The Golden Fleece: Manipulation and Independence in Humanitarian Action, edited by Antonio Donini, 2012, Kumarian Press.
The Golden Fleece delves into questions that are rarely asked and seldom answered. It examines the impact of manipulation on the effectiveness of humanitarian action. The tension between fundamental humanitarian values – saving lives over all other considerations – and political or economic agendas is not new. Relief work has long been subject to manipulation by governments, warlords, public opinion, disembodied realpolitik, and to the calculations of humanitarians themselves. As Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire notes in his Foreword, "the sacrosanct principles of neutrality and humanitarian space have been used and abused by many in ways which ultimately benefit killers rather than the victims of armed conflict."
This book takes a long view, starting with the origins of organized humanitarianism in the mid-19th century and zeroes in on the twenty-plus years since the end of the Cold War. It examines whether instrumentalization has achieved its desired objectives, whether political manipulation is greater today than before, and whether the recent dramatic growth of relief work has opened up humanitarian action to greater manipulation.
Humanitarianism has blossomed from a relatively marginal activity in the shadow of interstate wars to a central feature of international relations; it is now part of global governance, if not of government. It has also become a much-used fig leaf to camouflage global and local failures of governance that often result in further misery for those at the mercy of conflict and crisis.
The Golden Fleece asks whether saving lives is, by its very nature, prone to instrumentalization or whether humanitarianism can be transformed and made more immune to manipulation. Building on decades of experience at the frontlines of the world’s most devastating crises, the authors chronicle the successes and failures of a humanitarian enterprise that, despite its limitations, remains central to the survival of millions of vulnerable and dispossessed people around the world. They argue that the practical and moral resistance against intolerable suffering is an urgent, necessary and critical imperative. It is at the core of what it means to be human.
Antonio Donini is a senior researcher at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, where he works on issues relating to humanitarianism and the future of humanitarian action