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Humanitarian action and the 'global war on terror': a review of trends and issues

Briefing/policy papers

Historically, humanitarian actors have not concerned themselves about the rights and wrongs of war per se, but with how they are fought, and how their effects might be mitigated. In some respects, the ‘global war on terrorism’ is just another war, yet it also constitutes a framework within which national and international policy, including humanitarian aid policy, will be defined and implemented. This paper examines how the relationship between aid and politics, and the roles and responsibilities of humanitarian actors, have been affected by the war on terrorism. It argues that the war on terrorism constitutes not only a series of actual and potential armed conflicts, but also a framework within which national and international policy, including humanitarian aid policy, will be defined and implemented. Moreover, however humanitarian actors may seek to distance themselves from the politics of the global war on terrorism, in operational terms they are deeply embedded in it, culturally, politically and financially, and therefore need to examine carefully how they position themselves in relation to the conflict.

Adele Harmer and Joanna Macrae