Humanitarian NGOs and the aggravation of Conflicts

How Humanitarian NGOs contribute to the aggravation of a conflict in the era of Globalization

Scientific Essay, 2013

21 Pages, Grade: 92


Table of contents


1 Effects of Globalization
1.1 General understanding
1.2 The emerge of a civil society

2 NGOs involved in Conflict
2.1 Structure and Types of NGOs
2.2 Third party techniques in conflicts
2.2.1 Techniques for Conflict Management
2.2.2 Techniques in Post-conflict and Peacebuilding
2.3 The humanitarian debate
2.4 Humanitarian response

3 Negative contributions of humanitarian NGOs
3.1 Neutrality and Accountability
3.1.1 Neutrality
3.1.2 Accountability
3.2 Economic dimension
3.3 Social and society dimension
3.4 Political dimension

4 Future tasks

5 Conclusion



NGOs often define their mission as a work with people who need help and cannot count on official government or foreign aid.1 NGOs in conflict settings have saved lives, protected human rights, helped in post-conflict development and more. However, NGO record is not without problems and in the age of growing conflict complexity and intractability, nongovernmental organizations in transnational work are facing a major duty.

This paper aims to explore problems of NGOs working in or on a conflict. The literature on NGOs and conflict has been growing remarkable during the last years. A big part of the literature is dealing with conflict resolution or peace building activities of NGOs or in general non-state actors. Quiet smaller is the number of literature on negative impacts of NGOs on a conflict. Within those bibliographies we often find the negative impacts of humanitarian aid. In the light of the post-Cold War era, where NGOs gained importance in transnational politics, problems caused by NGOs should not be disregarded.

This leads to the question of this paper:

What are negative effects of humanitarian NGOs in Conflict intervention and how can they be minimized?

For addressing this question, this paper shows on first hand, impacts of the globalization process, which directly relates to the growing importance of NGOs. In a second step, it deals with the issue of NGOs involved in conflict. In that chapter also lies a first philosophical approximation of problems of the humanitarian debate. For a broader understanding, techniques of NGOs in conflict will be covered. Finally, specific negative impacts of humanitarian NGOs will be exposed within different dimensions. Once criticism has been exercised, there is (always) a need to give suggestions for improvement. What NGOs (and especially humanitarian NGOs) can do to overcome the negative impacts on a conflict, is considered as a major part of this paper.

1. Effects of Globalization

1.1 General understanding

First it is to state, that the literature on the term “Globalization” is overwhelming and after the uprising of the capitalism over the socialism, discussions about globalization intensified rapidly.2 Although the term “Global” is not at all a new one and some ideas of a globalization were used, the actual word “Globalization” (and closely related words, such as “globalize” and “globalizing”) was first used in 1960.3 At this point, it is more useful to give topics and concepts globalization is dealing with, rather than giving a definition of globalization. In the actual globalization debate4 there is a consensus that globalization impacts are: a time-space compression, an acceleration of the interdependence, a shrinking world, a global integration, a reordering of interregional power relations, consciousness of the global condition and the intensification of interregional interconnectedness.5

Undoubtful, one important point is the shift of the role of the state. The strong link between territory and political power is broken. The state (or nation-state) is not anymore a single unit, in which he is maintaining the control of actions. We have seen shifts towards a global policy (the prime example is the establishing of the UN).6 Transnational networks, such as international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), influence and penetrate a state and in this sense, often threaten its sovereignty.

Organizations falling under the categorization of transnational networks may not have per se a global scope (the literature therefore often makes the distinction between INGOs and NGOs). However, if taken together and speak about NGOs in general, they could be seen as a global network.7

1.2 The emerge of a civil society

At the end of the cold war, the idea of a “global civil society” entered into the field of globalization. It mainly refers to a voluntary civic association who is involved (manifested in struggle or/and debate) in the public policy discourse. Thereby the civil society acts often as a movement against economical or political institutions.8 Likewise the term “Globalization”, there is no commonly agreed definition of “civil society”. From the view of international relations theory, the term can be closely connected to the so-called non-state actors (NSA’s).9 Non-governmental organizations interact with the civil society or can bee seen as a micro cosmos of it. Another perspective is, that NGOs directly arise from the civil society.10 An example of how the civil society affected the work of the NGOs is the “battle of Seattle”. Massive demonstrations contributed to the collapse and rearrangement of the WTO’s Ministerial Meeting and thereby forced the WTO to engage with NGOs (which are then considered as part of the civil society).11

The phenomenon of civil society helps to understand the tremendous increase in human right interests, global justice, humanitarian aid and assistance.12

To conclude, in the discourse of the globalization process13 we can see an outstanding increase in numbers of NGOs. New information technologies and mass media created a transnational network of non-state actors. After the cold war, the big powers left the responsibility in crisis fields more and more to NGOs. Further, the world conference in 1990 defined to enlarge the engagement for NGOs. Lastly, yet critically, (in the discourse of the “Neo-liberalization”) NGOs have become more important in providing social- and health aid and as well gained new service functions, for which the state previously had been responsible.14

2. NGOs involved in Conflict

2.1 Structure and Types of NGOs

Until the early 1990 the term “Non-governmental Organization” was closely connected to provincial or local activities. The counterpart was the international non-governmental organization (INGO) and acted regional and global. Anyhow, also national NGOs were engaged in transnational activities, although without recognition of their rights from the international diplomacy. A shift of terminology happened after 1990, when a need for environmental aid on a global level occurred. Since then, the term NGO can refer to both, national NGOs and international NGOs.15

Alternatively to the NGOs, new differentiations were made to emphasize the local work of an organization; such as grass-roots organizations, community based organizations (CBO’s) or civil society organizations (CSO’s).16

To give specific types of NGOs and put them in a category would be useless. In the fast changing global age, NGOs often change their specific goal they pursue. Anyhow, it is possible, to do a distinction between campaigning and operational NGOs. Operational NGOs’ task, is to achieve change through specific projects in the field. Therefore, they conduct fundraising and apply for government grants and are usually coordinated by the headquarters’ office. Common operational NGOs are active in the section of emergency relief and development issues. Campaigning NGOs on the other hand, try to seek change through influencing the political system. Thus, it is worth mentioning, it is sometimes hard to draw a separation line, since campaigning NGOs engage in the operational level and vice versa.17

As mentioned before, the end of the cold war marked a paradigm shift for global responsibility and, in combination with the globalization process and the rise of a civil society, affected the transnational work of NGOs and also led to a sudden increase of NGOs. Although there is no accurate accounting of NGOs worldwide, the number (according to the United Nations Development Program) must be somewhere around 40 000 (and this does not include hundreds of thousands of community-based organizations).18 It is almost trivial to mention, that the work of NGOs takes place in conflict or post-conflict situations. The vast majority of NGOs thereby are either humanitarian NGOs, human rights NGOs, educational NGOs, environmental NGOs, women NGOs, children NGOs and general peace and conflict NGOs. The question is, how those NGOs (and of course others) seek to provide aid in conflicts and what their methods or techniques are?

2.2 Third party techniques in conflicts

One broad approach to deal with NGOs and conflict preventing, peacekeeping and peace building, is the categorization of NGO activities. This includes activities like, early warning activities, preventive diplomacy, third party intervention, negotiations, dialogue workshops, mediation, networking or any initiative to build cross-cultural understanding.19

2.2.1 Techniques for Conflict Management

Whenever a third party (such as an NGO) engages in conflict management, the aim is usually to reduce tensions and decrease the escalations. This can be implemented within techniques in different categories. First through public appeals, who are directed at the disputants. A second category is the communication, which means that the goal is to facilitate communication processes between the parties. The most widely discussed technique in managing is mediation (includes arbitration, conciliation and formal mediation). The fourth type is observation and is characterized by field investigation activities. Another category can be broadly called intervention, which includes peacekeeping missions, military assistance to a party, quarantine and many more. Another technique is humanitarian aid. It is argued, that for example food distribution and medicine help, affects the dynamic of a conflict and eventually can lead to reducing the tensions. Although just practised by a few judicial bodies, adjudication is the seventh conflict management technique of a third party.20


1 Anderson, 1996.

2 Held & McGrew, 2003.

3 Waters, 2001.

4 For a further and comprehensive understanding of the globalization debate see: Held/McGrew, 2003.

5 Held/McGrew, 2003.

6 Waters, 2001.

7 Ibid.

8 Germain & Kenny, 2005.

9 Fischer, 2011.

10 Germain & Kenny, 2005.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 One might argue, that we are still in a globalization process, scepticists on the other hand say, the (western) world already reached the piek of such a process and are claiming a direction change.

14 Fischer, 2011.

15 Willetts, 2006, ART.HTM#Part7 (accessed on 10.03.2013).

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 (accessed on 10.03.2013).

19 Fischer, 2011.

20 Dixon, 1996.

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Humanitarian NGOs and the aggravation of Conflicts
How Humanitarian NGOs contribute to the aggravation of a conflict in the era of Globalization
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NGO, Diplomacy, Conflict studies, Globalization, Humanitarian NGOs, International Relations, Politics, Politikwissenschaft, Internationale Beziehungen
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MA Tobias Hoenger (Author), 2013, Humanitarian NGOs and the aggravation of Conflicts, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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