Wednesday, February 19, 2014

LD Mar/Apr 2014 - Political Conditions on Humanitarian Aid - Aff Position

Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.

For part one of this topic, click here.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood;” Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

"Japan and other subordinate forces of the United States too are increasing their pressure against us by linking humanitarian aids with numerous political issues like nuclear program and normalization of ties," Spokesperson for North Korean Government

Affirmative Position

The March 2013 topic in LD was similar to this one, dealing with the justification to intervene in the internal politics of other countries to advert human rights abuses.  I would encourage you to thoroughly read my postings on the previous topic beginning here.  You might useful evidence and it can help familiarize you with some of the terminology and concepts found in this debate.

To be sure, there are many kinds of circumstances which prompt the world to respond to humanitarian crises in an effort to alleviate suffering.  Natural disasters, such as earthquakes quite often spark responses that are free of any political "strings".  But the fact that not every kind of humanitarian intervention is predicated on political intent, does not affect the Affirmative position in any way.  We can debate those situations where political conditions do exist or we can debate the general principle and Affirm that political conditions should never be a prerequisite for humanitarian aid.

Researching this topic shows that we can expand the debate for the Affirmative by realizing that not only may political conditions be attached to recipients but also upon the donors and this was an angle I was not seeing previously.

Affirmative debaters will have few problems finding evidence but some care must be used to avoid discussion of development assistance (unless your definitions include it) and humanitarian intervention (military involvement to protect citizens).  My approach to this analysis will be to present basic contentions with related sources and then concentrate on the framework which, I believe, will be all important.

The Status Quo

First, we establish that humanitarian aid is often given with "strings attached" in the status quo.

Curtis 2001:
In response to the discriminatory policies and practices of the Taliban, donors and some aid agencies have imposed punitive conditionalities, including on security, gender equality and development/capacity-building. The net impact has been the restriction of the right to humanitarian assistance, and the inability of the international assistance community to adequately address short-term life-saving needs. According to Atmar, the irony is that donors continue to use punitive conditionalities, even though they have not produced the desired political and social changes, and have had negative humanitarian consequences.

Fillemon 2011:
Western countries have set and marked donations of developmental and/or humanitarian aid as the conduit of strengthening their international relations with the African continent. However, despite what may be the constitutive intentions behind the giving of a specific aid, these types of donations have great negative impact on the continent than the benefit. These donations are of retrogressive effect, than the progressive one to the indigenous efforts aimed at the continental-economic recovery by the African people, within and beyond the continental boundaries. Of obviousness, the whole world is aware that aids are given with ulterior motive on the side of donors that is if the attached conditions are not the befitting descriptive phrase. In most instances, aids are given on the basis or in pursuit of diplomatic approval, military ally, commercial or economic and in exchange of cultural influence. Generally, group of donors, may include individuals, private organizations or governments.

Volberg 2006:
Humanitarian assistance has always been a highly political activity, as it involves engaging authorities in conflict-affected countries or relying on financial support that can be driven by a donor’s political considerations. Nowadays, relief organizations seem to remain even less in control of their working environment due to expanding peacekeeping and “military-led” missions of the United Nations, regional organizations or major Western powers in armed conflicts. Furthermore, they are confronted with a growing scale of human rights abuses and the targeting of civilians, including humanitarian workers. However, the necessity to interact with armed groups started to blur the line between military policies and relief missions, making humanitarian action appear to be increasingly tied to the overall political response of donor countries to complex emergencies. This working environment is making it difficult for relief organization to maintain their neutrality and to avoid political manipulation.

The Harms

The harms arising from the politicization of humanitarian aid can be described as direct harms resulting in the suffering of individuals due to political restrictions limiting the distribution of aid.  The harms can also be seen indirectly due to the aura of distrust which permeates the politicized arena in which aid orgainizations are forced to operate.

Pilar 1999:
In a problematic context like Afghanistan under the Taliban with civil war continuing in the North it is essential for humanitarian aid to not be seen as part of any political camp. This is important for security reasons, but also to maintain credibility for an impartial approach to aid. However, this attempt by some NGOs to remain true to humanitarian principles has been jeopardised by UN organisations and donor governments. [see source for specific examples]

Further, it can be argued the politicization of humanitarian aid harms the underlying principles of universality, impartiality, independence and neutrality.

Curtis 2001:
According to Pasquier, the new form of politicisation of humanitarian aid may challenge all four of these principles. Universality and impartiality imply that humanitarian action should reach all conflict victims, no matter where they are, or which side they support. Impartiality means that humanitarian response should be guided by need alone, and that there should be no distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ beneficiaries. Yet by subordinating humanitarian objectives to political and strategic ones, some victims may be seen as more deserving than others, and impartiality is foregone. For instance, Skuric-Prodanovic shows that the level of humanitarian response in Serbia in the second half of 1999 was much lower than in Albania and Macedonia. In Montenegro, humanitarian aid was also more than abundant. These differences did not correspond to different levels of need. Skuric-Prodanovic argues that few donors were willing to fund humanitarian assistance in Serbia, and few international NGOs were willing to face the difficulties of working there, and therefore chose the more prominent and ‘politically correct’ Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro.

Structural Politics

There is a body of research which suggests the distribution of aid is almost always carried out with the interests of the donor in mind and thus there is an inherent politicization which serves self-interests.

Cunningham 2012:
An excellent example of donor nation self-interest can be found in the case of rice imports from the United States relative to the livelihoods of American farmers. The 2008 U.S. Farm Bill provides subsidies for American farm production and creates price controls and barriers to foreign food imports, creating artificial incentives for increased production by American farmers (Lehrer 2010, 640). While this benefits American producers, it inevitably creates unusable surpluses. In 2011, for example, there were 1.128 billion bushels of surplus corn (Wilson 2012). Food aid provided a potential solution, turning “the problem of surplus stocks into an opportunity to pursue strategic, welfare, and economic policies” (Friedmann 1993, 35). Thus, food aid actually benefits the American economy by allowing prices to remain elevated while simultaneously disposing of surpluses, regardless of their externalities for the recipients of food aid. 

Cunningham argues the pursuit of "strategic, welfare, and economic policies" are overt moves by the government of the United States to ensure its own security as a global superpower by projecting itself as the leader in maintaining the "moral high-ground".  Thus, even the well-intended donations of NGOs are tied to political conditions which benefit the U.S.

Cunningham 2012:
Because this aid is tied, it comes with certain requirements, such as branding, obliging those who implement humanitarian aid programs to submit to donor policies for funding. According to Mark Ward, the Director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance: 
The United States Government, through USAID, requires the NGOs we fund to ‘brand’ the assistance they provide to people in need with the Agency’s handshake, logo and the words ‘From the American people’ in local languages. Branding is not just required by law; it ensures transparency when America provides aid. We believe that the people we  help have a right to know where their assistance is coming from (Ward, 2010).

This provides a very interesting contention for the Affirmative debater as it demonstrates the existence of a "humanitarian aid regime" driven by self-interests which forces political conditions on other aid organizations which depend upon the regime to deliver their assistance in the regions requiring humanitarian aid. After all, if not for military transport and government personnel and equipment, most aid could never reach the affected.

The Value Framework

The obvious values for this debate can be surmised directly from the wording of the resolution.  From the term, "unjust" we can derive the value of justice.  Several approaches for justice exist within the context of this debate which are supported by the evidence.  Justice is commonly defined as "giving each his due" which is related to the concept of the proportional distribution of "just desserts" (awards and punishments).  Justice is also founded in principles of equity and fairness for which we can look to the philosophy of John Rawls, the Veil of Ignorance and the Difference Principle. I could take a lot of time to explain these, but at this point in the season, you should be well-acquainted with Rawls.  As we have seen in the Curtis paper cited below and quoted above, politicization of humanitarian aid can compromise the core values of universality, impartiality, independence and neutrality (each of which can be a value or incorporated into a criterion for upholding the value).  Politicization is inherently discriminatory and thus undermines justice according to the criteria championed by John Rawls.

CSO (undated):
...justice is associated with equity, equality, human rights, fairness, respect, integrity, trust, empowerment, dignity, kindness, appreciation, people development, community development, contribution, dialogue, democracy, participation and also with values like responsibility, care, empathy, social intelligence, intuition, sensitivity, service, sharing, generosity, volunteerism, compassion, selflessness and positive impact on society. It is also associated with the values of peace, social stability, non-violence, security, law abiding, ethical conduct and systemic thinking, critical thinking, interconnectedness, holism, cultural diversity and oneness of humanity. There are also related values as health, education, worker safety, business ethics, environmental sustainability, intergenerational equity, community and individual wellbeing, and accountability

Wortel 2009:
It is interesting that [Jean] Pictet describes humanity, in the sense of charity, as a (universal) encounter. It is worthwhile comparing this to what the German philosopher Marin Buber argues about an encounter in I and Thou: that in a genuine encounter, the receiver must also be viewed as worthy by the giver. If not, the encounter is fundamentally instrumental in nature: such ‘I–it’ relations are oriented toward domination because they are relations in which the subject (the ‘I’) takes its partner (the ‘it’) as an object. If this is what is implied, it should be impossible to speak of humanitarian aid, and the value of humanity, in instrumental terms. In fact, in this encounter with the Other it is very likely that one becomes concerned and involved with the situation of the Other. As a result, if injustice is being done, the urge is to act for the ‘good’ of one’s fellow human beings. What exactly this ‘good’ for one’s fellow man consists of is a question that, for Pictet, was one that ‘hardly arises … in connection with the Red Cross’ and, according to him, was not relevant. However, from the events discussed below it is obvious that this has become an elementary question: what exactly was the ‘good’ for Jews in Nazi Germany, Ibos in Nigeria or Rwandan Hutu refugees in Zaire? In these cases, for many humanitarians the ‘good’ is related to the ideal, or value, of justice. When this value of justice implies that some deserve aid more than others, there could be a tension within the definition of humanity itself.

Tied to the definition of "unjust" is the concept of morality which we define as correct behavior.

Wortel 2009:
The concept of value is used broadly, and usually refers to ideals or things that we consider valuable. Moral values are qualities people deem important because they contribute to a good and meaningful life. They usually indicate that there is a deep motivation to act on this value. A principle, on the other hand, is typically described as a (general) guiding rule for behaviour which can be based on an (underlying) moral value.

The Wortel source is a very good aid in establishing grounds for the Affirmative value framework, especially with respect to this resolution.  Wortel discusses, at length, the core values implicit in the International Red Cross, Code of Conduct.

Wortel 2009:
With the explicit claim that the principle of humanity ‘stands on its own in the doctrine of the Red Cross’,51 the original moral value (and perhaps virtue) as defined by Dunant became a norm – as such, it can be interpreted as an absolute duty or an obligation.52 In fact, in an effort to give the principle of humanity an ‘imperative gloss’ by making it a moral absolute, the term ‘humanitarian imperative’ was adopted in the first principle of the Code of Conduct. Philosophers and many others will immediately relate this term to a Kantian ‘categorical imperative’ – an absolute rule that admits no exceptions and imposes an obligation. Hugo Slim argues that: ‘Those choosing the phrase “humanitarian imperative” were obviously determined to reinstate emphatically the principle of humanity that they saw as being so undermined in practice around the world – first by the perpetrators of its violation, secondly by reluctant donor governments, and finally, perhaps, by more consequentialist observers emphasizing the potentially harmful effects of humanitarian aid in certain situations’.

Trusting this overview of the moral framework is sufficient to get you thinking, I will now concentrate on the Negative position.


The Humanitarian Aid Regime in the Republic of NGO; THE FALLACY OF ‘BUILDING BACK BETTER’
The Josef Korbel Journal of Advanced International Studies - Summer 2012, Volume 4 OLIVER CUNNINGHAM, University of Denver, M.A., International Political Economy


Politics and Humanitarian Aid: Debates, Dilemmas and Dissension
Report of a conference organised by ODI, POLIS at the University of Leeds and CAFOD, London, 1 February 2001
Devon Curtis, PhD candidate in the Department of International Relations at the London School of
Economics and Political Science.

The politicization of humanitarian aid and its effect on the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality
European Master’s Degree in International Humanitarian Assistance Ruhr-University of Bochum, Academic Year 2005/2006
Thornsten Volberg

Humanitarian Space Under Siege Some Remarks from an Aid Agency’s Perspective
Background paper prepared for the Symposium„ Europe and Humanitarian Aid - What Future? Learning from Crisis“, 22 and 23 April 1999 in Bad Neuenahr
Ulrike von Pilar, Médecins Sans Frontières

Values-based Indicators for Sustainable Development: DRAFT handbook for Civil Society Organisations On Values: Understanding Justice
Civil Society Organizations (CSO)

Humanitarians and their moral stance in war: the underlying values;Selected Article on Humanitarian Law
Eva Wortel 2009


  1. Do you know of any examples where the political conditions placed on aid were used to benefit the donor country, rather than in an effort to solve human rights violations in other countries?

  2. Do you know of any cards that state that political conditions on humanitarian aid are unjust due to the fact that humans are used as bargaining chips for another countries political leverage?


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