15 Dec Scott Malcomson Reviews Books on Humanitarianism and Intervention
Scott Malcomson, an editor on foreign affairs at the New York Times Magazine, as well as being one of the Really Smart People I Know, had a short, interesting review in the NYT book review, on Sunday, December 14, 2008 of books on humanitarianism and intervention, “When To Intervene.” Scott blogs over at HuffPo, but for this book review especially, he brings important street cred, having been a senior advisor to Sergio Vieira de Mello when he was UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:
It is hard to date exactly when humanitarianism got decisively bound up with making war, although many would point to Colin Powell’s 2001 endorsement of relief workers in Afghanistan as a “force multiplier for us . . . an important part of our combat team.” In these two very different books, Conor Foley, an experienced relief worker, laments the transformation of humanitarianism into an aspect of politics, while Gareth Evans, a doughty Australian politician and head of the International Crisis Group, argues for something like its institutionalization. Both books are poised to influence debate as we make the turn into a post-Bush world.
Michael Innes, at Complex Terrain Lab, adds some additional commentary on Scott’s review:
Not sure I agree with Malcomson’s triangulation here, since humanitarianism was but one of many fields securitized in what one might, for lack of a better term, call the “war effort”. In this, he might be missing the larger debate on the role of neutrality in international relations, and the kicking it’s been receiving since the early 1990s.
I guess I’m part of the “kicking” of neutrality, although I doubt my own highly obscure articles are what Michael has in mind. I imagine he means the literature from the left progressives in the Balkans that criticized the international community for remaining neutral in those conflicts.
There is a lot to the concept of neutrality – a lot more conceptual work that could usefully go into the concept and its variants: not just humanitarian neutrality, but the morality of neutrality in interstate conflicts, the history of the law of neutrality, and lots of other stuff besides. I’ve been thinking (I might have mentioned this on OJ) of a special section of a journal – Telos, perhaps, or maybe someplace else, on neutrality. I’ve received a couple of emails from people who might be interested in something like that – if you’re writing on neutrality or might be, let me know. No promises I’ll manage to get something going, but I am very interested in the topic.