Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.
For part one of this topic, click here.
Neg PositionThe Negative side of this debate has several paths for advocacy. While it may seem obvious the Neg should claim that placing political conditions on humanitarian aid IS NOT unjust, the way in which one says it needs to be very carefully considered. In the world of debate, all things are possible and every position can be upheld as long as one can show the benefits outweigh the harms. Quite often, advancing these kinds of cost-benefit analyses reduces the need to directly refute the opponent's claims. In addition, if the recipient country agrees to the donors' conditions, in most cases, the world would be a "better" and perhaps more secure place since the conditions include things like non-proliferation, ending human rights abuses, and advancing democratic principles. Failure of the recipient to agree is seen as a failure of the recipient government. So, now I know you are thinking, that position has no weight when the well-being of thousands of human beings are at stake.
Consider the United States as an example of a nation which often attaches political conditions on humanitarian aid. The situations which ultimately result in need for humanitarian aid come in two flavors; natural and man-made (or let's say government-made). Natural disasters occur, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, droughts and devastating storms and no one can justly be blamed for these occurrences. The lives of thousands are suddenly in jeopardy and capable nations like the U.S. will respond to avert the human tragedy without conditions. On the other hand, many humanitarian crises are the result of the decisions of other humans, specifically governments. Things like wars, revolutions, failed economic policies, and the like can and do result in human tragedies which demand humanitarian aid and capable nations like the U.S. say, "we will help but first you must agree to...". Consider, North Korea as an example of a state with dire need for humanitarian aid which seem to arise from the failed policies of the government. The Korean government's refusal to "play nice" with other nations has resulted in crippling sanctions which in turn have exacerbated their internal humanitarian crisis. While we can debate the justification of sanctions (indeed we did) another time, we can still claim the conditions which lead to humanitarian disaster arise from the decisions made by the host government and not natural causes. Rushing in to help in these situations is seen as propping up the failed policies of the host government. Having said that, it is important to note that even in North Korea when the humanitarian crisis elevate to the level of most dire emergency, the U.S. will act despite preconditions. Finally, debaters need to be alert to the differences between humanitarian aid and development aid. The latter almost always comes with strings attached but is non-topical in this debate. However, another very important point must be made. Sometimes, drawing distinctions between humanitarian and development is not easy since the two can be very closely linked. The ability of a nation to respond to and recover from disasters (natural or man-made) is an important consideration when deciding to "rush in" with aid. Humanitarian aid tends to be short-term and not sustainable. It is reasonable to expect some donors will say, "we will help you once again but you've got to change this or that policy in order to be resilient in the future..." These demands are aimed toward development and policy decisions which reduce the impact of future crises.
Framing a Neg position based on the foregoing discussion brings us back to the question of whether nations (or organizations, or corporations) are moral agents. I have long believed and held that governments have a responsibility to uphold utilitarian principles of maximizing good for the greatest number. This does not mean governments should allow egregious harms against minorities or the disadvantaged in order to promote the interests of the majority. In debate, we speak of democratic ideals, social contracts, and the responsibility of governments in broad terms. The moral principles which guide the behavior of individuals are not necessarily applicable to societies or governments. Still, debaters must find some way to convey the rightness or wrongness of the actions taken by states and the cost-benefit analysis, which, in my opinion, supports the utilitarian framework, is one such valid measure.
Another interesting position and one I explore more completely in this analysis, is the idea that perhaps humanitarian aid, in the era of modern conflicts and politics is inherently immoral. This excludes the kinds of aid which are typically given without conditions such as in the wake of natural disasters. If aid promotes the kinds of suffering it is intended to relieve or if it promotes colonial or pro-western ideological thinking, perhaps the only way to resolve the resulting moral dilemmas is to attach political conditions.
The Downside of Humanitarian AidPerhaps it is quite natural and simple to take the view that if lives are in danger, steps must be taken help and indeed, in the world of individual decision making, the deontological decision maker will act purely from the desire to do the right thing without seeing the victims as a mere means to an end. However, that is not that kind of philosophical mandate which motivates the antagonists in modern conflicts.
... there is a darker side to humanitarian assistance, for the same aid intended to alleviate suffering caused by conﬂict has the capacity to exacerbate and prolong conﬂict, further compromising the safety of those individuals to whom they aim to deliver assistance. Relief agencies, long beholden to the principle of neutrality, along with impartiality and independence, have been confronted with the idea that, although well intended, aid can often have a non-neutral eﬀect on war. Amid rising criticism of the negative effects of aid, relief agencies have been forced to reﬂect on their harmful capabilities and reassess the ethics of their work. Simply ‘doing good’ may not be good enough.
One aspect of modern conflicts which leads to humanitarian suffering is the increasing tendency to use populations of citizens as the tools for achieving political objectives. Thus, humanitarian efforts are manipulated as a means to control populations to the benefit of the antagonists.
New wars are closely tied to the notion of failed states. Within this environment, the distinctions between ‘war’, ‘organised crime’ and ‘human rights violations’ is blurred (Kaldor, 2006: 2). The actors which are party to the conflict are not merely regular armies, but ‘paramilitary units, local warlords, criminal gangs, [and] police forces’ (ibid: 9). Although they ‘may fight for one side, they are rarely under the full control of the structures of war’ (Anderson, 1999: 12). Where no one group can prevail militarily, actors must ‘try to control political territory politically’; however, in the absence of the ability to win hearts and minds, ‘fear and hate’ are utilised (Kaldor, 2006a: 7). Anderson writes that ‘rather than appeal to a constituency by enunciating a set of principles’, leaders have searched ‘their national histories and selected characteristics that differentiated people from each other’ (1999: 9)...The ethnic cleansing and systematic displacement, which have been witnessed in numerous post-Cold War conflicts are therefore not simply a side effect of war, but ‘an explicit objective’ (Bradbury, 1995: 5). The degeneration of national frameworks and structures which facilitate these processes (Shaw, 2000: 17) can also leave aid agencies and NGOs as the sole providers of security and essential services for millions of targeted civilians (DeMars, 1996: 81). Simultaneously however, the strong emphasis on identity within new wars means that aid distribution can easily aggravate tensions between communities;
When humanitarian aid is seen and manipulated as a strategic resource, the results can lead to an order of magnitude increase in the rates of death and suffering of innocent civilians.
The military benefits associated with controlling access to resources have long been recognised (for example, see Sun Tzu’s Art of War). However, it is only relatively recently that the humanitarian community has begun to investigate the implications of this for the politics of aid. Actors can control aid access through various means. Most commonly noted is the sovereign government’s ability to deny agencies and NGOs the necessary permission or security guarantees to work in rebel held areas (African Rights, 1994: 3-4). Meanwhile, Prendergast reports that in turn, rebels have used violence ‘to limit aid flows into government areas’ (1996: 18). Such strategies have been employed to devastating effect; Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) estimates that dead to wounded ratios increased from 1:4 to 10:1 in Burundi because of limitations on humanitarian access (in Buckley, 1996: 9; MSF, 2004). However, the implications go beyond the inevitable increase in immediate mortality rates; the deployment (or not) of resources has ‘profound impacts on economies and power structures’ (Prendergast, 1996: 58).
The attention given to humanitarian relief diverts attention from the underlying causes of disaster and tends to relieve leaders of the responsibilities they ordinarily must face for their own failings.
Recent analysis of famines demonstrates that humanitarian aid affects social and political contracts between groups and their leaders. When outsiders provide substantial relief, the result may be that leaders are abrogated of their welfare responsibilities and can instead devote their energies and resources to war-fighting. De Waal has noted that ‘history is replete with successful methods of preventing famine’ and that ‘common to them are versions of [a] political contract that impose political obligations on rulers’. These ‘anti-famine contracts’ are enforced by holding leaders accountable for their actions (2002: 5). They assert that famine is not a failing of the system, but instead occurs as a result of deliberate political violence (Sen, 1981). When an emphasis is placed on assigning responsibility for crises leaders are held accountable by society and as a result there is an incentive for them to work for the interests of their people (de Waal, 2002: 5). Conversely, when aid agencies and NGOs take responsibility for the welfare of populations, the disaster is reframed as humanitarian and the political responsibilities which leaders have to their people are undermined (Edkins, 2002: 12; Bradbury, 1995: 168).
The Moral DilemmaOne of of the age-old philosophical dilemmas revolve around the "drowning man" scenario. Is there a moral obligation to rescue the drowning man if means the rescuers life is endangered or if there is a risk others may drown during the rescue attempt? Often, circumstances arise in which humanitarian aid would serve to prolong the kind of conditions which would lead to more suffering in the future or result in danger to the aid workers. Organizations which provide aid are forced to reassess their desire for political neutrality to avoid potential moral dilemmas.
The course of action that aid agencies decide to take depends upon a development of ethics around moral dilemmas that starts with deciding where one stands in the ancient philosophical debate about the nature of goodness and the limits of moral responsibility. There are deontological, or duty-based, ethics that believe that certain actions, such as healing wounds, are intrinsically good. This approach is countered by teleological, or goal- based ethics, which are more concerned with the wider consequences of an action. From this perspective, healing a person’s wounds is not always good if that person is then able to return to war to kill innocent people. Assessment of good is much easier for deontologists whose ethics are mere matter of doing one’s duties, whereas teleological ethics are much more complicated and uncertain.³³ Agencies which adopt the latter approach can only justify distribution of aid by its potential to do more good than harm. Rony Brauman states, “From a moral standpoint, weighing the pain inﬂicted against the pain avoided is an impossible endeavor.”³⁴ For a consequentialist, providing aid, knowing that it is being manipulated to intensify and prolong conﬂict presents a moral dilemma, In this case, providing aid causes harm, yet a decision to withdraw aid counters the most fundamental element of the humanitarian mandate to provide assistance to those in need.
Colonialism and the Gift CritiqueThe giving of aid can be considered inherently immoral because of the ideological basis behind why it is given. The concept of moral correctness may be a based upon a greater requirement to establish moral dominance on less-fortunate individuals. In addition, it creates a reciprocal response which binds the recipient to the donor.
Tomohisa Hattori (2003) traces the sources of the current imperative for foreign aid to a long tradition of giving. The act of giving creates or reinforces a certain social relationship and an obligation to reciprocate the gift. This expectation of reciprocation is a “balanced social relationship between equals” (232-3). Forgoing the obligation to reciprocate creates an unequal relationship, whereby the donor situates herself in the position of a generous, benevolent being that extends her grace and favours to an inherently destitute and deprived other. It is precisely this sort of attitude that is so prevalent among humanitarian actors, as it will be shown below. Thus the “institutionalization of giving,” whether referring to states donating to other less developed states, to states and private actors donating to aid agencies, or to aid agencies donating to the ‘less fortunate,’ reinforces and legitimizes, on ethical grounds, a material status quo. Such a material hierarchy becomes rewritten into a moral one (Ibid.: 237). It is strange that while acknowledging this attitude, Hattori glosses over it in an attempt to prove that what matters here is that states are ethically motivated when engaging in practices of giving. I think that the element that should be of deep concern is the “ethical boundary between donor and recipient,” which she acknowledges, but without giving it the weight it deserves. This boundary serves not only to reinforce “the material as a moral order of things,” but also to sell an image of “magnanimity” whereby an innate superior generosity and nobility is opposed to an inherent deprivation and to an inferior way of life.
As Brauman (1998) aptly remarks, “to do good is accompanied by a feeling of omnipotence,” “an excessive and smug faith in the morality of humanitarian action” (192). Humanitarianism’s self-expressed goal, as purported by International Committee of the Red Cross’ (ICRC) creed, is to save lives, all lives, and feed and cure people, all people, without any regard to political consequences. Since humanitarian action is and should be completely apolitical and neutral, why should aid workers be preoccupied with the consequences of their actions, which are very much political? It is puzzling that such an attitude has been embraced for decades, in spite of the disastrous consequences it provoked. How is it possible that in situations characterized by such deep political conflict and turmoil, in which the very idea and action of assistance is a sort of intervention, we can comfortably believe that our actions will have no political consequences, that our endeavours are protected by a vacuum of neutrality that seals all implications shut? I think it is important to note that one of the main causes for the tragic consequences of humanitarian action is specifically this divide between the political and the humanitarian/ethical, this unproblematic embrace of neutrality and impartiality as flawless guidelines (see Brauman 1998; Brauman 2000; Warner 1999).
Politicization Is InevitableThe evidence shows the distribution of aid can be a highly political activity; inherently political in the context of modern conflict and struggles which lead to such humanitarian crises. To reject politicization is tantamount to rejecting humanitarian aid. But even if one does not buy that argument, the evidence clearly confirms the destructive nature of humanitarian aid as a tool to be exploited by factions serving self-interests. Under these circumstances, the need for political preconditions may be the only way to mitigate the harms and get the aid to the people that deserve it.
This ethics of responsibility needs to be subjected to the “sieve” of moral norms, so that the “alterity of persons, inherent to the very idea of human plurality” should not clash violently with the “universality of rules that uphold the idea of humanity” (Ricoeur 1990: 305). The universality of rules needs to be adapted to the historicity and contextuality of every specific situation, so that the notion of respect should not split into respect for the law versus respect for people. I argue that this split took place in the case of humanitarian action. The experiences in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Bosnia, and Rwanda prove that the depoliticized principles of universality, neutrality and impartiality have devastating consequences. For the purpose of upholding these principles, people’s lives and protection were sacrificed.
Human needs do pre-exist politics. And one can even become suitably passionate about this idea until, of course, you are displaced, widowed and hungry yourself in a place like Darfur, northern Uganda or Iraq. Then, you know that your deprivation is politically made and that, if they are to be met, your needs will have to be politically realised somehow. It becomes obvious then that your needs are deeply political. Your various general needs may pre-exist this war and be a defining part of your very human-ness but your specific needs are shaped by and dependent on the politics of your current situation. This is when you also need politicians - good ones - to help meet your needs. And this is when humanitarians need politicians too - to supply aid, to respect humanitarian law and to generate political solutions.
For an overview of cases I judged, click here.
Course: Interactive Models to Cope with Destructive Social Conflicts Instructor: Sapir Handelman
Anna Rose Siegel 31 July 2011
Approaches to Humanitarianism:Eliminating Band Aids and Banned Aid
The Politics of Aid: Helping Darfur?
ADAM GROVES, DEC 13 2007
How Aid Negatively Impacts Conﬂict: The Moral and Practical Dilemmas Faced by Humanitarian Organizations
Randi L.S. Lassiter
Between Scylla and Charybdis: The Ethical and Moral Dilemmas of Humanitarian Action
YCISS Working Paper Number 31 January 2005Alina Sajed
PhD Candidate, McMaster University
Politicizing Humanitarian Action According to Need
Presentation to the 2nd International Meeting on Good Humanitarian
Donorship, Ottawa, 21-22 October 2004
Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Geneva