Sunday, November 21, 2004

NGOs as terrorist targets

Many people view the fact that organizations like the U.N., CARE International, or Medecins Sans Frontiers have become targets for terrorists as yet more proof of the ruthlessness of the terrorist enemy, and there's no doubt that that is the case.

But the evolution of terrorist tactics to attack these NGOs has not taken place in a vacuum, and indeed is in part a response to the Bush regime's own tactics, as this Economist article (password required) makes clear:

It was not until the American-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that the UN and other aid agencies began to be deliberately hunted down. Mostly based in rich countries and funded by a mixture of independent charities sometimes with government help, they have come to be regarded by many of those who once relied on them as part of a western plot to subjugate the Muslim world--though more than half the beneficiaries of the UN and the ICRC are Muslims. The blurring of lines between humanitarian and military roles, with coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq perceived to be handing out baby food one day and dropping bombs the next, has not helped. Nor has President Bush's "you are either with us or against us" approach. As a result, say the aid people, the neutral "humanitarian space" in which they seek to operate has drastically shrunk. They are now regarded as semi-official distributors of western government relief rather than independent impartial agencies whose sole aim is to help those in need, regardless of politics, religion or ideology.
In other words, the rise of attacks on NGOs is another unintended consequence of extending the role of the military beyond its core competency of fighting wars.

The ultimate result is a "crowding out" of ideological alternatives on an international scale: just as an overly interventionist economic policies "crowd out" private sector investments and entrepreneurship, so overly aggressive military solutions "crowd out" third sector mechanisms for coping with international crises.

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