The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions

In recent decades there has been a trend toward aligning or integrating military and humanitarian action. It has taken the form of militaries wanting to win hearts and minds, on one side, and humanitarian actors calling for military action on the other. "Contemporary States of Emergency: The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions" (2010), edited by D. Fassin and M. Pandolfi, explores these shifts and their implications. The edited volume presents a range of different topics, three stand out for me.

In the Introduction, Fassin and Pandolfi problematize the scene well: "humanitarian intervention is still a law of the strongest – this is what makes it possible, for there is no question of intervening in Chechnya, Tibet, or even North Korea to protect populations at risk. This relation of forces – and the realpolitik that, highly paradoxically, underlies military and humanitarian government – explains not only why local impulses toward resistance are discouraged, but also why the human cost of intervention is much lower for the intervening forces, even at the cost of placing the populations on whose behalf the intervention is supposedly undertaken in considerable danger: zero deaths among the NATO forces, compared with the five hundred civilians killed by the bombardment in Kosovo in 1999, and, by 2008, more than forty-five hundred deaths among the coalition troops compared with over a million mainly civilian deaths in Iraq since the invasion in 2003." (13-14). For readers interested in an introduction to the topic, this is a worthwhile read.

In my reading, Alex de Waal's "An Emancipatory Imperium?: Power and Principle in the Humanitarian International" is the strongest chapter. The chapter explores two interventions – Somalia and Sudan (Darfur specifically) – and the evolution of humanitarian-military interventions. "For many of the humanitarian advocates of the intervention [Somalia], success was axiomatic – they simply assumed that the U.S. Marine Corps, with its vastly superior weaponry and training, would impose its will on Somalia and save hundreds of thousands of lives of people at risk of starvation. Humanitarian advocacy is all about deriving an "ought" from an "is" – the very label "emergency" is both a descriptor and a prescription for (urgent) action. By the same token whereby human suffering demands an international response, such a response must work. The question of efficacy simply did not arise." (p. 297). The entire chapter is excellent, and recommended for all interested in humanitarian and international action.

Pupavac's "Between Compassion and Conservatism: A Genealogy of Humanitarian Sensibilities" presents a historical contextualization of how justifications are made for humanitarian action. The chapter focuses less on military action per se, but the shifting values that have enabled the intersection. Even if unrelated directly to military action, some points to stir debate include reflections on the development of values within the humanitarian and development sector. For example, "current British aid organizations also evolved in reaction against industrial society. Their philosophy has historically accorded more with Bonham-Carter's aversion to modern industrialization than with Hoggart's affirmation of its benefits for ordinary people. They have been inclined to idealize authentic traditional peasant communities as counterposed to an inauthentic, corrupting industrial society. Anti-industrial sentiments have followed anthropological thinking, which also informed colonial administration" (p. 135). A second example: "Those most likely to be concerned about ethical consumption are among the wealthier social groups with higher rates of consumption. Shopping as social action fits, rather than necessarily opposes, a consumer outlook in which it is difficult to conceive of action beyond consumption. Moreover, ethical consumption may represent a form of conspicuous ethical consumption. Affluent consumers may demonstrate their superior discernment, compared with that of the masses, by means of their organic tastes, expensive foreign travel to novel destinations, and specially sources authentic fair-trade and ecological goods." (p. 143).

New Publication: South Africa & the Group Areas Act

Cochrane, L. and Chellan, W. (2017) "The Group Areas Act affects us all": Apartheid and Socio-Religious Change in the Cape Town Muslims Community, South Africa. Oral History Forum.

Abstract: Oral history interviews with elders of the Cape Town Muslim community were conducted in order to record and explore the socio-religious changes that occurred over the last century. Our research explored experiences related to culture, society, language, religion, education, traditions, family life, dress, food and values. The primary event that was consistently identified by elders as a focal cause of change was the Group Areas Act (1950), which was a policy of the South African Apartheid government that resulted in the forced relocation of many members of the Muslim community in and around Cape Town, South Africa. This paper explores how individuals experienced the Group Areas Act at the time of its implementation and how elders understand this Act as contributing to long-lasting socio-religious change. Rather than draw conclusions, point to causes of change and outline specific outcomes of the Act, we end this article with diverse, inconclusive and debated experiences: a reflection of the oral histories of the Cape Town Muslim community. 

The Price of Inequality

Joseph Stiglitz is one of the most respected economists of our times and a person who has also held positions of significant influence, including chief economist of the World Bank and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors for the US President (Clinton). In 2012 he authored "The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future," which preceded other important works on the topic, such as the English version of Piketty's Capital (2014) and Milanovic's "Global Inequality" (2016) and Reich's related book "Saving Capitalism" (2015). Stiglitz was not the first to raise the issue of inequality, but he did raise the level of importance and changed the nature of the debate.

This book is about American inequality. The problem, as many others have stated, is not the market but the rules (not) regulating the market and policies that ensure the benefit is not only distributed but invested to enable future growth: "the inequality is cause and consequence of the failure of the political system, and its contributes to the instability of our economic system, which in turn contributes to increased inequality – a vicious downward spiral into which we have descended, and from which we can only emerge through concerted policies" (p. xi). The contribution made by Stiglitz in this book is to challenge the myths about inequality, and in particular to argue how inequality is bad for everyone: "we are paying a high price for our inequality – an economic system that is less stable and less efficient, with less growth, and a democracy that has been put into peril. But even more is at stake: as our economic system is seen to fail for most citizens, and as our political system seems to be captured by moneyed interests, confidence in our democracy and in our market economic will erode along with our global influence" (p. xi).

The book is replete with examples about how the powerful use their power to create and change the "rules of the game" in their favour (see p. 201, for example). The answers, or way forward proposed by Stiglitz, compose many recommendations, beyond summary here. They include making the tax system fairer, raising taxes on the top, reducing military spending, removing subsidies for major corporations, eliminating loopholes, ensuring resources are paid for appropriately, and introducing and enforcing regulations (particularly on the financial sector). He also calls for greater investment in education, technology, infrastructure, and social security. Doing so "would simultaneously increase economic efficiency, fairness, and opportunity" (p. 268). More fundamentality, Stiglitz argues the very core of America and American values are at stake "America is no longer the land of opportunity" (p. 265).

Stiglitz frames inequality as the issue of our times. Although, inequality is not simply about inequality. The debates "rest on broader ideas about human rights, human nature, and the meaning of democracy and equality" (p. 155). It is often these deeper, sometimes value-based, positions that result in policies that create inequality. "There is a real battlefield of ideas. But it does not, for the most part, involve a battle of ideas as academics would understand it, where evidence and theory on both sides are carefully weighed. It is a battlefield or "persuasions," of "framing," of attempts not necessarily to get to the truth of the matter but to understand better how ordinary citizens' perceptions are formed and to influence those perceptions" (p. 162-163).

He concludes: "Maintaining the kind of society and the kind of government that serve all people – consistent with the principles of justice, fair play, and opportunity – doesn't happen by itself. Somebody has to look after it. Otherwise our government and our institutions get captured by special interests. At the very least, we need countervailing powers" (p. 281). A call to action.

From Dictatorship to Democracy

One of the world's leading thinkers and activists for advancing democratic governance through non-violent action is Gene Sharp. He founded the Albert Einstein Institute and is a multiple-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as recipient of many other notable awards. He has authored many books, but one of his most influential and most widely translated books, as well as one of the most widely referred to books by non-violent activists, is "From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation" (1993, original). Famously, the book includes a list of 198 methods of non-violent action.

Sharp writes in the preface to the book that "the focus of this essay [it was originally written as a series for activists] is on the generic problem of how to destroy a dictatorship and to prevent the rise of a new one" (p. xix). At the outset, the author makes clear that in most instances of dictatorship, violent action will not work: "Whatever the merits of the violent option, however, one point is clear. By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority" (p. 6). The alternative advocated by Sharp is non-violent action.

How? Quite succinctly, the author summarizes (p. 12): "When one wants to bring down a dictatorship most effectively and with the least cost then one has four immediate tasks:

  • One must strengthen the oppressed population themselves in their determination, self-confidence, and resistance skills;
  • One must strengthen the independent social groups and institutions of the oppressed people;
  • One must create a powerful internal resistance force;
  • One must develop a wise grand strategic plan for liberation and implement it skillfully."

Navigating the actions and reactions of a dictatorial government and its supporters requires close monitoring and analysis. Sharp does not delve into the academics of the matter, and summarizes the key factors relating to success as: "(1) the relative desire of the populace to impose limits on the government's power; (2) the relative strength of the subjects' independent organizations and institutions to withdraw collectively the sources of power; and (3) the population's relative ability to withhold their consent and assistance" (p. 33).

The book is not all positivity and encouragement. There are strong warnings about the costs as well as the responsibilities involved. For example, even "when the oppressive system was brought down, lack of planning on how to handle the transition to a democratic system has contributed to the emergence of a new dictatorship" (p. 61). In other words, all the action and all the costs can re-create the system that was fought against if long term, strategic planning is not a part of the struggle. Furthermore, Sharp emphasizes not just the planning of power, but the re-distribution of it: "The effect of nonviolent struggle is not only to weaken and remove dictators but also to empower the oppressed. This technique enables people who formerly felt themselves to be only pawns or victims to wield power directly in order to gain by their own efforts greater freedom and justice… One important long-term beneficial consequence of the use of nonviolent struggle for establishing democratic government is that the society will be more capable of dealing with continuing and future problems… The population experienced in the use of political defiance is less likely to be vulnerable to future dictatorships." (p. 121-122).

The Politics of Development in Morocco

'Doing development differently' can be interpreted as redistributing power in a decentralized way, and ensuring broad participation. How do we move these ideas from paper to practice? And, are these two objectives (not explicit in the DDD manifesto, but common in the discourse) compatible? Third, are these approaches to 'doing development differently' effective pathways to arrive at the desired objectives of the DDD agenda? A useful book to engage these questions is "The Politics of Development in Morocco: Local Governance and Participation in North Africa" (2017) by Sylvia Bergh. The book is based on data collection that occurred in the mid-2000s, and could have been updated for this publication. Nonetheless, it offers useful insight into the questions of decentralization and participation.

The author sets out to "assess the actual record and scope for state-society synergies in Morocco in the context of decentralization reforms and participatory development policies, particularly at the local (rural) level" (p. 18). Bergh argues that civil society, as manifested through community based organizations (CBOs), does not necessarily support decentralization, and is not necessarily supported by decentralized governance. Why? One reason is that "membership of these two spheres overlaps to a great extent. Local government councilors tend to use their simultaneous positions in CBOs to enhance their status as local patrons and increase their chances of re-election" (p. xxii). While the author does not view this conclusion as a novel one, Bergh believes the "main value lies in documenting how this phenomenon comes about, the extent to which it is happening, and the implications it has for the emergence of a strong local democracy" (p. xxii).

In many instances, the book highlights how power plays out in both the implementation of participatory policies and decentralization efforts. This included existing elite capturing resources, and/or utilizing the processes to further entrench their power (p. 19). In addition to the local level implementation problems, government officials viewed these processes as "instruments for implementing programs more cost-effectively and delegating responsibility for success or failure to the beneficiaries themselves, rather than as a vehicle to strengthen political capabilities that might, in the longer term, challenge existing power structures and thus bring about lasting change." (p. 20; also ps. 68, 79, 126 and 163 for more examples). In fact, Bergh argues, "the simultaneous implementation of decentralization reforms and "participatory" development programs may lead to increased elite capture and fewer, rather than more, spaces for transformative participation by ordinary citizens" (p. 228).

I believe one of the most interesting contributions of this book is not the processes of how, but unique insight into the challenges and limitations of civil society organizations. While these organizations are tasked with large responsibilities, their capacity is low and their resources limited to absent. Without providing support and capacity building (common in these Moroccan study areas), international organizations are setting community based organizations up for failure. Bergh concludes "the growth of CBOs following "participatory" development projects does not equate with the expansion of a "civil society" that could engage in partnerships with local governments, either for service provision or co-governance. Rather, I find that a high proportion of these CBOs lack the capacities and/or incentives to do so due to their instrumentalization by actors in "political society" for clientelist purposes." (p. 228).

As it relates to the 'good governance' agenda, and its emphasis upon decentralization and participation, this book challenges the "assumptions that citizen participation consists exclusively of involvement in NGOs and local associations, that this "civil society" can exert organized pressure on autocratic and unresponsive states, and that this is enough to bring about a democracy with substance and depth" (p. 232). In many ways, the case studies from Morocco demonstrate the opposite. As the DDD manifesto argues, altering these power structures requires a radically different approach to 'doing development', one that more often has to do with process (how), than the objective (such as decentralization). 

New Publication: Who is Defining Effectiveness?

Cochrane, L. and Thornton, A. (2017) Charity Rankers: Who is Defining Effectiveness? (Ch. 18, p 108-113). In Smart Risks: How Small Grants are Helping to Solve Some of the World's Biggest Problems, edited by J. Lentfer and T. Cothran. Practical Action Publishing: Warwickshire.

Preview (first page) of chapter available here, email me for a full copy.

Doctoral Dissertation: Strengthening Food Security in Rural Ethiopia

Cochrane, L. 2017. Strengthening Food Security in Rural Ethiopia. Doctoral Dissertation, University of British Columbia. 

Abstract: Food insecurity in rural areas of southern Ethiopia is widespread; in recent years over half of all communities in this region have been reliant upon emergency support. However, food security status varies significantly from year to year, as the region experiences variations in rainfall patterns. Research is required to better understand how food security can be strengthened. To do so, this research was driven by three research questions. First, what makes smallholder farmers in southern Ethiopia vulnerable to food insecurity. Second, according to the literature, the adoption of programs and services is low, and thus a community-based assessment was undertaken to understand why. The third question reflected on the methodology – a participatory, co-produced approach, evaluating whether this form of engaged research enabled positive change. The findings suggest that vulnerability to food insecurity differs by scale. At the community level, access to irrigation infrastructure strengthened food security, and was the most transformative difference between the communities. Within communities, food security distribution was complex and few generalizations can be made. The participatory processes identified that research often makes invisible the purposeful and insightful choices farmers make. When surveyed, they are asked to provide generalizations about input use, crop choice and practices, when in reality each crop, input and practice varies. Similarly, some commonly used measures of vulnerability can also be expressions of security; aggregated averages obfuscate localized inequality. For some programs and services, adoption was found to be quite high – it was only when all services were analyzed as a package that adoption was low. However, not all programs and services served the food insecure households, and the reasons for this are explored in detail. The participatory, co-produced approach enabled unique research questions and metrics and added significant value to the research process, which may also enable long-term positive change to programs and services.

Full text is available for download here.

New Publication: Seeing Like an Anthropologist

Cochrane, L. (2017) Seeing Like an Anthropologist: Anthropology in Practice. In Cultural Anthropology: An Open Access Textbook, edited by N. Brown, L. Gonzalez, T. McIlwraith, P. Stein and J. Thompson. Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges.

Part of an Open Access textbook for Cultural Anthropology. Full textbook available here:

Chapter Seeing like an Anthropologist: Anthropology in Practice available here.

Colonial Attitudes in Contemporary Writing

It is not easy to convey the respect one has for the people with whom they work or with whom they conduct research. Similarly, it can be challenging to identify colonial and paternalistic attitudes. "I know it when I see it", a judge famously stated in seeking to draw a line within fuzzy grey areas. Recently I ran into one of these instances. I wanted to learn more about Pakistan, and randomly picked up "Pakistan: A Hard Country" (2011) by Anatol Lieven. The author is a professor at King's College and Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation.

For clarity: I am not arguing that Lieven is a supporter of colonialism or the subordination of the ideas and interests of others. The author describes a deep love for the nation. I use some selected lines of his writing to demonstrate how we can attempt to identify attitudes that do not convey respect, and may contain a sense of superiority. I hope these lines were made in error. Regardless of intentions, 'knowing it when we see it' helps us to critically engage with texts, authors and statements.

In explaining a particular point, Anatol explains: "to judge by my own interviews and those of other Western colleagues, an absolutely overwhelming majority not just of the Pakistani masses but of the Pakistani elites believe…" (p. 47). Note that his own experience and those of "other Western colleagues" are more valuable than any non-Western scholar, never mind a citizen of the nation. One might wonder what the author thinks of the people of the nation about which he is writing and claims to deeply love. Anatol continues, about encountering "more rarely, a sensible Pakistani" (p. 47). They are irrational. Illogical. Untrustable. Best assessed and judged by "Westerners", even by those that, like Anatol, do not even speak local languages.

It ought to come as no surprise, then, that at the outset of the book Anatol describes Pakistan as "divided, disorganized, economically backward, corrupt, violent, unjust, often savagely oppressive" (p. 4). For anyone wondering why such a portrayal is problematic, I encourage you to read Orientalism by Said (1978). For those wondering why valuing "Western" opinions as more logical, rational, true and right than those of the people themselves is problematic, I encourage you to read Chambers' Whose Reality Counts (1997). In our effort to uphold the dignity and respect of everyone, we need to confront paternalistic and colonial attitudes wherever we encounter them. We need not only to be able to recognize them, but to contest and challenge them.

New Publication: Collaborative Adaptation Research in Africa and Asia

​Cochrane, L., Cundill, G., Ludi, E., New, M., Nicholls, R. J., Wester, P., Cantin, B., Murali, K. S., Leone, M., Kituyi, E. and Landry, M.-E. (2017) A Reflection on Collaborative Adaptation Research in Africa and Asia. Regional Environmental Change 17(5): 1553-1561.

AbstractThe reality of global climate change demands novel approaches to science that are reflective of the scales at which changes are likely to occur, and of the new forms of knowledge required to positively influence policy to support vulnerable populations. We examine some of the opportunities and challenges presented by a collaborative, transdisciplinary research project on climate change adaptation in Africa and Asia that utilized a hotspot approach. A large-scale effort to develop appropriate baselines was a key challenge at the outset of the program, as was the need to develop innovative methodologies to enable researchers to work at appropriate spatial scales. Efforts to match research to the biophysical scales at which change occurs need to be aware of the mismatch that can develop between these regional scales and the governance scales at which decisions are made.

Full paper available from journal as an Open Access article.

Logan Cochrane

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