The Charity of Nations: Humanitarian Action in a Calculating World

The Charity of Nations: Humanitarian Action in a Calculating World

The Charity of Nations: Humanitarian Action in a Calculating World

The Charity of Nations: Humanitarian Action in a Calculating World

Synopsis

• Probes the reasons behind governmental and nongovernmental responses to urgent human need

• Will be one of the most important and influential assessments of humanitarianism in a decade

• Up-to-date field research, extensive interviews with practitioners and donor government officials, and over sixty collective years of work in humanitarian and development issues

• Accessibly written for the concerned international public, undergraduate and graduate students, practitioners, and analysts troubled by the direction of today's humanitarian action

The charitable impulse has a history rooted in ethics. But much of what passes for humanitarianism today is a commercial enterprise, manipulated by market forces of supply and demand. And since the launch of the "war on terror," national security interests and political objectives have increasingly come into play. The Charity of Nations probes the reasons behind governmental and nongovernmental responses to urgent human need. It explains why some crises get the lion's share of attention and resources, while others are essentially forgotten.

Vibrantly contrasting cases of Afghanistan, East Timor, and Sierra Leone, among others, illustrate how foreign policy and domestic politics have shaped what has become the business of humanitarianism. The authors call for a revamped humanitarian structure--one that eliminates the ambiguities and confusion that exist today. They argue for a shift away from rampant political and commercial intrusions, and a rededication to multilateralism, genuine accountability, and trust.

Excerpt

In recent years, the moral necessity of humanitarian action is no longer self-evident and has become a matter of debate. A contributing factor is the unevenness of the response to emergencies, with human need going largely unaddressed in some crises while being inundated with attention and resources in others. The humanitarian “imperative” is difficult to take seriously when its application is so tattered. Another factor that casts a long shadow is the increased commercialism of the humanitarian world. The big business aspects of the aid enterprise make it seem entrepreneurial and opportunistic, thus undermining claims to a higher and nobler status. Equally disturbing, the effectiveness of humanitarian action—whether driven by moral, political, or economic considerations—often seems self-defeating. This muchvaunted imperative has also been discredited by activities that prolong suffering, fuel and extend wars, delay peace agreements, and marginalize local leadership and institutions.

As a result of the very mixed reviews of their work, aid organizations find themselves faced with the challenge of defending—or, in some quarters, reinstating—the humanitarian imperative, now downgraded from a given to a desideratum. “Human rights and humanitarianism are not unassailable moral goods,” writes David Rieff. “They are ideologies—as questionable as neoliberalism or communism or Christianity.” As a result, the case for their compelling claim on international action and resources has become a matter of public debate. “The virtue of the political,” Rieff concludes, “is that the case for making the most tragic of all public decisions becomes controversial and a matter for public debate, rather than some kind of categorical moral imperative whose need to be undertaken is deemed to be self-evident.”

Today, aid and human rights organizations spend vast amounts of time and energy making a timely case for humanitarian action, framing . . .

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