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Last Updated: 06/18/2014
Humanitarian Assistance and Peacebuilding: Congruence as a By-product of Incompatibility
Mahmoud Abdou

Mahmoud Abdou discusses the differences and similarities between humanitarianism and peacebuilding in both operational and ideological terms, and shows how they have increasingly supported each other in the post-Cold War era as instruments of the liberal peace approach to global governance.


This paper addresses the question of the compatibility between humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding. Generally speaking, “one could argue that the most fundamental principle of humanitarian aid—humanity—focuses on the same ideal as does the pursuit of peace: human well-being” (Schloms, 2003, p.43-44). However, humanitarian assistance is by definition a short-term enterprise, while peacebuilding is an ambitious long-term project. It is argued here that humanitarian assistance is incompatible with peacebuilding due to the contradiction between peacebuilding and the principles of impartiality, independence, and neutrality, without which humanitarianism would be dysfunctional. Additionally, the heterogeneous mandates and organizational structures of humanitarian agencies make it difficult to coordinate their efforts for a sound inclusion in peacebuilding operations. This is also the result of their being accountable solely to their public and private donors and their inability to invest resources in establishing learning structures, of both the political context in which they operate, and of the impact of their activities.

At the same time, while linking humanitarianism to peacebuilding has arguably given humanitarian assistance a renewed sense of purpose in the 1990s when it became increasingly blamed for fuelling conflicts (Schloms, 2003); the merging between peacebuilding and humanitarianism has in turn come at a point of crisis in liberal peacebuilding as Western interventions in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, have highlighted the coercive nature of liberal peace. In other words, justifying interventions on humanitarian ground is a problem-solving strategy for a peacebuilding doctrine that has had the overall success rate of merely 30-50% (on the success rate, see Krause & Jutersonke, 2005, p.449). This is in line with Rampton and Nadarajah’s argument (2014) that hybrid peace, or the proposition for an increased incorporation of local agency into peacebuilding operations, is “a problem-solving tool to overcome the crisis of liberal peace” (Rampton & Nadarajah, 2014, p.1). If hybrid peace is the foreseen end-result of a renovated liberal peace framework, then the incorporation of humanitarianism into peacebuilding is an approach for winning the hearts and minds of local populations, and in theory, reaching sustainable peace.

Thus, the second contention this paper makes is that there is an ideological congruence between humanitarianism and peacebuilding as instruments of global governance, promoting liberal values, and of Western hegemony. Mac Ginty and Richmond highlight that in the post-Cold War era, liberal peace as practised by “leading states, international organisations, international financial institutions, and NGOs….represents an increasingly formulaic synthesis of Western-style democratisation, ‘good governance’, human rights, the rule of law, and developed, open markets” (Mac Ginty & Richmond, 2007, p.481). The post-Cold War era has witnessed a blurring of the division lines between humanitarian assistance, long-term development projects, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, as well as an expansion across their division lines. As Duffield highlights, they have all become part of the power structures within the broader framework of liberal peace, wherein the world is divided into the liberal and the illiberal, the insured and the uninsured, at a moment when the future of the liberal peace project has become increasingly unpredictable (Duffield, 2007).

This paper will first provide a definition of peacebuilding and humanitarian assistance, which is followed by listing the reasons behind the incompatibility of humanitarian assistance with peacebuilding from an operational perspective. Thereafter, the argument of how peacebuilding has improved the image of humanitarianism is illustrated through examples from a variety of situations that highlight the war-inducement nature of humanitarianism. Lastly, the answer to how humanitarianism is a tool for “saving” liberal peace is given by illustrating the ideological congruence between humanitarianism and peacebuilding as tools in the service of Western hegemony.


To arrive at a sound definition of peacebuilding, it is first important to be able to distinguish between peacebuilding and other peace-support operations. Peacemaking operations, for instance, are authorized under Ch. VII of the United Nations’ Charter with the objective of facilitating a settlement, by “all means necessary,” while peacekeeping operations are authorized under Ch. VI of the Charter and aim at keeping the peace once an agreement has been negotiated and signed by the warring parties. Both types of operations are authorized by UN Security Council with a typical (renewable) mandate of six months. At the same time, and in contrast to peacekeeping and peacemaking operations that aim at establishing negative peace, the goal of peacebuilding operations is positive peace (Schloms, 2001, p.2). The distinction is that “negative peace [is] the absence of direct violence whereas positive peace as the overall objective of peacebuilding efforts means the absence of structural violence” (Schloms, 2001, p.2, citing Galtung, 1976, p.279). As highlighted by former UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali in his Agenda for Peace, peacebuilding addresses “economic despair, social injustice, and political oppression” (Boutros-Ghali, 1992, para.15). It is “action to identify and support structures which tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict” (Boutros-Ghali, 1992, para 21).

In short, while peacekeeping and peacemaking operations are “dissociative aiming at keeping the antagonists of a conflict away from each other,” peacebuilding is “an associative approach that addresses the root causes of a conflict and tries to promote dialogue, mutual trust, and integration” (Schloms, 2001, p.2). On the other hand, humanitarian assistance is usually carried out by agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Oxfam, and as defined by MSF, “humanitarianism is a term that is ‘reserved for short-term emergency aid’” such as the provision of food, shelter, water and medical care’” (MSC, 2001; cited in Schloms, 2001, p.6). Humanitarian agencies are self-defined as neutral, impartial, independent, and non-political actors that primarily seek the reduction of human suffering. In the words of de Waal, “humanitarianism is seen as a moment at which history is suspended and pure humanity is briefly in focus” (de Waal, 2010, p.135). As such, it could be argued that humanitarian organizations “dispose of ‘comparative advantages in peace processes” since their work allows them to “gather local expertise, develop links to local actors, get direct access to war-torn populations,” and since they are also often respected by all parties as an impartial and neutral actor” (Schloms, 2003, p. 40). In particular, the resources of humanitarian organizations could be instrumental in “reintroducing a sense of security, which may promote sustainable peace” (Spencer, 1998, p.28; cited in Schloms, 2003, p.40). In the words of B.S. Chimni, the utility of humanitarianism is derived from the fact that it is “not captive to any specialized legal vocabulary and tends to transcend the differences between human rights law, refugee law and humanitarian law” (Chimni, 2000, p.244).

Humanitarian Assistance and Peacebuilding: Incompatibility

Given the above definitions, a coalition between humanitarianism and peacebuilding still undermines the fact that the latter is “an integrated approach” requiring all actors, “including humanitarian NGOs, to integrate peacebuilding efforts at every stage of engagement” (Schloms, 2003, p.42). As Michael Schloms puts it, one of the main authors on the compatibility between humanitarianism and peacebuilding, humanitarian organizations need to be able to change their mandate into one that addresses the need for structurally changing the “root causes” of conflict (Schloms, 2003, p.42). In other words, there is an inherent conflict between the social justice that is sought by peacebuilding and a humanitarian sector that provides immediate relief to war victims, or seeks to restrain the actions of the warring parties (Slim & McConnan, 1998, p.4; cited in Schloms, 2001, p.5).

In general terms, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding are operationally incompatible due to three reasons. First, de Waal’s assertion that humanitarianism is a moment when “history is suspended and pure humanity is briefly in focus” is amended by his statement that the pretence of humanitarianism existing in a political vacuum becomes harder to uphold “as emergencies become prolonged” (de Waal, 2010, p.137). In this regard, humanitarian actors need to be willing to cooperate with political and government entities in protracted conflict zones, but humanitarian organizations thrive of neutrality and insist on being independent and non-political (Schloms, 2001, p.7). This makes the lack of political coordination and collaboration “the greatest obstacle” on the path of incorporating humanitarianism into peacebuilding efforts, since “classical understanding of neutrality sees any subordination to political goals and institutions as a risk to the main task, which is the alleviation of suffering” (Egeland, 1999, p.77; Schloms, 2001, p.7-8).

Second, while political coordination undermines the basic principles of humanitarian work, humanitarian organizations have often found it difficult to reach a sound coordination strategy amongst themselves. In particular, “the heterogeneity characterising humanitarian organizations renders it difficult to identify a common conceptual basis,” which could facilitate the “systematic linkage between humanitarianism and peacebuilding” (Schloms, 2001, p.17). Each humanitarian organization is an individual entity, “with its own governance, resource-base, agenda and priorities,” and there is an “almost legitimised lack of regulation” among humanitarian actors at the international and national levels in conflict zones (Barnett & Ramalingam, 2010, p.4). In addition, “self-interest and collective action dynamics,” such as the competition for donor aid and contracts from donor agencies “complicate sector-wide cooperation” (Barnett & Ramalingam, 2010, p.4). In other words, coordination is “a deeply political matter,” not just vertically, but also horizontally across the sector; “the drive to articulate and preserve agency mandates and turf, and to do so quickly, is more important than collaborating with others to maximise collective impact” (Barnett & Ramalingam, 2010, p.4).

Third, humanitarian agencies have to have the capacity to analyse and learn from the political context of their work (Schloms, 2001, p.4-5), but in reality the apolitical self-awareness of humanitarian actors has often been equated with “political naivety,” an indifference to “the socio-economic disparities and gender-related issues,” a lack of understanding of “the prevailing disparities and security environment,” and an inability “to analyse and build upon local strengths and coping mechanisms” (Smillie, 1998, p.54; cited in Schloms, 2001, p.11). In addition, humanitarian organizations are unable to learn from their own actions due to, firstly, the fact that “it is the very nature of humanitarianism to be reactive” and the provision of humanitarian aid is simply “responsive to the needs of a population” (Schloms, 2001, p.12). Second, since a “high staff turnover is a characteristic of the vast majority of aid organizations,” reflective staff have the luxury of simply joining another organization as opposed to voicing their dissatisfaction with the work of their initial organization (Schloms, 2001, p.12). Third and most importantly, humanitarian organizations depend heavily on public and private donations, which are gained “by pointing out needs on one side, and the organization’s ability to fulfil those needs on the other. The capacity to learn, by contrast, has no marketing appeal” for the donor community, which tends to view low administrative costs as an advantage (Schloms, 2001, p.14).

Despite the above-mentioned obstacles, the incorporation of humanitarian assistance into peacebuilding operations has been further advocated for as a result of the emerging debate on the security-development nexus, which tends to equate poverty and underdevelopment with insecurity and calls for addressing both through liberal peacebuilding and long-term development programs. The rational is that if poverty and underdevelopment lead to insecurity and violence, then it is possible to reach security through combating poverty and by development aid. This is reflective of the ideological convergence between humanitarianism and peacebuilding as two instruments within the broader framework of liberal peace, which makes the latter understood as “the final phase of a ‘hand-over-process’ that begins with relief aid, leads to rehabilitation and development efforts, and ends with the constitution of sustainable peace” (Schloms, 2003, p.42).

As a result, there is currently a major divide within the humanitarian sector, as a group of organizations “highlights relief aid as the classical task of humanitarianism” and an opposing camp “underlines the necessity to provide sustainable aid through more development oriented interventions” (Schloms, 2003, p.44). Meanwhile, the reality of humanitarian assistance shows that very few humanitarian organizations “restrict their activities to immediate and short-term lifesaving and relief activities,” and in fact “many of the largest humanitarian agencies are also engaging in post-conflict peace-building activities” (Collinson et al. 2010, p.286-287). For example, the French section of MSF spent 38% of its operational budget in 2000 on “mid-and long-term missions” such as supporting health facilities, providing psychological service, and launching projects for street children (Schloms, 2001, p.6). However, it is important to recognize that “aid approaches are designed from case to case” (Schloms, 2003, p.45), and as MSF itself asserts: “‘Although there is no fundamental opposition between relief aid and development assistance, there is a need to make distinctions, in particular when a conflict is ongoing.’” This is particularly urgent, for MSF, “since ‘[n]o matter the intent, organizations that engage in a development or nation-building agenda during a conflict will be perceived as taking sides’” (Hoffman & Delauney, 2010, p.6; cited in Collinson et al., 2010, p.278).

The result of blurring the division lines between humanitarianism and long-term development projects that are associated with peacebuilding is the politicization of humanitarianism, and compromising the access of humanitarian agencies to conflict zones. In some case such as Iraq and Afghanistan, humanitarian organizations have even become a target for insurgents and of resistance from local populations alike (see Christie, 2012). As Schloms’ studies on the compatibility between humanitarianism and peacebuilding conclude: a humanitarian organization “that primarily seeks to restrain violence and to promote peace, that is willing to provide structural and societal change, that is prepared to cooperate with governmental and political actors…and, finally that is willing and able to analyse the political context of its action, is an illusion” (Schloms, 2003, p.52). Therefore, one cannot help wondering: what are the incentives behind the merging across the classical division lines between short-term humanitarian assistance and long-term development and peacebuilding projects? One hypothesis is that the relationship is mutually beneficial; humanitarianism has a lot to gain from peacebuilding, while peacebuilding is becoming increasingly based on the principles of humanitarianism.

Humanitarian Assistance as a Cause of Conflict

As Schloms highlights, linking humanitarian assistance to peacebuilding has given humanitarianism a “‘moral banner to march behind’ that ‘serves to re-legitimize an arena of aid that has been blamed for fuelling conflicts, prolonging wars and standing neutral in the face of genocide’” (Schloms, 2003, p.40). For example, Lischer (2003) reports that after the genocide ended in the case of Rwanda nearly 70,000 Hutu soldiers, militia members, and former genocide perpetrators joined the refugee camps in exile. As those armed refugees ran a state-in-exile through the camps’ population of nearly 2 million Hutus, they became a “major catalyst for regional insecurity in Central Africa” while remaining internationally supported through humanitarian aid organizations (Lischer, 2003, p.40). Lischer highlights that refugee relief could “feed militants, sustain and protect militants’ supporters, contribute to the war economy, and provide legitimacy to combatants” (Lischer, 2003, p.82). In general terms, she stresses that “humanitarian assistance may be delivered with impartial and neutral intent, but the effects of the humanitarian actions always have political, and sometimes even military, repercussions” (Lischer, 2003, p.81-82).

The examples of how aid could reproduce conflict dynamics are numerous. Rwanda invaded Zaire in 1996 in order to create a security zone along its borderline, partly due to the fact that it “viewed the international support of the refugees as a contributing factor toward its insecurity” (Lishcer, 2003, p.98). In other cases such as the civil war in Liberia in the mid-1990s, nearly $20 million in equipment were stolen from humanitarian agencies, in a manner that was reported by the ICRC to be systematically “‘integrated into the war strategy”’ and the war economy (ICRC, 2000, p.25; cited in Lischer, 2003, p.84). As Linda Polman explains in The Crisis Caravan (2010), in Sierra Leone the crisis reached a point “where the armless and legless had piles of extra prosthetics in their huts and still went around with their stubs exposed to satisfy the demands of press and N.G.O. photographers, who brought more money and more aid” (Courevitch, 2010, p.4). “Sowing horror to reap aid, and reaping aid to sow horror,” retorts Polman, “‘is the logic of the humanitarian era’” (Polman, 2010; cited in Courevitch, 2010, p.4).

Florence Nightingale, the “godmother” of humanitarian assistance who opposed the creation of the ICRC from the outset, has forewarned that “humanitarianism relieves the warring parties of many of the burdens (administrative and financial) of waging war,” and this generally has the effect of “diminishing the demands of governing while fighting, cutting the cost of sustaining casualties, and supplying the food, medicine, and logistical support that keep armies going” (Courevitch, 2010). In the illustrative case of Palestine, Anne Le More (2005) points out that humanitarian assistance has had the effect of “funding the demise of the Palestinian state.” She explains that under humanitarian international law and the Geneva Conventions, Israel as the occupier has the overall responsibility of administering the Palestinian territories; however, the peacebuilding project of the Oslo Process (1993-2000) has transferred this responsibility to the Palestinian Authority (PA) – the emerging state-building entity. At the same time, humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, which increased significantly as a result of the second Palestinian intifada, has helped reduce the PA into an administrative body that lacks sovereignty over its territory, airspace, or sea (Le More, 2005). In other words, humanitarian assistance in Palestine has had the effect of subsidising the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land (Le More, 2005).

Polman reports that similar “moral hazard” can be found “on display wherever aid workers are displayed” (Polman, 2010; cited in Courevitch, 2010, p.4), which is also illuminated by Fiona Terry’s phrase that humanitarianism is “‘condemned to repeat’” (Qtd in de Waal, 2010, p.132-3). In other words, “by making war less inhumane, it can be said to be making it less intolerable” (De Waal, 2010, p.132-3). As de Waal puts it, the “humanitarians’ tragedy” arises from “goals that cannot be reconciled among themselves and the inevitable outcome of pursuing ideals amid the most horrific constrains of war and violent social upheaval” (De Waal, 2010, p.130). Despite claims that there has been a sector-wide reform since the Rwanda genocide, what some analysts call a “‘quiet revolution’” aiming at establishing greater accountability and self-reflection within the humanitarian sector, “the sector remains largely and recognisably the same” and it is becoming increasingly resistant to change or path-dependant (Barnett & Ramalingam, 2010, p.2&6). This path-dependency that is created by the lack of coordination and cooperation among the different humanitarian agencies has led to the merging of a supposedly impartial and neutral sector into the broader liberal peace framework. The underling rational is that this merging is both cost-effective and does not introduce any structural changes to change-resistant humanitarian assistance.

In 2002, military-civilian commands in the form of Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq and Afghanistan were even created, “with the aim of providing a modicum of security and development in insecure regions” (Christie, 2012, p.53). Christie explains that PRTs carryout “humanitarian relief…; the construction of large infrastructure projects such as roads and schools;…and the coordination of state donor funds for projects in communities where PRTs operate” (Christie, 2012, p.56). It is worth mentioning that PRTs’ mandate does not allow them “to contract on the basis of need,” which is, as Christie highlights, “a central tenet of traditional humanitarianism. Rather, projects are selected and implemented on the basis of whether they will help in the fight to win ‘hearts and minds’, to combat the insurgency and to protect [international] forces” (Christie, 2012, p.56). Many organizations, including CARE Canada, ACBAR, and Save the Children, as well as analysts and NGO practitioners, have questioned this “unity of command” in the form of PRTs and argued that “PRTs are contributing to an environment where the humanitarian and development missions are becoming militarized as underdevelopment has come to be seen as a source of insecurity” (Christie, 2012, p.67). In other words, PRTs resemble how “development has become a weapon to achieve the military aims of local security and to control territory and people (Wheeler and Harmer, 2006, p.9; cited in Christie, 2012, p.56).

Congruence as a By-product of Incompatibility?

Schloms (2003) highlights that linking humanitarian assistance to peacebuilding was an attempt to save the image of humanitarianism after the criticism of war-inducement that it received in the 1990s. However, after U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the ensuing stabilization, counterinsurgency and peacebuilding efforts, linking peacebuilding to humanitarian assistance has in turn become an attempt to “save” the liberal peace project through highlighting the humane aspects of such missions. Additionally, linking humanitarianism and development to security, i.e. in the form of PRTs makes the convergence between those two different aspects of aid and security under structural unity an approach towards the nullification of resistance to the liberal order. The 9/11 attacks have emphasized the need to contain instability in distant parts of the world, in what Collinson et al refer to as “‘islands of instability’…particularly in their association with international terrorism, transnational crime and other real and existential threats” (Collinson et al. 2010, p.278). In other words, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding are increasingly becoming utilized as part of a grand strategy for securing Western interests (See Duffield, 2007). Such a strategy represents the biopolitics of the liberal vs. the illiberal, North v.s. South, the international v. the local, and it is one that depicts the south as a source of plague (insecurity) that needs to be contained.

The post-Cold War era has witnessed the erosion of humanitarianism’s main principles and aims as it became politicized, appropriated, and further expanded into the framework of liberal peace and long-term development work. It has become a problem-solving tool within the peacebuilding enterprise itself, an approach towards reaching the appropriate level of hybridity between local and international actors in order to reverse the particular criticism of the liberal peace project as a Western/Eurocentric enterprise or as a neo-colonial project. However, the PRTs’ particular provision of humanitarian aid in a manner that advances the interests of the international armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, rather than on the basis of need, depicts the flawed nature of this congruence. Further, the blurring of the division lines between relief aid, rehabilitation work, development projects, and peacebuilding has had damaging effects. On some levels it has led to the re-production of conflict dynamics and contributing to the rise of insurgency and thereby the ensuing need for counterinsurgency and stabilization campaigns, and on a different level it has had the effect of enforcing, rather than nullifying, the imagine of liberal peace as a neo-colonialist project that is primarily concerned with safe-guarding the liberal world order.

Courevitch argues that humanitarianism has “become a dominant justification for Western war-making” (Courevitch, 2010). More bluntly, Chimni asserts that “humanitarianism is the ideology of hegemonic states in the era of globalization marked by the end of the Cold War and a growing North-South divide” (Chimni, 2001, p.243). Chimni highlights that humanitarianism carries with it a double meaning: “the justification of the use of force, in particular intervention and wars, and the amelioration of painful local conditions engendered by globalization through a neo-liberal political and economic package” that aims at extending the reach of the Western capitalist system (Chimni, 2000, p.244). The ultimate goal of such an ideology is dominance (Chimni, 2000, p.245). Therefore, it is not surprising, remarks Chimni, that one of the first strategies that the international donor community implemented in Kosovo following the NATO operation has been “to put in place ‘a healthy and predictable environment of private investment and, more broadly, an accelerated process of transition to transform Kosovo into a market economy’” (Chimni, 2000, p.24; see also Pugh, p.26). Rather than serving a supposedly “united humanity,” humanitarianism, argues Chimni, is simply being instrumentalized to serve “a new phase of imperialism” (Chimni, 2000, p.249).

In this view, there is certainly a congruence between humanitarian assistance and a liberal peacebuilding enterprise that aims at replacing the hegemony of local actors over their populations, with that of the intervening Western states. Gramsci defines hegemony as “‘the spontaneous consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group,’” which is also “rooted in the control that dominant groups maintain over the economy” (Gramsci, 1971, p.12; cited in Fetherston, 2000, p.210). It is only coincidental that one of the primary tasks of PRTs in Afghanistan and Iraq is winning the hearts and minds of the local population, while making aid and development conditional on security (Christie, 2012, p.56). Thus, in a Gramscian sense, peacebuilding operations could be characterized as a “war of position,” and humanitarianism could be seen as one of its primary tools, with the objective of the social transformation of societies in line with liberal values and ideals. Enforced by the terrorist attacks of the 9/11/2001, this social-engineering is facilitated through the linking of security to development, in an attempt to transform those spaces of unruly populations and other orders that are resistant to the liberal order, thereby giving a higher priority to development (and thereby security) than to conflict resolution. It is only understandable then that the record of success in such operations is limited.

Krause and Jutersonke report that, “[n]ot only do about half of all peace support operations (including both peacekeeping and more expansive peacebuilding operations) fail after around five years, but there also seems to be,” they stress, “no clear idea of what ‘success’ or failure’ actually mean, nor of what an appropriate timeframe for measuring success might be” (Krause & Jutersonke, 2005, p.448). The underpinning cause of failure for post-conflict peacebuilding operations, argues Krause and Jutersonke, is the assumption that they could “unpack the historical process by which contemporary states were built, determine how a stable and secure domestic order was created, and apply the ‘recipe’…to post-conflict environments” (Krause & Jutersonke, 2005, p.451). In other words, the attempt to transform societies with liberal values such as democracy, human rights, and free market economics is “wrong-headed or at least unlikely to capture the reality of complex political, economic and social circumstances” (Krause & Jutersonke, 2005, 451).


This paper has illustrated how the question of the compatibility between humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding does not have a straight-forward answer. It has been argued here that humanitarianism and peacebuilding are operationally incompatible due to practicalities such as the accountability of humanitarian agencies to their donor community and the lack of learning structures within the organizational apparatus of humanitarian actors. In addition, such incompatibility stems from the inherent contradiction between a fundamentally political peacebuilding program, and a humanitarian sector that is built on the values of independence, impartiality, and neutrality. At the sometime, if peacebuilding has come to the aid of humanitarianism at the turn of the century, and provided it with a renewed sense of purpose at a time when the later was increasingly blamed for fuelling conflicts; humanitarianism has been utilized as a tool for “saving” liberal peacebuilding when Western interventions in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan highlighted the patronising and in some sense oppressive nature of peacebuilding. As such, the second line of argument this paper makes concerns the ideological congruence between humanitarianism and peacebuilding as a by-product of their incompatibility, or as tools in the service of hegemonic Western states that are bent on the social transformation of unruly parts of the world into liberal societies.

This merging between humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding has been carried out and advocated for regardless of discrediting facts on the ground that have highlighted the loss of humanitarian corridors into conflict zones, and/or illuminated the patronising and coercive nature of liberal peace as opposed to providing the cure for it. In particular, the blurring of the division lines between humanitarianism and development, equating poverty and underdevelopment to insecurity, and the call for combating poverty and insecurity through the liberal peace framework, have all turned peacebuilding into “a war of position” in a Gramscian sense. It advances the social-engineering of societies along liberal values of democracy, human rights, role of law, good governance, and free market economics as the appropriate approach for nullifying the resistance to liberal order and securing Western interests and populations. In other words, the end result of this congruence between humanitarianism and peacebuilding has been that of serving Western hegemony while the track-record of the general liberal peace operations remains a largely negative one.

A possible starting point for investigating such a negative track-record could be one that takes into consideration the operational incompatibility between peacebuilding and humanitarianism. Most importantly, however, it is worth keeping in mind that if it took nearly 300 years for the sovereign-state system to be born in Westphalia in 1648, it is naïve to assume that societies that only recently gained their independence from the former colonial powers would embrace this statehood without an incremental realisation/appreciation of its value. Coming up with a recipe that includes democracy and the social transformation of those societies along liberal values using humanitarian and development aid would also be equivalent to adding salt to the open wounds of colonialism. It is not a surprise that it would be doomed to fail and “condemned to repeat.”


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The author has lived and studied in Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Norway, the U.S., Germany, Costa Rica, and is currently based in the UK. He holds a BA in Political Science from Middlebury College in the USA, a MA in American Studies from Heidelberg University in Germany, a MA in International Law and the Settlement of Disputes from the UN University for Peace in Costa Rica, and he is currently completing his dissertation for a MSc in International Relations at the London School of Economics. His list of publications include a book, chapters in another book, and a number of online articles and position papers.