Humanitarian assistance takes place on the frontline of global security policy where, for many, insecurity often takes the form of violent death. According to conventional understandings of humanitarianism, the proper role of humanitarian assistance should be to deliver a partial alleviation of insecurity for those caught up in or fleeing conflict and disaster. One standard definition provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) refers to aid in the context of humanitarian assistance as seeking “to save lives and alleviate the suffering of a crisis-affected population. Humanitarian assistance must be provided in accordance with the basic humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality …” (OCHA, 2003, p. 13). A well-established body of international humanitarian law, built around the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols, enshrines many core humanitarian concerns, places key obligations on belligerents to mitigate the excesses of war, and provides legal space for humanitarians to act. In principle, therefore, the place of humanitarian assistance within global security policy should be relatively straightforward.
However, debates have arisen in recent years that cast professional humanitarians as both potential producers and consumers of security, and as both perpetrators and victims of insecurity. These four potential roles will be at the heart of ...