The past decade has seen greater interest and engagement by Western donors in countries characterised by poverty, violence and repression—so-called ‘fragile states’. This stems in part from concern that these states are a potential source of transnational threats such as organised crime, terrorism, violent conflict and weapons proliferation. Engagement has often involved the provision of humanitarian and development assistance, some form of military or security intervention, and the promotion of political reform based on the assumption that ensuring social, economic and political progress in these contexts will enhance international peace and security. A key trend in these ‘stabilisation’ efforts has been the push towards greater collaboration or coherence between traditionally distinct policy spheres. Soldiers, diplomats, development practitioners and aid workers are encouraged to work together so to promote peace and stability.
These stabilisation strategies raise a number of fundamental questions and concerns for those preoccupied with humanitarian and development needs. First, questions surround the assumption that humanitarian and development assistance, particularly assistance delivered on the basis of a ‘quick impact’ model, effectively reduces the drivers of instability. Second, from a humanitarian perspective, using aid specifically as a means to counter terrorism and foster stability is considered contrary to core principles of humanitarian action (impartiality, neutral and independence). By undermining their neutrality, this is seen to have placed humanitarian organisations in greater danger of attack and further constrained their access to populations in need. Third, using humanitarian and development assistance to counter terrorism and enhance stability implies a concentration of aid resources and assistance in areas considered unstable or at risk of instability, and a marginalisation of more stable areas where critical needs may continue to exist and where the prospects of positive impacts from development assistance might be greater. There is an additional risk of creating perverse incentives among local actors to maintain or generate instability to attract resources. Finally, the protection of civilians is commonly offered as a core objective or rationale for stabilisation efforts in fragile states. Yet, the physical threats to the civilian populations are severe in many ongoing stabilisation contexts, with efforts to enhance ‘security’ and ‘stability’ often more focused on the state, leaving the average civilian at greater risk. These questions and concerns will be the focus of this meeting series.