Kennedy focuses on what can go wrong when humanitarian and military planners speak the same legal language--wrong for humanitarianism, and wrong for warfare. He argues that law has beaten ploughshares into swords while encouraging the bureaucratization of strategy and leadership. A culture of rules has eroded the experience of personal decision-making and responsibility among soldiers and statesmen alike. Kennedy urges those inside and outside the military who wish to reduce the ferocity of battle to understand the new roles--and the limits--of law. Only then will we be able to revitalize our responsibility for war.
One spring more than twenty years ago, David Kennedy visited Ana in an Uruguayan prison as part of the first wave of humanitarian activists to take the fight for human rights to the very sites where atrocities were committed. Kennedy was eager to learn what human rights workers could do, idealistic about changing the world and helping people like Ana. But he also had doubts. What could activists really change? Was there something unseemly about humanitarians from wealthy countries flitting into dictatorships, presenting themselves as white knights, and taking in the tourist sites before flying home? Kennedy wrote up a memoir of his hopes and doubts on that trip to Uruguay and combines it here with reflections on what has happened to the world of international humanitarianism since.
Now bureaucratized, naming and shaming from a great height in big-city office towers, human rights workers have achieved positions of formidable power. They have done much good. But the moral ambiguity of their work and questions about whether they can sometimes cause real harm endure. Kennedy tackles those questions here with his trademark combination of narrative drive and unflinching honesty. This is a powerful and disturbing tale of the bright sides and the dark sides of the humanitarian world built by good intentions.
Rooted in Kennedy's own experience in numerous humanitarian efforts, the book examines campaigns for human rights, refugee protection, economic development, and for humanitarian limits to the conduct of war. It takes us from the jails of Uruguay to the corridors of the United Nations, from the founding of a non-governmental organization dedicated to the liberation of East Timor to work aboard an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.
Kennedy shares the satisfactions of international humanitarian engagement--but also the disappointments of a faith betrayed. With humanitarianism's new power comes knowledge that even the most well-intentioned projects can create as many problems as they solve. Kennedy develops a checklist of the unforeseen consequences, blind spots, and biases of humanitarian work--from focusing too much on rules and too little on results to the ambiguities of waging war in the name of human rights. He explores the mix of altruism, self-doubt, self-congratulation, and simple disorientation that accompany efforts to bring humanitarian commitments to foreign settings.
Writing for all those who wish that "globalization" could be more humane, Kennedy urges us to think and work more pragmatically.
A work of unusual verve, honesty, and insight, this insider's account urges us to embrace the freedom and the responsibility that come with a deeper awareness of the dark sides of humanitarian governance.