This Briefing Paper reviews global trends in international humanitarian policy. It focuses in particular on the period since 1998, when the last ODI Briefing Paper on this issue was published. It argues that humanitarian action has been associated with a controversial agenda of military and political intervention, led largely by the West. The struggle to define more effective international responses to conflictrelated emergencies has resulted in a proliferation of new actors working alongside their humanitarian counterparts. This is raising new questions about the objectives of international humanitarian action, and the principles according to which it works. Donor governments are increasingly assertive in seeking to guide operational agencies in this area of policy. New forms of contractual and management relationships, and a trend towards increased earmarking of contributions, are raising further questions about the independence of humanitarian action.