Humanitarian Action in International Relations: Power and Politics

Chapter

Abstract

This chapter aims to discuss the relationship between humanitarianism and international power structures. It does so by examining how different schools of thought—Realism, Liberalism, and Critical Theory/Dependency perspectives—have analysed humanitarian action in international politics. The chapter shows that analyses differ widely. Realist thinking stresses how humanitarian action regularly becomes part and parcel of a State’s foreign and security policy, a tool of statecraft available to States. Humanitarian actors themselves, in this vein of thought, wield little independent power. To those that perceive humanitarian action as part and parcel of fundamentally unequal North-South relations, humanitarianism is powerful—but vis-à-vis individuals and States in the global South only. In contrast, humanitarians cannot change the way that an unjust international system, of which humanitarian crises are a recurrent feature, operates. Liberals claim that humanitarian actors are far from powerless as they have over centuries managed to change the normative environment in which States operate through their successful advocacy. However, all the above analyses focus on international politics. Thus, they easily obfuscate the more national and local power dynamics involved in the delivery of humanitarian aid.

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Further Reading

  1. Barnett M (2011) Empire of humanity: a history of humanitarianism. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  2. de Waal A (1997) Famine crimes: politics and the disaster relief industry in Africa. African Rights & the International African InstituteGoogle Scholar
  3. Donini A (2010) The far side: the meta-functions of humanitarianism in a globalized world. Disasters 220–237Google Scholar
  4. Terry F (2002) Condemned to repeat? The paradox of humanitarian action. Cornell University PressGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MaltaMsidaMalta

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