Conjunctures in the History of International Humanitarian Aid during the Twentieth Century

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Humanitarian aid is in many ways a malleable concept. It covers a broad range of activities, including emergency relief delivered to people struck by natural or man-made disasters; longer-term efforts to prevent suffering from famine, ill-health, or poverty; and schemes such as international adoption, specific campaigns against human rights abuses, and humanitarian intervention by armed forces. This essay focuses primarily on emergency relief. After a brief overview of the different terms and concepts of humanitarian aid, I discuss existing narratives of international humanitarian aid and identify crucial historical conjunctures during the twentieth century. My primary argument is that neither the history of humanitarian organizations, nor aid as a function of political economy, nor the evolution of global humanitarian governance provides a satisfactory historical explanation for the development of humanitarian aid during the twentieth century. Rather than such long-term narratives, the explanation may lie in the turning points themselves, in historical conjunctures and contingencies. This essay explores three such conjunctures to develop this view.


Terms and Concepts of Humanitarian Aid

Rather than clear-cut definitions of humanitarian aid, we find a complex constellation of terms and concepts. A historical study of the evolution and variations of the term has so far not been undertaken. It would have to include the analysis of the strategic use of language by aid agencies, governments, recipients of aid, and academics, because appeals and claims to humanitarianism served and continue to serve specific goals in specific situations.1 The power of the actors in this discourse depended on their resources, authority, and media access. The manner in which situations were framed and described (for example, in terms of ethics, religion, human rights, or markets) affected the kind of humanitarian policies which could be implemented at a particular time. Terms used—or not used, for that matter—could position humanitarian action within political contexts or could keep it out of politics. While a thorough investigation of historical usage would be highly desirable, the following observations regarding different terms and concepts are only intended to give a brief overview.

For the sake of argument, let me start with a narrow understanding of humanitarian aid as the immediate assistance provided to people in need. Immediately a whole semantic field comes to mind. “Relief,” “rehabilitation,” and “protection and prevention” are related terms.2They all refer to a range of aims connected with the assistance given to victims of disaster. “Development aid” again introduces a long-term goal that goes beyond immediate needs, while “foreign aid” highlights the foreign policy interests inherent in development projects.3The need to legitimize aid becomes apparent when aid is framed in judicial terms as a “human right” or in social policy terms as part of a “global welfare policy.”4 In some circumstances assistance can only be given if military means are employed; we then speak of “humanitarian intervention” and the creation of “humanitarian spaces” in the midst of war zones.5

Surrounding this array of overlapping and often equivalent terms, various ideas, attitudes, convictions, ideologies, or emotions can be identified which have motivated those who provide humanitarian aid. Among them are “charity” and “philanthropy,” “humanity” and “solidarity,” or, with a view toward long-term aims, “civilizing mission,” “modernization,” and “global justice.”6 All of these concepts have different implications for the relationship between donors and recipients. If we look at the causes or catalysts of urgent humanitarian needs, they range from natural disaster, war, and displacement to famine, sickness, epidemics, poverty, and economic dependency. The term “complex emergencies” was coined in the 1990s to distinguish conflict-generated emergencies from disasters caused by natural forces and to emphasize that there are several causes and multiple actors involved, both local and international.7

Situating humanitarian aid among other related concepts broadens our understanding of the contexts in which various agents have argued over emergency relief. However, it is also necessary to review the term itself and its components. Although a narrow definition of aid as “assistance given to people in immediate need resulting from natural or man-made disaster” appears clear-cut, upon closer investigation it is imprecise.8 “Immediate” unduly neglects the fact that many people who provide aid do reflect on the medium- or long-term causes and effects. The adjective disregards the practical and organizational extensions of relief into development assistance and ignores the fact that giving immediate help often implies “witnessing” suffering and providing succor for it in the long run.9 While some scholars have argued that the distinction between aid and development stems from different models of humanitarianism, emergency and development aid seem to have coexisted for a long time.10It was only in the 1980s that the distinction became sharper in practice as well as in academic analysis and went beyond the temporal distinction between short- and long-term. The differentiation was due to a change in policies from development aid to structural adjustment and the increased competition over funds and responsibilities between proliferating non-governmental organizations and public agencies. The most recent debates on the politicization and professionalization of humanitarian aid are partly a result of these processes.11

Furthermore, the differentiation between “natural” and “man-made” is misleading because “natural” may include man-made factors—for example, a lack of preparedness, water shortages through drainage, dense population leading to settlement in dangerous areas, or the politics of relief, which allows or prevents access to relief for particular groups.12 The very term “emergency” also has strong connotations.13 It suggests that need arises suddenly and unpredictably while simultaneously locating the situation in a specific place. The disaster is thereby somehow disconnected from global interactions. Those human actions that contributed to the gradual development of a crisis thus remain obscured. Its causes are attributed to forces of nature or the evil nature of man so that the disaster becomes somehow “naturalized” and appears to stem merely from local “root problems.” Craig Calhoun accordingly speaks of “the emergency imaginary,” arguing that in the recent past the emergencies we learn about are regarded as local exceptions to an imaginary norm of global order, however frequently they occur.14 They have thus become a sort of normal incident in the eyes of distant observers. Responding to them by quickly delivering assistance worldwide has become one of the modalities of globalization, carrying moral imperatives for immediate actions.

Finally, “humanitarian” is no less subject to shifting meanings. Its modern European version combines different threads, including the reform movements originating in the Enlightenment that set out to change the world for the better of humanity, the transformation of religious life and thought, and the evolution of philanthropy.15 A “wave of humanitarian reform sentiment” swept through European and North American societies in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.16 It reflected among other things a new sense of interconnectedness that propelled people to take on new responsibilities and act from a distance. The most prominent example was the movement to end the slave trade and slavery, but humanitarians also dedicated themselves to prisons, hospitals, poor relief, and other fields. Interestingly, concerns with the human consequences of war only emerged in the 1860s and constituted a late expression rather than the beginning of humanitarian action. Although humanitarian reform entailed strong secular concerns, it was by no means a purely secular phenomenon but rather closely linked to and supplemented by religious developments.17 Religious motivations drove many if not most of the reformers and made many others turn toward worldly service in medical practice, child education, or other areas. Religious morality left a strong imprint on the nineteenth-century world and beyond.18Humanitarianism intertwined religious and secular dimensions. By developing a range of philanthropic activities, missionary societies and philanthropic and religious associations contributed significantly to the (re)definition of social issues, within Europe and beyond. While their original aim was to proselytize and save “heathens,” in the process they implemented a number of humanitarian projects outside Europe.19 Finally, the evolution of modern humanitarianism overlapped with the transformation of philanthropy, which turned toward “strangers” at home and abroad and became increasingly concerned with efficiency and professionalism.

The reformist, religious, and philanthropic strands all contributed to the evolution of modern humanitarianism, forming the essential components of the malleable meaning of “humanitarian” aid. The mixture has varied depending on specific circumstances. In the late twentieth century the reformist ingredient appears to have been prevalent in neighboring fields such as human rights or development, so that humanitarianism is understood by some as simply meaning “efficient and immediate assistance in an emergency.” For historians, it is the narrowness of this definition which proves problematic. Currently, it is the object of a political debate mostly among humanitarian agencies, a debate that stands in striking contrast to the complex demands of the global world that seem to defy the clarity suggested by the definition.


Historical Narratives of Humanitarian Aid

Historical writing on humanitarian aid has long been characterized by a focus on particular organizations, emphasizing the achievements of outstanding individuals that are woven into the narrative in a partly biographical and usually hagiographic way. The storyline frequently follows what could be called a “fairy tale” emplotment.20 A helpless victim is afflicted by a disease (famine, ill health, the loss of shelter) or a misfortune (war or weather). Enter the heroic savior (foreign aid worker, preferably white, or an aid agency) who is moved by compassion and supported by donors. He (or she) employs a magic wand (modern technology such as medicine and cargo planes) to help in horrific instances of suffering. While television may be particularly prone to telling such simple stories, the narrative has not been confined to the visual media but can also be found in Christian missionaries’ narratives of redemption, as well as in the official institutional histories mandated by aid agencies.21General historical reflections on the field have been put forward by some participating contemporaries, but they seldom reach beyond the last twenty-five years. It is only recently that scholars have discovered the history of humanitarian aid. Depending on their focus, their histories have different starting points; thus far they fall into three major narratives: some concentrate on organizational growth; others deal with the political economy of aid; while a third narrative thread focuses on the emergence of global humanitarian governance.


A History of Humanitarian Organizations

The anthropologist Jonathan Benthall, for example, takes an organizational reference point to divide the history of humanitarian relief into the time “before Dunant” and the modern period since the foundation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1864.22 According to him, earlier instances of assistance given to people in immediate need originated in religious beliefs and, beginning in the era of Enlightenment, in the philosophical recognition that a common humanity existed. Yet they remained localized even if they reached distant sufferers, and it was only the Red Cross movement that started to pursue truly international aspirations. Based in Switzerland and in the societies of contracting countries, the Red Cross set standards for several other relief organizations, such as Save the Children (founded in 1919), Oxfam (1942), and CARE (1945), all of which were in the beginning firmly anchored in nation-states.23

According to this narrative, the rise of international governmental organizations marks the beginning of a new phase. Even though their origins can be traced back to the First World War and the establishment of the League of Nations’ High Commission for Refugees under Fridtjof Nansen, it was only after the Second World War that the number of intergovernmental humanitarian organizations, now under the auspices of the United Nations, started to grow rapidly.24 Agencies with short-term mandates, such as the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), would soon be dismantled, but new emergency offices were established two decades later.25 The UN Disaster Relief Office was created in 1971, followed by the emergency offices of UNICEF in the same year. A series of international UN conferences spurred the establishment of emergency offices by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme, and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1974–75, trailed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1980.26

From an organizational perspective, the most recent period of humanitarian aid began with the proliferation of global NGOs, particularly since the 1980s. This phase has been characterized by heightened competition among agencies, both over funds and in the field, and by intense media involvement.27 By 1992, the United Nations had become the largest provider of humanitarian assistance worldwide, and in order to facilitate coordination, the UN created a Department of Humanitarian Affairs the same year, renamed the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in 1997. In addition, humanitarian aid today receives increased attention from a community of experts, scholars, and a wider public.28 Critical reflection and the identification of “villains” among the heroes, for example, charities wasting funds or giving the “wrong” kind of aid in the eyes of experts or competitors, are often intertwined.

While the history of humanitarianism lacks progress in the sense that emergencies are likely to recur, the organizational perspective highlights the “professionalization” of aid workers (usually dating this process to the interwar and war periods, particularly in the United States), their “internationalization” after the Second World War, and the “secularization” of agencies since the 1960s. Taken together, these developments suggest a “modernization” of humanitarian activity during the twentieth century. Yet by framing secularization as a master narrative for the development of international humanitarian aid, scholars underestimate the longevity of religious organizations and their renewal in the late twentieth century.29 They also neglect the religious motivations of outwardly secular actors. Likewise, by tracing a process of professionalization, they possibly overestimate the efficiency of experts and belittle the continuous engagement of volunteers. They also tend to disempower those who receive aid. Not least, inasmuch as these historians point to internationalization or globalization, they ignore the predominantly national structure of many aid efforts and the colonial or imperial dimensions of the past and present. The modernization story thus unwittingly idealizes international organizations to the extent that it constructs a basic difference between “modern” Western donors and “backward” sufferers and victims. In brief, writing the history of humanitarian aid from the perspective of organizational developments yields valuable insights but presents a somewhat limited and occasionally one-sided view. Above all, it tends to neglect important political contexts.


Aid as a Function of Political Economy

A different history emerges when the focus is on international politics, and particularly on global political economy. This approach understands humanitarian aid as a variable element of development policy and the changes in its governance. The story usually starts after 1945 and focuses on governments and their relations with former colonial territories and Third World countries. Many of these histories begin with the establishment of essential institutions such as the International Bank for Reconstruction (a.k.a. the World Bank), the International Monetary Fund, and the International Trade Organization at Bretton Woods in 1944, and then proceed by decades.30 In this view, the emphasis in the late 1940s and 1950s was on European and Japanese reconstruction and recovery, most prominently driven by the United States aid program under the Marshall Plan. As these reconstruction efforts proved successful, attention shifted toward other parts of the world where the lack of financial capital was thought to hamper development. Rather than being driven by humanitarianism, these new efforts were propelled by economic considerations that overlapped with the political interests of former colonial powers and with the logic of the Cold War. The focus on funding large-scale industrial and infrastructural projects, predominant in the 1960s, shifted to fighting poverty in the 1970s, when the earlier growth strategy was generally deemed unsuccessful for developing countries. At the same time, rising oil and food prices made the situation more difficult. Money was now funneled into rural development projects, housing, education, and health, as well as into food programs. Redirecting aid to these projects further attracted non-governmental organizations driven by more overtly humanitarian concerns and willing to go beyond emergency relief to engage in development projects.31 Development aid itself came in the form of loans, provided mainly by the World Bank and international banks that invested in Africa and South America the readily available money of those oil-producing countries which benefited from the rise in oil prices.

This reliance on financial largesse backfired in the following decade when, in response to the second oil crisis of 1979, industrial countries restricted the monetary supply by raising interest rates. These measures and the following recession sparked a debt crisis that threatened to engulf the southern hemisphere. In order to impose on the countries of the Global South the need to restructure their finances, donor states—often providing backstops to the earlier role of private banks—now tied further aid to “structural adjustments,” aiming to remove impediments to the functioning of free markets. Governments in poor countries were forced to cut back on spending, reduce their role in the economy by privatizing industries, and liberalize trade. Particularly in African countries, the cost of debt servicing outstripped the inflow of financial aid. The 1980s have therefore been regarded as the “lost decade” of development.32 The social anthropologist Alex de Waal, who focuses on famine relief in Africa, interprets the repercussions of this decade as a retreat from accountability in two ways.33 First, neoliberalism did not promote democratic accountability but rather undermined it by dismantling existing “political contracts” between governments and urban groups and by cutting the latter’s food entitlement. Second, the ideology of limited state involvement created space for unaccountable international NGOs delivering humanitarian aid who seized the institutional opportunity. During the 1980s, emergency relief was internationalized; de Waal speaks of a “humanitarian international” and of an “aid and development industry” to describe the intersecting groups of international relief agencies, academics, consultants, specialist journalists, lobbyists, and human rights workers.34 Donor governments were happy to encourage NGOs in their activities, as they enabled them to circumvent not only the UN-based system but also the national governments in Africa. There was little or no regulation for the establishment of non-governmental relief organizations. Underlying the proliferation of NGOs and the political retreat of the state was the moral assumption that the agencies’ interests were identical with those of vulnerable people struck by famine and disease.

In the 1990s, when economic stabilization failed and the Cold War ended, another policy shift occurred. This shift did not fundamentally change the role of NGOs, however. The emphasis was now on “good governance,” that is, on the demand that developing countries establish strong institutions, the rule of law, and economies free of corruption.35 Often the blame for continued economic failure was put on the same autocratic rulers who had been strengthened by previous aid and development policies. As some Latin American and Asian countries began to experience strong economic growth, humanitarian attention now focused particularly on Africa. In addition, as the “Three Worlds” dissolved, governments reoriented the global flows of aid and development; the change in world politics reduced the political impetus for First and Second World states to spend public money in the Third World. Thus the role of charitable and philanthropic agencies and their opportunities increased. It is not by chance that the first decade of the twenty-first century has been described as an era of morality and celebrity aid.36 Following Band Aid in 1984, pop and movie stars increasingly raised money for emergency aid and soon extended their moral campaigns to development.

Overall, critics today conclude from the history of development that “aid is not working” and that the West’s efforts have been more a matter of “white man’s burden” than a policy doing much good.37 This storyline has the advantage of contextualizing humanitarian activities and organizations firmly within political history and world politics. However, reducing humanitarianism to a function of political economy does not do it justice in several respects. By ignoring developments before World War II, it neglects previous experiences and path dependencies. This narrative also cannot explain satisfactorily the motivations of those involved. The activists and bureaucrats of aid organizations tend to appear either as blind to political and economic realities or as mere puppets on the political stage. Their humanitarian impetus—be it religious or secular—is at best not taken seriously or judged to be mere “charity.” Critics easily condemn the action taken as generally not helpful and as inefficient; sometimes they regard it even as harmful, while actual assistance in times of urgent need is not considered properly. Finally, the narrative of aid as a function of political economy draws a sharp line between economic development policies and emergency relief. In this way the overlap and historical transitions between the two are overlooked.


The Global Governance of Humanity

The most recent work on the history of humanitarianism places relief activities in an even wider context of power politics, economic history, and changing humanitarian frames. The political scientist Michael Barnett organizes his story in three periods: the ages of imperial humanitarianism (1800–1945); neo-humanitarianism (1945–1989); and liberal humanitarianism (1989–present).38 In each age particular constellations of the “forces of destruction, production, and compassion” shaped the purpose and activities of humanitarianism, which ultimately led to a global governance of humanity. During the “age of imperial humanitarianism” up to World War II, Barnett identifies Great Power war and colonialism as the main forces of destruction, which in combination with commerce as the force of production dissolved a local sense of community in the colonized countries. Driven by a strong belief in Christian and Western civilization, humanitarians advanced a form of compassion based on the idea of a civilizing mission. Its agents accepted new responsibilities and sought to reduce human suffering across the world. Relief activities were largely based on private initiative, with states becoming more directly involved only after World War I.

In the following “age of neo-humanitarianism,” World War II, the Cold War, and decolonization acted as forces of destruction. Cold War politics triggered the extension of welfare commitments to a greater number of populations. According to Barnett, decolonization simultaneously left an institutional vacuum in the Third World, which was soon filled by international organizations and non-governmental agencies. The economic agenda was now dominated by the idea of industrial development.39 A new sort of compassion emerged, based on a universal idea of humanity and the community of sovereign peoples, which in rhetoric, at least, appeared to be distinct from previous imperial conceptions. As states and their international organizations became more involved, non-governmental humanitarian agencies in turn emphasized the principles of neutrality, independence, and impartiality.

The end of the Cold War brought about the present “age of liberal humanitarianism,” shaped in Barnett’s interpretation by a search for liberal peace and endangered by human security issues triggered by failed states. Economic globalization produced winners and losers; the fear that the latter would revolt sparked global campaigns for debt relief, development, and disease prevention. The forces of compassion now became increasingly framed in terms of human rights. Agencies began coordinating their programs rather than drawing sharp distinctions between relief, rights, and development.40 The protection of the civilian population in complex emergencies gave rise to the call for military humanitarian intervention and a closer relationship between states and non-governmental organizations.

Although the history of humanitarianism as told by Barnett is not explicitly one of progress, it shows two trends: a discourse of humanitarianism that extends to more populations over the ages; and an extension of humanitarian governance that renders aid increasingly public, hierarchical, and institutionalized and ultimately leads to an “empire of humanity.”41Barnett’s is a pioneering study covering more than a century and providing detailed analyses. The periodization that he proposes, however, is not fully convincing. His idea of the main “forces” remains rather vague. Can we, for example, subsume decolonization easily under the label “force of destruction”? Do the terms “commerce” and “globalization” really make sense as descriptors of the forces of production between 1800 and 1945 and between 1945 and 1989, respectively? Why is “sovereignty” a force of compassion between 1945 and 1989? There is also little room left in this story, as Barnett himself concedes, for the adaption of European modes of humanitarianism to non-Western countries; witness the history of the Ottoman Red Crescent established in 1868, or the Chinese Red Cross that was founded in 1911–12 but had precursors already during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904–5.42 Above all, the sequence of three periods is problematic, as it ignores humanitarian criticism of imperial rule before 1945 and neglects the persistence and transformation of imperial dimensions of humanitarianism afterward. The periodization has a narrative appeal but fails to account for essential continuities, important overlaps, and the contingencies of history.


Historical Conjunctures of Humanitarian Aid

Since these three narratives reveal distinct weaknesses in explaining the ebb and flow of humanitarian action, we need to look for new models of narrating and studying this history. I suggest that the epochs of humanitarian aid, rather than consecutive, are best understood as overlapping. We need to highlight the importance of historical conjunctures over continuous developments or trends. Humanitarian aid may be best studied as an anthropological phenomenon, not in an ahistorical sense but as one that shows some longevity in patterns of human social behavior, like luxury or hunting. Historians need to study the variations in time of a constant theme and the changes in form and expression during the long twentieth century. Emphasis needs to be placed on conjunctures and contingencies, namely the coming together of different forces, events, and structures at particular times. After international humanitarian aid had initially been established in the second half of the nineteenth century, three historical conjunctures can be distinguished. One took place after the First World War, when the collapse of empires on the European continent and its peripheries coincided with the establishment of the League of Nations as a focal point for humanitarian efforts. The second conjuncture unfolded in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Postcolonial conflicts, the demise of large-scale development schemes, and societal mobilization in the West changed the humanitarian field. The third conjuncture came in the 1990s, when it turned out that the end of the Cold War did not spell the end of history: new conflicts within and outside Europe, the waning of political limitations that the Cold War had imposed, persistent global asymmetries, and global media structures brought increased dynamism into international humanitarianism.

Describing the history of modern humanitarianism in terms of conjunctures rather than narratives serves, first, to highlight the continuities and interaction of different forces that contribute to the practice and ideas of international humanitarian aid: “The international humanitarian system . . . is not a logical construct. It is the result of many, often competing, processes. Some driven by self-interest or national interest, some by ideology, some by altruism, but all about adaptation; adaptation to changing needs.”43 Among the varying circumstances were the nature of war, international, civil, or asymmetrical; the changing expediency for state policies of giving relief to others; the different forms of aid organizations, national, international, non-governmental, or governmental; and the role of the media, its technology and commercial interests. Furthermore, major shifts in international politics from the two world wars and decolonization to the end of the Cold War marked the transformation of humanitarian aid in the twentieth century.


Foundations of International Humanitarianism

The groundwork for twentieth-century humanitarian aid was laid in the preceding century. Against the background of reformist, religious, and philanthropic movements, developments in two areas, by and large unconnected, proved to have a lasting effect: the regulation of the conduct of war and the missionary complex. In the emergence of the Red Cross movement, the commitment of civil groups coincided with the interests of nation-states, resulting in a multilateral international convention. The humanitarian impulse triggered by war led a group of members of the Geneva bourgeoisie to establish a voluntary international committee to aid wounded soldiers. While some of their ideas, for example regarding charitable activities of international volunteers on the battlefield, were rejected by state leaders, the idea to improve the soldiers’ lot by international regulation took hold.44 The first Geneva Convention of 1864 and its adoption by the participating states were due not so much to the commitment of civil society or ideas of humanitarianism but rather to the interests of nation-states.45Governments showed an increased commitment to the welfare of their soldiers, who now constituted national conscripts rather than mercenaries. Humanitarian aid for soldiers could easily become a patriotic act.46 It is not by accident that national Red Cross Societies emerged as the main force to provide emergency relief rather than an international operational force led by the Geneva Committee, which remained rather small.47 It was therefore the conjuncture of nationalism with a humanitarian impetus that led to the emergence of what has been called the Red Cross model.48 My contention is that its wide appeal was due to the multiple meanings of humanity that could be ascribed to it: international as in the international convention, cosmopolitan in the coverage of all human beings, and national in the composition of the International Geneva Committee as well as in the operational organization of Red Cross societies.49 These characteristics were open to change. The cosmopolitan ambit grew out of an idea of humanity whose origins were European and Christian. The national Red Cross Societies, particularly the American RC and the League of Red Cross Societies founded in 1919, became instrumental after World War I by extending the scope of their international activities beyond soldiers to include civilians affected by war and its consequences.50

The missionary complex was separate from the kind of internationalism espoused by nation-states in the regulation of the conduct of war. Yet both were connected through the idea of a Christian civilizing mission. Dunant and the other members of the Geneva committee had religious motives and aspired to civilize society with the Christian values of compassion and charity.51 Missionary activities, however, were directed not only at the population within Europe but also at those living in the rest of the world. On a global scale, missionary efforts coincided with the imperial expansion of the European states in the nineteenth century. The multitude of missionary activities established a complex system of organizations, institutions, and contacts between European and American agents and colonial territories throughout the world. This missionary complex was humanitarian in at least three respects. First, missionary societies regarded the very act of proselytizing as a humanitarian deed. As they saw it, spreading Christianity to those living “in the dark” enabled the new converts to lead a civilized and humane existence.52 Inasmuch as they assumed that their humanitarian work would educate and discipline colonial populations, the interests of the missions went hand in hand with imperial rule. Second, in practice, Christian missions provided elementary health services and education. In times of need, relief was made available under certain conditions. The third dimension of missionary humanitarianism arose out of a divergence between the colonial state and imperial society on the one side, and agents driven by religious motives on the other when the latter claimed to speak for those who could not speak for themselves. The first expression of this humanitarian advocacy was the antislavery movement that started in the late eighteenth century and stretched into the 1880s.53 It provided a model and rhetorical concepts for other campaigns usually targeting not so much imperial rule per se as its abuses. A prominent example was the Congo reform campaign of 1884–1913.54 The term “abolition” was appropriated by other humanitarian campaigns, inter alia those against the traffic in women and children in the 1920s. While the Red Cross strongly relied on nation-states, missionary societies were not completely independent of imperial rule, yet rather loosely connected to it. They were autonomous organizations that preserved and developed their own structures in the metropole and on the colonial ground, as well as links between localities. Stations, churches, schools, and hospitals continued to be relevant for humanitarian activities well beyond decolonization. The long-term commitment of Irish Holy Ghost Fathers in Nigeria, for example, made them witness to the humanitarian effects of the Biafran War of 1967–70, which they brought to the attention of journalists, thereby triggering a media-driven aid campaign.55 The strong faith-based element in the Fair Trade movement in Europe is another example of humanitarian action arising from religious roots, and so are the large church aid organizations in Germany, Misereor and Brot für die Welt.56


The Postwar International Moment

The period after World War I saw several emergencies that provided legitimation for continued international relief efforts and, with the establishment of the League of Nations as an international forum, an impetus for transforming organizational activities. The First World War had led to an increase in patriotic and allied humanitarian activities.57 After the armistice, aid organizations found new tasks in the provision of famine relief for those suffering from the continued blockade in Austria and Germany. Even though relief organizations claimed to act out of humanitarian sentiment, their efforts had strong political overtones.58 The stories of Save the Children and, even more, of famine relief for Russia and the involvement of the American Relief Administration (ARA) headed by Herbert Hoover seem particularly telling.59 During the Allied intervention in 1918–19, the relief operations served in fact to protect army stores, indirectly reinforcing military efforts against the Bolshevik government. During the famine relief in 1921, the ARA, much more than the ICRC, pursued an openly political agenda. Official support for private relief efforts could now serve propaganda efforts. Humanitarian aid thus turned into diplomacy by other means. Harnessing humanitarian aid to extend political influence by spreading national values or other political ideals has since become a foreign policy tool for not just the United States but many other countries as well.

Beyond the redress of war-related hardships, there existed a second arena for humanitarian agency perhaps more important in the long term: the relief of humanitarian emergencies that originated from the collapse of empires in Europe, including the Ottoman Empire. The breakdown of these multinational states entailed territorial changes and radicalized “ideals” of ethnic homogeneity, culminating in genocide and mass expulsions. Vast numbers of refugees moved across borders looking for shelter, food, and healthcare. A refugee regime began to emerge around the League of Nations, combining emergency relief and longer-term rehabilitation.60 But this was only one field. The League’s Social Commission provided the bureaucratic umbrella for a range of humanitarian activities. They included the fight against “white slavery” (the traffic in women and children) or campaigns for public health and children.61 Not only did the League support networks of social reform and relief; it also contributed to the “scientific” management of humanitarian aid. The League’s officials consciously framed humanitarian questions as “technical” in order to prevent political interests from hindering their efforts in the international sphere. By justifying their concerns in “scientific” terms, they hoped to facilitate acceptance among state representatives at the League and at home.62 While specific humanitarian activities developed around the League, a more general initiative foundered on its peculiar structure, namely the idea of an international organization to coordinate disaster relief. This was first proposed in 1921 by the president of the Italian Red Cross, Senator Giovanni Ciraolo, meeting with opposition from the British government and the American Red Cross. It also became caught in the rivalries between the ICRC and the League of Red Cross Societies in their relations with the League of Nations.63 Humanitarian aid was deeply embedded in an international order based on a complex multilevel structure and encompassing many different interests and perspectives.

However, the emergence of professional welfare services based on the social sciences gained a powerful impetus from the kind of humanitarianism debated and practiced around the League of Nations. The Save the Children International Union (SCIU) is an interesting case in point. Founded in 1920 to provide relief to children in countries suffering from war and its aftermath, the SCIU gradually developed into an expert international organization concerned with the long-term welfare of children. Joëlle Droux has explored the ways in which the Union adapted its aims and practices in changing historical circumstances.64 The transformation was a difficult process in which the International Union faced challenges in terms of its organizational structure, competition with other agencies, and clarification of its aims. By the mid-1920s, the SCIU had already claimed two different mandates: one for coordinating emergency relief in humanitarian crises, the other as an expert body for child welfare. Between 1944 and 1947, the International Union finally turned from a relief agency for children into an international center of expertise for the protection of children and young people, becoming part of a network of medical, educational, and judicial experts. And it established closer links with non-European partners, partly by leaving its European origins behind.

In terms of the history of humanitarian aid, World War II can be seen as a sort of extension of the experience gained after World War I rather than the beginning of a new period. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) has sometimes been hailed as a crucial step in the professionalization of global humanitarianism. This positive assessment reflects above all the self-image of those involved in large-scale efforts for displaced persons in Austria, Italy, and especially Germany, and in view of the political controversy surrounding its efficiency it should be understood as a historical defense.65 At any rate, the instruments and ideas developed in the aftermath of World War II drew strongly on interwar humanitarianism. This was true at the level of international organizations such as the UNO and its specialized organizations, as well as for the relief efforts by international NGOs and aid agencies such as Oxfam or CARE, which were firmly anchored in nation-states.

The international conjuncture after World War I was to a large extent a European phenomenon. Indeed, it gained momentum from the crises on the continent. In the colonial sphere little changed until after decolonization. Humanitarianism in colonial wars remained asymmetrical and, if considered relevant at all, a political instrument of colonial powers used against “rebellious” subjects.66 Yet the Red Cross model was, at the same time, adopted outside Europe. These new departures often built on national traditions of charity. As Caroline Reeves has demonstrated in the case of China, they formed part of indigenous and elite strategies to establish national autonomy, advance what was regarded as modernization, and gain international recognition.67 Non-governmental and international agencies also contributed to the expansion of humanitarian activities. This was true for the 1931 Conference on the African Child, a particularly revealing episode, since it marked the moment at which philanthropic activities focused on Europe began to change, until they eventually evolved into the development agenda that became dominant after World War II.68


The Moment of Postcolonial Mobilization

The late 1960s and 1970s saw the second conjuncture in the history of international humanitarian aid. In contrast to the conjuncture after World War I, this moment was not centered on European crises but on conflicts and emergencies in the Third World. Yet it was closely linked to the mobilization brought about by new social movements in the West. Humanitarian needs arose out of conflicts that followed decolonization. Major events were the Nigerian civil war (also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War) between 1967 and 1970; the war of separation between East and West Pakistan in 1971 (following a devastating cyclone in 1970 in what became Bangladesh after independence); the drought in the Sahel and Ethiopia in the early 1970s; and war and conflict in Vietnam and Cambodia.69 Except for the latter case, these emergencies were only marginally related to the Cold War, which was more important for development aid.70 Rather, most of them were rooted in colonial heritage, and their immediate causes lay in problems arising within the countries concerned. Conflicts in Nigeria and Pakistan, for example, arose from separatist attempts to overcome borders established by colonialism or in the process of decolonization.

These by and large man-made disasters received particular attention in Western countries not because they were new or exceptional but because they coincided with a new surge in social mobilization and an emerging discourse on the global commons. This was a broad discourse that included population growth, environmental protection, global commons such as the seas, the Antarctic, or outer space, and world heritage, and also encompassed human rights and humanitarianism.71 The new social movements that took up humanitarian issues redirected efforts to help others in a specific way. Jan Eckel has observed a twofold change with regard to human rights that also reflects, in my opinion, what happened in the field of humanitarian aid. First, many new small and sometimes ephemeral organizations committed themselves to human rights, famine relief, the prevention of disease, and development in an attempt to turn toward concrete issues and move away from abstract theories or revolutionary ideals harbored by so many in the 1960s.72 We may add that the official reorientation away from large-scale industrial development projects for Third World countries toward health, education, housing, and food fit the new direction taken by these groups. These concerns, at the same time, gave concrete substance to the UN debate on the “right to development” fought out between countries from Asia and Africa and Western countries in the 1970s and 1980s.73 Development policy, emergency aid, and human rights in effect moved closer to one other and often intersected, although activists and academics have since sought to delineate the boundaries between them.

Second, humanitarian commitment also aimed to overcome Cold War divisions by propagating a global moralism put into practice by concerned individuals. Apart from Amnesty International, the organization Médecins sans frontières (MSF), officially established in 1971, is generally regarded as the hallmark of a new paradigm of international humanitarianism. Set against the dominance of the “conservative” Red Cross, it has been portrayed as more engaged, more outspoken, and more willing to use the media and public opinion for its humanitarian purposes. MSF’s foundation myth relates to the experience of the Biafran War, when a group of activist doctors broke with the ICRC policy of confidentiality and discretion. The act of “witnessing” (témoignage) therefore became a key feature. Looking at some of the neglected aspects of the origins of MSF, Michal Givoni has recently reinvestigated the advent of the “expert witness” in humanitarian governance.74 In addition to the well-publicized “Biafran” doctors, a second group of physicians was involved in the foundation of MSF. At the core of their initiative was the ethical responsibility of the medical profession, which they saw as endangered by an increasingly bureaucratic, commercialized, and technical approach. Givoni argues that relief missions in the Third World offered an opportunity for a genuine re-enchantment of the profession. Accordingly, in its first years MSF served as a placement agency, matching development and humanitarian organizations with French doctors willing to spend some time in the Third World.

Témoignage, for the most part, remained a personal act. It was only when MSF protested against the misuse of humanitarian aid in Ethiopia in 1985 and withdrew, for similar reasons, from Hutu refugee camps after the Rwandan genocide in 1994 that témoignage became reflexive. Now the doctors transformed the cultivation of subjectivity by individual experts. It became a way of mobilizing private experts as a resource for the deployment of efficient political power on a global scale. Témoignage, Givoni concludes, was a mechanism for translating moral claims into political action and vice versa. It transformed the relation between the humanitarian and the political, bringing them closer together while still keeping them apart.75

While conflicts and disasters in the Third World activated “genuine” initiatives to help others, these initiatives also clearly reflected concerns regarding developments in Western mass societies that seemed to restrict individual agency. Those who became personally involved were searching for a new purpose elsewhere, which their own affluent societies seemed to lack. This may well have been related to an understanding of humanitarian commitment as a kind of postcolonial redress, which also safeguarded a moral position, if not the superiority of the West.76 Adapting Frederick Cooper’s thesis on development policy, we may regard humanitarian mobilization in Europe as a selective compensation for the shedding of obligations and the retreat from accountability by colonial states since the 1960s.77


The Global Interventionist Moment

The 1990s and the end of the Cold War marked a third conjuncture. Contrary to what some scholars expected at the time, the end of the global confrontation turned out not to be the end of history but its continuation under different circumstances. This was also true for humanitarian aid, which rose to greater prominence and took on new features. This dynamic development, however, was not unambiguously signaling a greater concern for those in need of assistance. Just as in the postcolonial moment, it had much to do with the fact that the limits imposed by the Cold War had now disappeared. Furthermore, many states proved reluctant to enter into commitments. First, with the end of the East-West confrontation, the political interests that had buttressed development aid for the Third World waned and budgets were cut. In these circumstances, humanitarian aid, as a semiprivate undertaking, became cheaper. Rather than speaking of a new “international humanitarian order,” it may be more appropriate to analyze the “humanitarian-development gap” between reduced state funds for development and the increase in emergency relief.78

Second, the end of the Cold War spawned several ethnic or intercommunal wars in Europe (the former Yugoslavia) and beyond. These conflicts generated so-called complex emergencies (in contrast to those generated primarily by natural disasters) and humanitarian crises related to large-scale violent conflicts—civil war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.79What was remarkable about the international reactions was the strong and unprecedented role of the UN system and some of its specialized agencies, as manifested most conspicuously in international tribunals, changes in the refugee regime, the establishment of “safe zones,” and the combination of peacekeeping with the protection of humanitarian action. Again, these developments may be interpreted as a sign of limitation. Emphasizing “humanitarian” issues, it could be argued, reflects the tendency of multilateral institutions to agree on the lowest common denominator rather than their willingness to decide on substantive policies aimed at resolving conflicts.80 The question therefore remains unanswered as to whether we have witnessed a new departure. As we have seen, the ebb and flow of humanitarian aid as a function of political economy and international politics has been a prevalent feature of the twentieth century. The military humanitarian interventions which took place in northern Iraq in 1991, the former Yugoslavia between 1992 and 1995, Somalia in 1992, Rwanda in 1994, Kosovo in 1998–99, and Sierra Leone in 1998 do not necessarily imply that state sovereignty generally comes second to international humanitarian action.81 Sovereignty had broken down inside these countries before outside intervention was considered.

Most likely, however, the debate on global humanitarian intervention will remain. This is due to the third element of the most recent historical conjuncture, the global capacity of the media to report on humanitarian emergencies of all kinds.82 While the media has always played a role in humanitarian initiatives for distant sufferers, new technologies and the growth of media institutions have lent them a new quality. This became apparent in the mid-1980s, when a television report ultimately led to the Live Aid event in 1985.83 Technologically, satellite transmission and later the World Wide Web, allowing global immediacy for rising concerns among people, have been crucial. The scale and frequency of reports on natural and man-made disasters is new. They mobilize mass audiences, celebrities, and ultimately politicians. It needs to be emphasized that the presence of the media did not necessarily imply that reporting was neutral or beneficial. The emphasis is on short clippings, graphic images, and the aid agencies, rather than on underlying processes, the politics behind disasters, and the voices of those who suffer.84 It is the rules of the media market, rather than the needs of the victims, which determine access to public attention. Both the immediacy and global reach of news reporting also raise expectations that relief should and can be delivered instantly and everywhere. In the humanitarian imagination no place is beyond reach, while in reality many places are still inaccessible. I believe that since the 1980s, the coincidence of the global media capacity with the increased emphasis on humanitarian issues following the reduction in commitments by Western states has ensured that humanitarianism will remain an enduring part of international relations, whatever form it may take. Moreover, humanitarianism is bolstered by the organizational and political-moral mobilization that began in the previous conjuncture and keeps the continuation of global injustice and asymmetries in the public mind.



It should be clear from the history of the last two centuries that humanitarianism does not necessarily mean improvement of the human condition. The focus on conjunctures points to its ambivalences, difficulties, and all too frequent failures. We need further historical investigation of the fundamental structural dilemmas of aid, perhaps most important of the relationship between donors and beneficiaries.85 We still do not know enough about the effects that moral, economic, political, military, or cultural interventions had on the resilience and the coping mechanisms of the societies struck by disaster. Scholars should seek to approach the history of humanitarian aid in a polycentric, multilayered way from the different viewpoints of Europe and the West, of the colonies and the non-Western world, and from local/national and international perspectives.

Analyzing the history of humanitarian aid in terms of conjunctures also carries dangers. In their penchant for critical inquiry, historians tend to foreground how emergencies became instruments for political purposes and how assistance was framed ideologically. Cunning states and competing agencies appear as the main actors on the stage. Let us remind ourselves, therefore, that it is also the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and the wish to do something about it, its waxing and waning in a century full of inhumanity, that we seek to understand.



I would like to thank Jan Eckel, Bernhard Gissibl, Nick Stargardt, Esther Möller, and Michael Vössing for their helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this essay.

1. See Geoff Wood, ed., Labeling in Development Policy: Essays in Honour of Bernard Schaffer (London: Sage, 1985), esp. 5–31.

2. See Jonathan Moore, “The Humanitarian-Development Gap,” International Review of the Red Cross 81, no. 833 (1999): 103–7.

3. For a critical historical assessment of “development” and “post-development,” see Frederick Cooper, “Modernizing Bureaucrats, Backward Africans, and the Development Concept,” inInternational Development and the Social Sciences: Essays on the History and Politics of Knowledge, ed. Frederick Cooper and Randall Packard (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 64–92; see also Aram Ziai, “Zur Kritik des Entwicklungsdiskurses,” Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 10 (2010): 23–29; Sharad Chari and Stuart Corbridge, eds., The Development Reader (London: Routledge, 2008); Carol Lancaster, Foreign Aid: Diplomacy, Development, Domestic Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Roger C. Riddell, Does Foreign Aid Really Work? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

4. See most recently Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, ed., Human Rights in the Twentieth Century(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Nicola Yeates and Chris Holden, eds., The Global Social Policy Reader (Bristol: Policy Press, 2009).

5. For the long history of humanitarian intervention, see Brendan Simms and D. J. B. Trim, eds., Humanitarian Intervention: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); and Davide Rodogno, Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815–1914 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2012); Carole Fink,Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1978–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); and Michael R. Marrus, “International Bystanders to the Holocaust and Humanitarian Intervention,” inHumanitarianism and Suffering: The Mobilization of Empathy, ed. Richard Ashby Wilson and Richard D. Brown (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 156–74.

6. See, for example, David Rieff, A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (London: Vintage, 2002); Kurt Bayertz, ed., Solidarität: Begriff und Problem (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1998; incomplete English ed. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1999); Corinna Unger, Andreas Eckert, and Stephan Malinowski, eds., “Modernizing Missions: Approaches to `Developing’ the Non-Western World after 1945,” Journal of Modern European History 8, no. 1 (2010); Unger, “Histories of Development and Modernization: Findings, Reflections, Future Research,” H-Soz-u-Kult, December 9, 2010,–12–001 (accessed May 10, 2012).

7. David Keen, Complex Emergencies (Cambridge: Polity, 2008); Joanna Macrae and Anthony Zwi, eds., War and Hunger: Rethinking International Responses to Complex Emergencies (London: Zed, 1994). On the connection between development and security, see Mark Duffield, “The Development-Security Nexus in Historical Perspective: Governing the World of Peoples,” in Challenging the Aid Paradigm: Western Currents and Asian Alternatives, ed. Jens Stilhoff Sörensen (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 25–46.

8. See Jonathan Benthall, “Relief,” in The Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History, ed. Akira Iriye and Pierre-Yves Saunier (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 887–93.

9. See Michal Givoni, “Beyond the Humanitarian/Political Divide: Witnessing and the Making of Humanitarian Ethics,” Journal of Human Rights 10, no. 1 (2011): 55–75.

10. Rony Brauman, Penser dans l’urgence: Parcours critique d’un humanitaire (Paris: Seuil, 2006), 44–47; Michael Barnett, Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism(Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2011), 37–41. Brauman contrasts “saying no to politics and moral judgement” to “initiating public health projects and control over colonial populations”; Barnett speaks of “emergency humanitarianism” and “alchemical humanitarianism.”

11. Craig Calhoun, “The Imperative to Reduce Suffering: Charity, Progress, and Emergencies in the Field of Humanitarian Action,” in Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics, ed. Michael Barnett and Thomas G. Weiss (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2008), 90ff.; cf. the summary of recent disputes in Michael Barnett, “Humanitarianism Transformed,” Perspectives on Politics 3, no. 4 (2005): 723–40.

12. See the exemplary case study in David Keen, The Benefit of Famine: A Political Economy of Famine and Relief in Southwestern Sudan, 1983–1989 (1994; repr., Oxford: Currey, 2008), and for a general discussion ibid., 1–8.

13. For the following, see Calhoun, “Imperative,” 82–89.

14. Craig Calhoun, “A World of Emergencies: Fear, Intervention, and the Limits of Cosmopolitan Order,” Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 41, no. 4 (2004): 373–95.

15. Calhoun, “Imperative,” 75–82, 96.

16. Thomas L. Haskell, “Capitalism and the Origins of the Humanitarian Sensibility,”American Historical Review 90, no. 2 (1985): 339–61, and no. 3 (1985): 547–66.

17. This argument has recently been made forcefully with regard to the genealogy of human rights in Hans Joas, Die Sakralität der Person: Eine neue Genealogie der Menschenrechte(Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2011); English translation forthcoming as The Sacredness of the Person: A New Genealogy of Human Rights (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2013). For a recent case study, see Abigail Green, “Rethinking Sir Moses Montefiore: Religion, Nationhood and International Philanthropy in the Nineteenth Century,” American Historical Review 110, no. 3 (2005): 631–58.

18. See, for example, Ian Tyrrell, Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010), 49–73.

19. For a case study of the colonial link, see Harald Fischer-Tiné, “Global Civil Society and the Forces of Empire: The Salvation Army, British Imperialism, and the `Prehistory’ of NGOs (ca. 1880–1920),” in Competing Visions of World Order: Global Moments and Movements, 1880s–1930s, ed. Sebastian Conrad and Dominic Sachsenmaier (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 29–67.

20. Jonathan Benthall, Disasters, Relief, and the Media (London: Tauris, 1993), 188–91.

21. See Flora A. Keshgegian, “`Starving Armenians’: The Politics and Ideology of Humanitarian Aid in the First Decades of the Twentieth Century,” in Wilson and Brown, eds.,Humanitarianism and Suffering, 148–52.

22. For the following, see Benthall, “Relief,” 887–93.

23. Maggie Black, A Cause for Our Time: Oxfam, the First 50 Years (Oxford: Oxfam and Oxford University Press, 1992); Karl-Ludwig Sommer, Humanitäre Auslandshilfe als Brücke zu atlantischer Partnerschaft: CARE, CRALOG und die Entwicklung der deutsch-amerikanischen Beziehungen nach Ende des Zweiten Weltkriegs (Bremen: Selbstverlag des Staatsarchivs Bremen, 1999).

24. On the High Commissioner for Refugees, see Claudena M. Skran, Refugees in Inter-War Europe: The Emergence of a Regime (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 66–84 and passim.

25. See Jessica Reinisch, “Internationalism in Relief: The Birth (and Death) of UNRRA,” Past & Present, no. 210, suppl. 6 (2011): 258–89.

26. Randolph C. Kent, Anatomy of Disaster Relief: The International Network in Action(London: Pinter, 1987), 44–55, 86–96.

27. For a critical perspective, see Alex de Waal, Famine Crimes: Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa (Oxford: Currey, 1997); for a general analysis based on larger NGOs (CARE, Oxfam, PLAN International, Médecins sans Frontières, World Vision, and Save the Children), see Marc Lindenberg and Coralie Bryant, Going Global: Transforming Relief and Development NGOs (Bloomfield, Conn.: Kumarian, 2001).

28. For a useful summary of the scholarly criticism and a critique of the critique, see Keen,Complex Emergencies, 127–48.

29. Michael Barnett, Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2011), 17–18; Jonathan Benthall, Returning to Religion: Why a Secular Age Is Haunted by Faith (London: Tauris, 2008), 87–108; and, for example, Bertrand Taithe, “Reinventing (French) Universalism: Religion, Humanitarianism and the `French Doctors,'” Modern & Contemporary France 12, no. 2 (2004): 147–58.

30. For a brief historical summary, see Franz Nuscheler, Entwicklungspolitik (Bonn: Dietz, 2004), 76–97; and Dambisa Moyo, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), 10–28; cf. also Carol Lancaster, Foreign Aid: Diplomacy, Development, Domestic Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 25–61; and Gilbert Rist, The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith, 3rd ed. (London: Zed, 2008).

31. De Waal, Famine Crimes, 53; cf. the contemporary criticism in Gunnar Myrdal, “Relief Instead of Development Aid,” Intereconomics 2 (March/April 1981): 86–89.

32. Olav Stokke, The UN and Development: From Aid to Cooperation (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2009), 315–21.

33. De Waal, Famine Crimes, 9–85; on the need for public action, see also Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, Hunger and Public Action (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), 257–79.

34. See also Mark Duffield, “The Political Economy of Internal War: Asset Transfer, Complex Emergencies and International Aid,” in Macrae and Zwi, eds., War and Hunger, 50–69.

35. For a postcolonial critique of the good-governance discourse, see Rita Abrahamsen,Disciplining Democracy: Development Discourse and Good Governance in Africa (London: Zed, 2000).

36. Andrew F. Cooper, Celebrity Diplomacy (Boulder, Colo.: Paradigm, 2007). The media’s present obsession with the role of celebrities is not new: both media and celebrities have been a fundamental feature of humanitarian aid from its beginnings.

37. For criticism from different perspectives, see Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995); William Easterly, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (New York: Penguin, 2007); Moyo, Dead Aid.

38. Barnett, Empire, esp. 29–32.

39. Barnett sees in “development” the force of production; it is not quite clear why the period 1945 to 1989 has the prefix “neo-” or to which earlier humanitarianism this is meant to refer.

40. This is, at least, the proclaimed aim of bodies such as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which seeks to bring together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies and provide a framework within which each actor can contribute to the overall response effort.

41. Barnett, Empire, 29.

42. See Caroline Reeves, “From Red Crosses to Golden Arches: China, the Red Cross, and the Hague Peace Conference, 1899–1900,” in Interactions: Regional Studies, Global Processes, and Historical Analysis, ed. Jerry Bentley (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005), 64–93; Caroline Reeves, “Sovereignty and the Chinese Red Cross Society: The Differentiated Practice of International Law in Shandong, 1914–1916,” Journal of the History of International Law 13, no. 1 (2011): 155–77. There is no study on the history of the Red Crescent; see the remarks in Jonathan Benthall and Jérôme Bellion-Jourdan, The Charitable Crescent: Politics of Aid in the Muslim World (London: Tauris, 2003), 45–68; Zuhal Özaydin, “The Egyptian Red Crescent Society’s Aid to the Ottoman State during the Balkan War in 1912,” Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine 2, no. 3 (2003): 18–21, and Özaydin, “The Indian Muslims Red Crescent Society’s Aid to the Ottoman State during the Balkan War in 1912,” Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine 2, no. 4 (2003): 12–18.

43. Peter Walker and Daniel Maxwell, Shaping the Humanitarian World (London: Routledge, 2009), 1.

44. Dieter Riesenberger, Für Humanität in Krieg und Frieden: Das Internationale Rote Kreuz, 1863–1977 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992); John Hutchinson,Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1996).

45. Matthias Schulz, “Staaten, Zivilgesellschaft und humanitärer Internationalismus: Ihr Zusammenwirken bei der Entstehung der Genfer Konvention für den Schutz von Kriegsverwundeten (1864),” in Schlachtschrecken—Konventionen: Das Rote Kreuz und die Erfindung der Menschlichkeit im Kriege, ed. Wolfgang U. Eckart and Philipp Osten (Freiburg: Centaurus, 2011), 27–48; Bertrand Taithe, “The Red Cross Flag in the Franco-Prussian War: Civilians, Humanitarians, and War in the Modern Age,” in War, Medicine, and Modernity, ed. Roger Cooter, Mark Harrison, and Steve Sturdy (Phoenix Mill: Sutton, 1998), 22–47.

46. Hutchinson, Champions of Charity, 150–201.

47. David P. Forsythe, The Humanitarians: The International Committee of the Red Cross(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 206–14.

48. Brauman, Penser, 45–47.

49. See Heather Jones, “International or Transnational? Humanitarian Action during the First World War,” European Review of History 16, no. 5 (2009): 697–713.

50. On the rivalry and tensions between the League and the ICRC, see Riesenberger,Humanität, 83–95; and Hutchinson, Champions of Charity, 279–345. For the extension into disaster relief within the American Red Cross, see Marian Moser Jones, “Race, Class and Gender Disparities in Clara Barton’s Late Nineteenth-Century Disaster Relief,” Environment and History 17, no. 1 (2011): 107–31.

51. Hutchinson, Champions of Charity, 11–102.

52. Fischer-Tiné, “Global Civil Society”; see further Brian Stanley, “Christianity and Civilization in English Evangelical Mission Thought, 1792–1857,” in Christian Mission and the Enlightenment, ed. Brian Stanley (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001), 169–97; Stanley, The Bible and the Flag: Protestant Missions and British Imperialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004); Andrew Porter, Religion versus Empire? British Protestant Missionaries and Overseas Expansion, 1700–1914 (Leicester: Apollos Press, 1990); Porter, “Religion, Missionary Enthusiasm, and Empire,” in The Oxford History of the British Empire, vol. 3, The Nineteenth Century, ed. Porter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 222–46.

53. Andrew Porter, “Trusteeship, Anti-Slavery, and Humanitarianism,” in Porter, ed.,Nineteenth Century, 198–221.

54. Kevin Grant, A Civilised Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, 1884–1926(London: Routledge, 2005), 39–78; Sharon Sliwinski, “The Childhood of Human Rights: The Kodak on the Congo,” Journal of Visual Culture 5, no. 3 (2006): 333–63; Seamas O’Siochain, Roger Casement: Imperialist, Rebel, Revolutionary (Dublin: Lilliput, 2008), esp. 181–210; and Dean Pavlakis, “The Development of British Overseas Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Campaign,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 11, no. 1 (2010): online.

55. Ken Waters, “Influencing the Message: The Role of Catholic Missionaries in Media Coverage of the Nigerian Civil War,” Catholic Historical Review 90, no. 4 (2004): 697–718; Enda Staunton, “The Case of Biafra: Ireland and the Nigerian Civil War,” Irish Historical Studies 31, no. 124 (1999): 513–35. For the German Catholic relief organization, see Nicholas Omenka, “Hilfe für Biafra: Die Feuerprobe für die Katastrophenhilfe des Deutschen Caritasverbandes,” Caritas 1997 (1996): 69–76; and for Switzerland, Mattias Schmidthalter, “Die Hilfsaktion für Biafra: Wendepunkt in der Auslandshilfe des Schweizerischen Caritasverbandes,” Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Religions- und Kulturgeschichte 98 (2003): 171–82.

56. Markus Raschke, Fairer Handel: Engagement für eine gerechtere Weltwirtschaft(Ostfildern: Grünewald, 2009); Stephanie Barrientos, Michael E. Conroy, and Elaine Jones, “Northern Social Movements and Fair Trade,” in Fair Trade: The Challenges of Transforming Globalization, ed. Laura T. Raynolds, Douglas L. Murray, and John Wilkinson (London: Routledge, 2007), 51–62.

57. See, for example, Annette Becker, Oubliés de la Grande Guerre: Humanitaire et culture de guerre, 1914–1918: Populations occupées, déportés civils, prisonniers de guerre (Paris: Noésis, 1998), esp. 149–266; and Sophie De Schaepdrijver, “A Civilian War Effort: The Comité National de Secours et d’Alimentation in Occupied Belgium, 1914–1918,” inRemembering Herbert Hoover and the Commission for Relief in Belgium (Brussels: Fondation Universitaire, 2006), 24–37.

58. Heather Montgomery, “Re-Socialising the Child from Potential Enemy to Protected Innocent: The Early Fundraising of the Save the Children Fund,” AmS-Skrifter 23 (2010): 137–44; Linda Mahood, Feminism and Voluntary Action: Eglantyne Jebb and Save the Children, 1876–1928 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 185–205; Rodney Breen, “Saving Enemy Children: Save the Children’s Russian Relief Operation, 1921–1923,” Disasters18, no. 3 (1994): 221–37; Linda Mahood and Vic Satzewich, “The Save the Children Fund and the Russian Famine of 1921–23: Claims and Counterclaims about Feeding `Bolshevik’ Children,” Journal of Historical Sociology 22, no. 1 (2009): 56–83.

59. Betrand M. Patenaude, The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition toSoviet Russia in the Famine of 1921 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002); Bertrand M. Patenaude, “Food as Weapon: Herbert Hoover and the Politics of Humanitarianism,” in Remembering Herbert Hoover, 17–23; Winfried Becker, “Sowjetische Religionspolitik und vatikanische Hungerhilfe für Rußland: Deutsche Außenpolitik zwischen Moskau und Rom 1920–1929,” in Santa Sede e Russia da Leone XIII a Pio XI: Atti del secondo Simposio organizzato dal Pontificio Comitato di Scienze Storiche e dall’Istituto di Storia Universale dell’Accademia Russa delle Scienze (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2006), 184–251; Daniel Maul, “Appell an das Gewissen: Fridtjof Nansen und die Russische Hungerhilfe, 1921–23,” Themenportal Europäische Geschichte (2011), (accessed May 2, 2012); see also Emily Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion, 1890–1945 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982); Kendrick A. Clements, The Life of Herbert Hoover: Imperfect Visionary (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 149–60.

60. Skran, Refugees; Dzovinar Kevonian, Réfugiés et diplomatie humanitaire: Les acteurs européens et la scène proche-orientale pendant l’entre-deux-guerres (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2004). For the Armenian genocide, see Keith David Watenpaugh, “The League of Nations’ Rescue of Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism, 1920–1927,” American Historical Review 115, no. 5 (2010), 1315–39; Eric D. Weitz, “From the Vienna to the Paris System: International Politics and the Entangled Histories of Human Rights, Forced Deportations, and Civilizing Missions,” American Historical Review 113, no. 5 (2008): 1313–43.

61. See, for example, Dominique Marshall, “Dimensions transnationales et locales de l’histoire des droits de l’enfant: La Société des Nations et les cultures politiques canadiennes,” Genèses71, no. 2 (2008): 47–63; Marshall, “The Construction of Children as an Object of International Relations: The Declaration of Children’s Rights and the Child Welfare Committee of the League of Nations, 1900–1924,” International Journal of Children’s Rights7, no. 2 (1999): 103–47. For a review of recent research on the League of Nations, see Susan Pedersen, “Back to the League of Nations,” American Historical Review 112, no. 4 (2007): 1091–1117.

62. This has not been fully explored. Cf. for other fields of transnationalism Anna Woebse,Weltnaturschutz: Umweltdiplomatie in Völkerbund und Vereinten Nationen, 1920–1950(Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2012); Patricia Clavin and Jens-Wilhelm Wessels, “Transnationalism and the League of Nations: Understanding the Work of its Economic and Financial Organization,” Contemporary European History 14, no. 4 (2005): 465–92; Joseph Morgan Hodge, Triumph of the Expert: Agrarian Doctrines of Development and the Legacies of British Colonialism (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007); Sunil Amrith,Decolonizing International Health: India and Southeast Asia, 1930–65 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 21–71.

63. John F. Hutchinson, “Disasters and the International Order: Earthquakes, Humanitarians, and the Ciraolo Project,” International History Review 22, no. 1 (2000): 1–36; Hutchinson, “Disasters and the International Order, II: The International Relief Union,”International History Review 23, no. 2 (2001): 253–98.

64. Joëlle Droux, “L’internationalisation de la protection de l’enfance: Acteurs, concurrences et projets transnationaux (1900–1925),” Critique Internationale 52, no. 3 (2011): 17–33. See also Paul Weindling, “From Sentiment to Science: Children’s Relief Organizations and the Problem of Malnutrition in Inter-War Europe,” Disasters 18, no. 3 (1994): 203–12.

65. See Francesca Wilson, Aftermath: France, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, 1945 and 1946(London: Penguin, 1947); Reinisch, “Internationalism.”

66. See, for example, Dirk Sasse, Franzosen, Briten und Deutsche im Rifkrieg, 1921–1926: Spekulanten und Sympathisanten, Deserteure und Hasardeure im Dienste Abdelkrims(Munich: Oldenbourg, 2006), 55–88; Fabian Klose, Menschenrechte im Schatten kolonialer Gewalt: Die Dekolonisierungskriege in Kenia und Algerien, 1945–1962 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2009); Klose, “The Colonial Testing Ground: The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Violent End of Empire,” Humanity 2, no. 1 (2011): 107–26.

67. Reeves, “Sovereignty.”

68. Dominique Marshall, “Children’s Rights in Imperial Political Cultures: Missionary and Humanitarian Contributions to the Conference on the African Child of 1931,” International Journal of Children’s Rights 12, no. 3 (2004): 273–318.

69. The partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 and the displacement of Palestinians in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, or War of Independence, were earlier instances mainly of the same category. See Gidon Gottlieb, “The United Nations and Emergency Humanitarian Assistance in India-Pakistan,” American Journal of International Law 66, no. 2 (1972): 362–65; and Dominique-D. Junod, The Imperiled Red Cross and the Palestine-Eretz-Yisrael Conflict, 1945–1952: The Influence of Institutional Concerns on a Humanitarian Operation (London: Kegan Paul, 1996). On the Sahel, see Michael H. Glantz, ed., The Politics of Natural Disaster: The Case of the Sahel Drought (New York: Praeger, 1976); Glantz, ed., Drought and Hunger in Africa: Denying Famine a Future (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (New York: New Press, 2007), 327 n. 39. On Vietnam, see the issue on NGOs and the Vietnam War in Peace & Change 27, no. 2 (2002); Christopher Kauffman, “Politics, Programs, and Protests: Catholic Relief Services in Vietnam, 1954–1975,” Catholic Historical Review 91, no. 2 (2005): 223–50; and Judith Kumin, “Orderly Departure from Vietnam: Cold War Anomaly or Humanitarian Innovation?” Refugee Survey Quarterly 27, no. 1 (2008): 104–17.

70. See Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 90–97.

71. On human rights, see Jan Eckel, “Utopie der Moral, Kalkül der Macht: Menschenrechte in der globalen Politik seit 1945,” Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 49 (2009): 437–84. On world heritage, see Andrea Rehling, “Universalismen und Partikularismen im Widerstreit: Zur Genese des UNESCO-Welterbes,” Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History 8, no. 3 (2011), online edition,–Rehling-3–2011 (accessed February 28, 2012); on population, Marc Frey, “Experten, Stiftungen und Politik: Zur Genese des globalen Diskurses über Bevölkerung seit 1945,”Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History 4, no. 1–2 (2007), online edition,–Frey-2–2007 (accessed February 28, 2012); on environmentalism, John R. McNeill, “The Environment, Environmentalism, and International Society in the Long 1970s,” in The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective, ed. Niall Ferguson et al. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010), 263–78.

72. Eckel, “Utopie der Moral,” 458–63.

73. Stokke, UN and Development, 309–13, 315–21, 419–34.

74. Michal Givoni, “Beyond the Humanitarian/Political Divide”; Givoni, “Humanitarian Governance and Ethical Cultivation: Médecins sans frontières and the Advent of the Expert-Witness,” Millennium 40, no. 1 (2011): 43–63. For the religious tradition in MSF, see Taithe, “Reinventing (French) Universalism,” 154–157.

75. Cf. the similar programmatic action among environmentalists who founded Greenpeace in 1971 and referred their bearing witness back to the religious tradition of the Society of Friends: Frank Zelko, “Making Greenpeace: The Development of Direct Action Environmentalism in British Columbia,” BC Studies no. 142/143 (summer/autumn 2004): 197–239.

76. See Keith Tester, “Humanitarianism: The Group Charisma of Postcolonial Britain,”International Journal of Cultural Studies 13, no. 4 (2010): 375–89.

77. Cf. Frederick Cooper, “Writing the History of Development,” Journal of Modern European History 8, no. 1 (2010): 15ff.

78. Jonathan Moore, “Humanitarian-Development Gap.”

79. Keen, Complex Emergencies, 1–24.

80. Adam Roberts, “The Role of Humanitarian Issues in International Politics in the 1990s,”International Review of the Red Cross 81, no. 833 (1999): 24–35.

81. Thomas G. Weiss, Humanitarian Intervention: Ideas in Action (Cambridge: Polity, 2012). For the debate in Britain, see Matthew Jamison, “Humanitarian Intervention since 1990 and `Liberal Interventionism,'” in Simms and Trim, eds., Humanitarian Intervention, 365–380.

82. Wilson and Brown, eds., Humanitarianism and Suffering.

83. Cooper, Celebrity Diplomacy, 36–69; Paul Harrison and Robert Palmer, News Out of Africa: Biafra to Band Aid (London: Shipman, 1985), 110–39; Hal Uplinger, “Global TV: What follows Live Aid?” Intermedia 17, no. 6 (1989): 17–19; Christopher Rowley, “Global TV: Life after Live Aid,” Intermedia 19, no. 2 (1991): 38–41.

84. Keen, Complex Emergencies, 156–168; Lilie Chouliaraki, “Post-humanitarianism: Humanitarian Communication beyond a Politics of Pity,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 13, no. 2 (2010): 107–26; Rony Brauman and René Backmann, eds., Les médias et l’humanitaire: Ethique de l’information ou charité-spectacle (Paris: CFPJ Édition, 1996).

85. Johannes Paulmann, “The Dilemmas of International Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century: Conference Report,” Bulletin of the German Historical Institute London 34, no. 1 (2012): 143–59.

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