Resilience of the Humanitarian Narrative in US Foreign Policy

  • Noora Kotilainen


In the post-Cold War era, interventionist foreign policy legitimized by humanitarian narratives became a central feature of the US-led liberal international order (LIO). This chapter derives from critical discipline in the study of international humanitarian politics and identifies political utilization of humanitarian reason as a central practice legitimizing the liberal order. Currently the LIO is frequently presented as contested by trajectory represented in front by President Trump’s protectionist “America First” policy, seen to mark a break from the liberal humanitarian order and leading to America abandoning the role of “leader of the liberal world.” The chapter evaluates the contemporary persistence of the humanitarian narrative frame in legitimizing foreign US policy. Trump’s resorting to the humanitarian frame is analyzed by means of narrative and rhetorical framing analysis, in two empirical cases. First, humanitarian framing in Trump’s National Security Strategy (NSS) is compared with the wording of the Obama administrations’ NSS. Secondly, the legitimization of the 2017 US airstrike to Syria and the 2013 planned intervention to Syria are compared on a narrative level. The inquiry indicates resilience and flexibility of the legitimizing humanitarian frame within recent US foreign policy. Nevertheless, the investigation shows alterations: reframing of the humanitarian subject and modification toward a more exclusive definition of protectable life.


The United States Humanitarianism Foreign policy 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Noora Kotilainen
    • 1
  1. 1.University of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

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