactical gear shooting 5.56mm from behind barricades you are probably training for a fantasy not the reality I have experienced.

Aftermath of an angry crowd in Washington D.C., January, 2017.

Remember however you find yourself alone or as the sole security provider in the non-permissive environment, self-defense will not look like Jiu Jitsu or long range rifle shooting. It will be the ability to intelligently make decisions under stress that pre-empt the use of any violence. Your training should reflect this, and I bet in the process your self-defense skills for the domestic environment will improve by leaps and bounds.

Jason Bourne vs. Reality, The Non-Permissive Environment

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