Since the beginning of modern humanitarian action during wartime (with the birth of the ICRC), the question of the NGOs' role on the battlefields has been the subject of an important controversy, opposing humanitarian to pacifist ideals. Indeed, pacifists' main point was to denounce the fact that, in different ways and especially by humanizing wars, humanitarian action during conflicts indirectly contributed to the perpetuation of war.
As we will see, although the original debate opposing the ICRC to pacifists ended in the "victory" of humanitarian ideals, which were legitimated according to the international opinion, the idea that NGOs can indirectly contribute to war in several different manners is still relevant nowadays and NGOs need to admit it to ameliorate their action and avoid certain pitfalls (II). The humanitarian ideal is based on a fundamental value: respect of human life.
[...] Although humanitarian ideals and pacifist ideals don't belong to the same sphere (pacifist preoccupations being part of the political sphere), although pacifist criticisms shouldn't and haven't impeded necessary humanitarian action during wartime, and although the pacifist vs humanitarian debate may seem a little out-of-date, NGOs can still learn from this debate. Indeed, by keeping in mind the pacifist critical point of view, NGOs can try to avoid, to a certain (and limited) extent, the pitfall of contributing to war. Bibliography [...]
[...] Although this idea seems excessively utopian, the opposition of pacifists is understandable: the idea of “humanizing can indeed seem absurd and illusory, especially when we take a look at historical events: the humanitarian principles established by international humanitarian law haven't impeded the worse atrocities (e.g. recently in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Rwanda). This pacifist point of view can be illustrated by Einstein: point is not to humanize war but to abolish However, the pacifist opposition to humanitarian action can seem quite unfruitful and lacks of realism. However, humanitarian action is necessary The link between humanitarian action and peace has always been ambiguous and complex. A paradoxical situation seems to be inevitable: humanitarian assistance exists through war, was born during the war. [...]
[...] As William Shawcross underlined it, NGOs often feed the executioner in order to feed the victims However, according to Rony Brauman, this fact must be considered as a structural contradiction of humanitarian aid, and these pervert effects contributing to war mustn't hide the positive effects of NGOs work during conflicts. As Mary Anderson comments: can never construct the best world in which our compassion can immediately translate into an end of suffering, but we can try to build a second-best world based on hard-headed assessments of the needs and options”: here again a pacifist point of view (favouring a “first best world”) wouldn't be adequate nor pragmatic. [...]
[...] Indeed, in order to understand the different positions of pacifists and humanitarians concerning the role of NGOs during wartime, an important distinction must be kept in mind: pacifist opinions are part of a political debate, which isn't the case of humanitarian issues. As Alain Destexhe wrote: Geneva Conventions' goal was to humanize war, not to discuss about its principle or its utility”. Indeed, contrary to pacifist movements, humanitarian action, although it is peaceful, is not pacifist: it doesn't engage itself in questions of peace and war, which belong to the political sphere. [...]
[...] The issue of “humanitarian Finally, the opposition between humanitarian and pacifist ideals concerning NGOs' work during wartime can be updated in the new context of international intervention. Indeed, recently the concept of “humanitarian has been developed. This idea is clearly in contradiction with pacifist ideals, which are opposed to any form of war, whatever the justifications are, since they believe other ways of resolving a problem should prevail. Therefore pacifists could criticize NGOs that collaborate with militaries, because this collaboration means that the NGOs are supporting the “humanitarian war”. [...]
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