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State-Building

Humanitarian action and state-building in Conflict?

Bruce Jones's picture
   Photo © Arne Noel / World Bank

The past few years have seen the revival of an old debate about the relationship between humanitarian action, military/peacekeeping intervention, and state-building. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the military, humanitarian and development actors are working together in new ways, have raised concerns in each community.

Humanitarian actors worry about the loss of perceived impartiality and access to vulnerable populations. People in the military worry about their effectiveness if not backed up by humanitarian and economic assistance. Development actors worry that military actors are undertaking state-building functions without adequate understanding of the implications of their actions.

Given that the renewed debate derives from Afghanistan and Iraq, the argument is probably overplayed, since it is highly unlikely that the specific mode of engagement in those two cases—grounded in large-scale U.S. military deployments—is likely to characterize the predominant form of response to humanitarian crises or fragile states in conflict. Nevertheless, changing forms and patterns of violence will pose new challenges to these communities.