This paper focuses on one dimension of new kinds of wars, namely the shifting relationship between violence and humanitarian action. The author suggests that since humanitarianism is founded in an idea of being intrinsically and essentially benevolent, humanitarian organizations’ real and imagined relationship with violence is critical for their self-understanding and wider legitimization in society, and hence worthy of in-depth consideration. To shed light on this issue the author discusses three dissimilar and conflicting perspectives, which together illustrate some of the ambiguity and complexity that exists and which also reflect the historical and analytical developments that have occurred as a result of concrete experiences with humanitarian operations in conflict zones in different parts of the world.
Globalization, understood by critics to result in the homogenization of difference through gradual economic (and thus political) assimilation, is neither as ubiquitous nor as omnipotent as those who decry it believe. Indeed, as if countering one generalization with another somehow resolved the issue, globalization is often declared as one of, if not the greatest threat to cultural diversity. There is no doubt a grain of truth in this, as is often the case with such generalizations. Perhaps the most flagrant error with so sweeping a claim, however, is its overestimation of the actual geographical reach of current patterns of globalization. In Africa alone, certain internecine conflicts have effectively sealed off their victims and perpetrators from all outside influence, globalization included. A second overestimation made by the above claim concerns the capacity of globalization and assimilation to extinguish cultural difference. Once again, internecine conflict is a far more efficient leveler of difference than any influence from without, be it a colonial presence or northern pressures to ‘democratize’, to open markets, to conform to Human Rights accords, etc. Such conflict foments its own type of leveling by violently reducing different forms and expressions of cultural life to the same base and dehumanizing level whereby survival alone becomes a daily risk, a daily struggle.
This paper will look at the current wave of interventionism in the Third World and at some of its implications for North-South relations. It will identify and discuss three related and somewhat contradictory trends – militarization, privatization and diversion – which seem to be increasingly important features of the new world disorder. The point of view is that of the humanitarian practitioner who observes with considerable disquiet the sea changes that are taking place in what used to be, at least conceptually, a simpler and more predictable universe. Gone are the crisp concepts of the Cold War era. Everything seemed to make sense then, and what did not could not be questioned: it was relatively easy to make stubborn facts conform to grand theory. In the space of half a decade the world has become a much more complicated place, and theory is sorely lacking.
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