Book review: The Thin Blue Line. How Humanitarianism Went to War by Conor Foley
A humanitarian aid worker who has worked for Amnesty International, the International Rescue Committee and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in conflict zones as diverse as
The overarching thesis of The Thin Blue Line is that starting in the 1990s certain traditionally neutral humanitarian organisations have become increasingly politicised, often advocating international military interventions during grave humanitarian crises. For example he describes how CARE played a significant role in mobilizing support for western intervention in
In perhaps the book's strongest chapter, Foley provides a welcome debunking of the myths surrounding the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999 - "the high watermark of political humanitarianism", he argues. He explains how the bombing of both military and civilian targets set a precedent for
Foley may be very critical of the outcomes of many so-called humanitarian interventions, but a radical anti-imperialist he is not. Ignoring the consistent post-war
Except for a brief mention of the ‘scramble for Africa' in the late nineteenth century, a broader historical survey of the topic - which would surely show that military aggression is always justified in humanitarian terms - is sadly lacking. Even Adolf Hitler was at pains to highlight how he was "no longer willing to remain inactive" while "millions of human beings" were ill-treated in Czechoslovakia in 1938.
However, despite these reservations The Thin Blue Line is undoubtedly a thought-provoking, accessible and well-referenced book about a complex and controversial topic. Foley's analysis deserves to be widely read and studied closely.
The Thin Blue Line. How Humanitarianism Went to War is published by Verso, priced £14.99.
*An edited version of this review was recently published in the Morning Star. email@example.com