Compromising aid to protect international staff: the politics of humanitarian threat perception after the Arab uprisings

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Abstract

Scholars expect operational compromises by humanitarian organizations to follow attacks on aid workers. However, in response to the War in Syria, organizations compromised aid and adopted clandestine, cross-border, remote management, and conflict-actor aligned approaches, which best protected international aid workers. This was despite declining rates of attack against them, relative to their national staff counterparts. This article asks why international aid workers were withdrawn and aid was compromised in the wake of the Arab Uprisings by traditional risk-taking organizations: Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Drawing on political ethnography and interviews with aid workers, I show that shocking violent events, everyday insecurity, and changes in the nature of threat have significant effect on threat perception and explain compromises where rates of attack do not. This paper offers a picture of the micro- and field-level foundations of organizational threat perception and decisions about whose security matters.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberogab024
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Global Security Studies
Volume7
Issue number1
Early online date17 Sep 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Keywords

  • humanitarianism
  • attacks on aid
  • threat perception
  • organizational behavior
  • War in Syria
  • Arab Uprisings

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