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A new political economy of humanitarian aid developed in the nineteen-nineties, reinforcing the symbiosis between humanitarianism and the state. That the promotion of cosmopolitan humanitarian ideals was in the national interest of Western states became the prevailing wisdom of the decade.
But at the turn of the millennium, there were indications of a downturn in the influence of humanitarian ideas on Western geostrategy. Humanitarian intervention gave way to the war on terror. Humanitarianism was little more than an afterthought to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since then, despite the continued rise in donations to humanitarian agencies, the political currency of liberal humanitarianism and its institutions has steadily waned. As the US has shown less interest in enforcing ethical order, rivals – primarily Russia – have sought to redefine it. The war in Syria marks a turning point.
This panel will explore the political economy of humanitarian aid in the context of declining liberal order. How are political and economic interests shaping current humanitarian policy, practice, and discourse? What is distinct about recent changes in the political economy of humanitarian aid? To what extent should they be understood within the context of secular trends in international relations?
It will consider the role humanitarian agencies themselves have played in the development of this political economy. Which institutional practices and ‘business models’ have been most influential? To what extent do the needs and aspirations of people affected by conflict and disaster shape these practices?
And it will offer informed speculation about what recent changes in the political economy might mean for the future of humanitarian agencies. How might these agencies adapt? Can they survive while other liberal institutions collapse? Can humanitarianism itself exist beyond liberal order?