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The trouble with humanitarianism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2007


Humanitarianism – that is, the political, economic and military interference in the domestic affairs of a state justified by a nascent transnational morality – is one of the defining and most controversial features of the post-Cold War period. This article advances nine theses, arguing that humanitarianism has a simplistic worldview, that coercive humanitarian actions trigger negative consequences, that humanitarianism is quite effective in sheltering Western states from the spillover effects of political crises but is less so in solving the problems it claims to address. These arguments are illustrated with reference to four prominent cases: Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda and Darfur. The article concludes with a brief outline of an alternative humanitarian approach.

Research Article
Copyright © British International Studies Association 2007

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