Dilemmas of humanitarian aid in the twentieth century is a comprehensive historical account of humanitarianism from the mid-nineteenth century to the 2000s. It situates developments in international aid, assistance and relief in various parts of the world within larger, enduring themes. As the editor, Johannes Paulmann, underlines, ‘some of the dilemmas of modern humanitarianism have been inherent in humanitarian practice for more than a century’ (p. 3). The contributors to the volume focus on interconnected turning-points in the history of humanitarianism. Matthias Schulz and Daniel Maul detail the beginnings of aid internationalism, focusing on the ICRC and the American Friends Service Committee, from the late nineteenth century to the first two decades of the twentieth. They argue that the emergent humanitarianism ‘undermined the sole authority of the state in international relations’ (p. 61). Nevertheless, as Alain Guilloux remarks, these new forms of assistance were ‘integrated with military health services and firmly entrenched in nationalistic values’ (p. 401). The interwar period brought about a new stage in humanitarianism, characterized by two phenomena. First, as Davide Rodogno (with Shaloma Gauthier and Francesca Piana), Joëlle Droux and Heide Fehrenbach show in separate chapters, there was a shift towards professionalization, reliant ‘on social scientific knowledge-based approaches to the management of humanitarian problems’ (p. 167). Rodogno investigates how the League of Nations' mission in Western Thrace, Greece, from 1922 to 1924, turned into a social engineering experiment—hardly unique at the time. Droux describes the transformation of the Save the Children International Union into ‘an expert network advocating child protection’ (p. 187). Fehrenbach examines the continuity between pre- and post-1945 developments by looking at the International Social Service's, and later the United Nations', roles in international adoption. Second, Francisco Javier Martínez-Antonio, Caroline Reeves and Rodogno tie humanitarianism to imperialism and western claims of civilizational superiority. In his chapter about the ICRC's reactions to the Rif War in Morocco—which involved two colonial powers of different weight, Spain and France, as well as Riffian forces—Martínez-Antonio connects the weakness of the nation-state to humanitarian non-intervention. Similar ambiguity characterized the ICRC's position in Biafra, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. Reeves shows how the Chinese Red Cross movement was tied to nation-building and to the country's will for membership among the ‘civilized’ nations. This story is counterbalanced with a discussion of the American Red Cross's extraterritoriality, which signalled the West's control over a China that allegedly could not reform on its own. Daniel Palmieri and Irène Herrmann emphasize that, during the Second World War, Sweden and Switzerland advanced their national interests through local Red Cross societies and the ICRC. In the post-1945 period, the connection between the globalization of humanitarianism and military and (neo-)colonial interests remains an underlying thread. Shobana Shankar discusses how the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) acquired its apolitical and universalist reputation by becoming involved in assistance to Africa. She insists that there was intense competition over humanitarian interventions in decolonizing African territories, which led to decentralization, as aid often crippled the new states' sovereignty. Young-sun Hong discusses the Algerian War through the lens of Cold War politics and the surge of internationalism in the global South. She stresses that ‘the postwar global humanitarian regime’ was constructed on ‘the civilizational difference between Europe and extra-Europe. This view also underpinned the Cold War logic, which portrayed decolonization crises in the global South as security problems’ (p. 290). Konrad J. Kuhn, Florian Hannig, Michael Vössing and Michal Givoni analyse another shift in humanitarianism, taking place from the 1960s onwards. They distinguish two departure-points: the challenge to government prerogative to distribute relief and the demands for solidarity within the ‘Third World’, based on principles of justice and the right to freedom from famine, disease and oppression. Kuhn deals with the reactions to the humanitarian crisis of the Nigerian–Biafran War and the campaign against the Cahora Bassa Dam in Mozambique. He argues that ‘the “Third World” became a political and social laboratory and performative tool for forming new concepts of solidarity and justice’ (p. 326). The closing chapters bring readers into the post-Cold War era. Guilloux explains Asian states' reluctance to endorse post-1945 humanitarian norms. While pointing to these countries' focus on sovereignty and to the lack of homogeneity in the region, the author also insists that ‘the legacy of colonization, control of the United Nations by western powers in the 1950s and 1960s, western pressure and interventions, and the Cold War’ are contributing factors (pp. 406–407). Eva Spies examines ‘participatory development’, which aims to involve the beneficiaries of interventions by ‘listening to their needs and aims, and encouraging them to assume responsibility for and control over “their” development’ (p. 420). However, there remains tension between empowerment and donors' and aid workers' inability to come to terms with the ‘other’ and to question how their expertise applies in local contexts. The dilemmas of humanitarianism boil down to six phenomena: the distance between those who suffer and the providers of aid; the impact of the media, which is sometimes at odds with assistance priorities; the politics of empathy, as narratives of suffering and relief obscure the roots of crises; the links between humanitarianism and politics, as the former is instrumentalized for the benefit of the latter; aid organizations' own policies, which combine national, international and transnational agendas; and the intercultural and subjective relationships between donors and beneficiaries. This edited volume discusses these dilemmas in ‘a polycentric, multilayered manner’ (p. 28), surveying humanitarianism in the longue durée and within a global context. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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