Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aid, Security, and Public Diplomacy

Providing development and humanitarian aid has become an integral part of the Western "Counterinsurgency" as well as public diplomacy work in volatile areas and war zones (such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa). There have been many questions about the viability of the approach - involving ethical as well as practical issues - especially when dealing with hostile populations. "Winning over hearts and minds" certainly does not come with outright pouring of dollars, and very often externally designed programs have proven to be either ineffective, or - what is worse - counterproductive.

The situation gets even worse when the military takes on an active role in the process, whether performing the work itself, or providing security for the development/humanitarian workers. To a large extent, this principle lies at the core of the Counterinsurgency strategy; and yet, despite their actual role, the military personnel still do wear a uniform and thus, still represent certain actors, interests, and issues. Thus, even if just providing security for non-government-affiliated groups and individuals, they might face the problem of distrust and security threats.

This was a topic of discussion for one of Riz Khan's shows on Al Jazeera this week, where he brought in Michiel Hofman - the representative of Medicins Sans Frontiers in Afghanistan - and Philip Seib, the Director of the Public Diplomacy Institute at the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. An interesting and a very controversial subject, and surely one that will be revisited many times again.

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