Challenges of Foreign Policy

Trade

U.S. foreign policy is characterized by a commitment to free trade and open borders to promote and strengthen national interests.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the historical institutional arrangements that created the current framework of international trade and criticisms of it

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • While international trade has been present throughout much of history, its economic, social, and political importance have increased in recent centuries, mainly because of industrialization, advanced transportation, globalization, the growth of multinational corporations, and outsourcing.
  • During the World War II, 44 countries signed the Bretton Woods Agreement, a system of monetary management that established the rules for commercial and financial relations among the world’s major industrial states.
  • This Agreement resulted in the creation of organizations such as the the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (later divided into the World Bank and Bank for International Settlements).
  • The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an organization that was formed in 1995 to supervise and liberalize international trade.
  • International trade greatly contributes to the process of globalization, the processes of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture.
  • The anti-globalization movement has grown in recent decades in reaction to the unequal power dynamics of globalization and international trade, and the policies that are used to exploit developing countries for the profit of the developed Western world.

Key Terms

  • globalization: The process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture; advances in transportation and telecommunications infrastructure, including the rise of the Internet, are major factors that precipitate interdependence of economic and cultural activities.

International Trade

International trade is the exchange of goods and services across national borders. In most countries, it represents a significant part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While international trade has been practiced throughout much of history, its economic, social, and political importance have become increasingly relevant in recent times, mainly due to industrialization, advanced transportation, globalization, the growth of multinational corporations, and outsourcing.

The Bretton Woods Agreement

During World War II, 44 countries signed the Bretton Woods Agreement. This system of monetary management established the rules for commercial and financial relations among the world’s major industrial states, and was the first example of a fully negotiated monetary order intended to govern monetary relations among independent nation-states. The agreement was intended to prevent national trade barriers that could create global economic depressions. The political basis for the Bretton Woods Agreement was in the confluence of two key conditions: the shared experiences of the Great Depression, and the concentration of power in a small number of states which was further enhanced by the exclusion of a number of important nations due to ongoing war.

The agreement set up rules and institutions to regulate the international political economy, resulting in the creation of organizations such as the the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (later divided into the World Bank and Bank for International Settlements). These organizations became operational in 1946 after enough countries ratified the agreement. Currently, the Doha round of World Trade Organization negotiations aims to lower barriers to trade around the world, with a focus on making trade more favorable for so-called “developing” countries, though talks have faced a divide between “developed” countries and the major “developing” countries.

The World Trade Organization (WTO)

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an organization that was formed in 1995 to supervise and liberalize international trade. The organization deals with regulation of trade between participating countries; it provides a framework for negotiating and formalizing trade agreements, and a dispute resolution process aimed at enforcing participants’ adherence to WTO agreements which are signed by representatives of member governments and ratified by their parliaments.

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WTO Logo: The WTO, succeeding GATT in 1995, is an organization that seeks to liberalize international trade.

Trade, Globalization, and the Anti-Globalization Movement

International trade greatly contributes to the process of globalization, the processes of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture. Advances in transportation and telecommunications infrastructure, including the rise of the telegraph and its posterity the Internet, are major factors in globalization, generating further interdependence of economic and cultural activities. In 2000, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) identified four basic aspects of globalization: trade and transactions, capital and investment movements, migration and movement of people, and the dissemination of knowledge.

Globalization has been criticized in recent decades for the unequal power dynamics of international trade, and the policies that are used to exploit developing countries for the profit of the developed Western world. The anti-globalization movement is critical of the globalization of corporate capitalism for these reasons. Many anti-globalization activists, however, call for forms of global integration that provide better democratic representation, advancement of human rights, fair trade and sustainable development and therefore feel the term “anti-globalization” is misleading.

In general, the anti-globalization movement is especially opposed to the various abuses which are perpetuated by globalization and the international institutions which are believed to promote neoliberalism without regard to ethical standards. Common targets include the World Bank (WB), International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) and free trade treaties like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement (TPPA), the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). In light of the economic gap between rich and poor countries, movement adherents claim “free trade” without regulations in place to protect the environment, the health and well being of workers, and the economies of “developing” countries contributes only to strengthening the power of industrialized nations (often termed the “global North” in opposition to the developing world’s “global South”).

The anti-globalization movement is considered a rather new and modern day social movement, as the issues it is fighting against are relevant in today’s time. However, the events that occurred which fuels the movement can be traced back through the lineage of the movement of a 500-year old history of resistance against European colonialism and U.S. imperialism, in which the continent of Africa and many other areas of the world were colonized and stripped of their resources for the profit of the Western world.

One of the most infamous tactics of the movement is the Battle of Seattle in 1999, where grassroots activists organized large and creative protests against the World Trade Organization’s Third Ministerial Meeting in order to gain the attention towards the issue of globalization. It is still one of the most significant and memorable social movement protests in the past 20 years.

Contemporary Issues in International Trade

Issues currently associated with international trade are: intellectual property rights, in that creations of the mind for which exclusive rights are recognized in law are considered essential for economic growth; smuggling, especially as it relates to human and drug trafficking; outsourcing, the contracting out of business processes to another country, generally one with lower wages; fair trade, which promotes the use of labor, environmental, and social standards for the production of commodities; and trade sanctions, in which punitive economic measures are taken against a defaulting country.

Immigration and Border Security

Immigration and border security are two important issues for United States policy.

Learning Objectives

Identify the relationship between immigration issues and national security

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Illegal immigrants are those non-citizens who enter the United States without government permission and in violation of United States nationality law or stay beyond the termination date of a visa, also in violation of the law.
  • Illegal immigrants who come generally for economic opportunities or to escape political oppression continue to outpace the number of legal immigrants – a trend that has held steady since the 1990s.
  • The challenge of illegal immigration is closely linked with that of border security, the concept of which is related to the persistent threat of terrorism.

Key Terms

  • visa: A permit to enter and leave a country, normally issued by the authorities of the country to be visited.

Immigration and border security are two important issues for U.S. policy.

Though immigration to the United States has been a major source of economic growth and cultural change throughout American history, the recent discourse surrounding immigration deals mostly with illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants are those non-citizens who enter the United States without government permission and are in violation of United States nationality law or stay beyond the termination date of a visa, also in violation of the law.

The illegal immigrant population in the United States in 2008 was estimated by the Center for Immigration Studies to be about 11 million people, down from 12.5 million people in 2007. Other estimates range from 7 to 20 million. According to a Pew Hispanic Center report, in 2005, 56% of illegal immigrants were from Mexico; 22% were from other Latin American countries, primarily from Central America; 13% were from Asia; 6% were from Europe and Canada; and 3% were from Africa and the rest of the world.

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Immigration to the U.S.: Rate of immigration to the United States relative to sending countries’ population size, 2001–2005

Illegal immigrants who come generally for economic opportunities or to escape political oppression, continue to outpace the number of legal immigrants – a trend that has held steady since the 1990s. While the majority of illegal immigrants continue to concentrate in places with existing large Hispanic communities, an increasing number of them are settling throughout the rest of the country.

The challenge of illegal immigration is closely linked with that of border security, the concept of which is related to the persistent threat of terrorism. Border security includes the protection of land borders, ports, and airports and after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, many questioned whether the threat posed by the largely unchecked 3,017 mile Canadian border, the 1,933 mile Mexican border, and the many unsecured ports.

Terrorism

The threat of terrorism is one of the greatest challenges facing the United States and the international community.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the War on Terror campaign against religious fundamentalist groups and individuals who engage in terrorism

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Terrorism generally refers to those violent acts that are intended to create fear (terror). The acts are perpetrated for a religious, political, and/or ideological goal. They deliberately target or disregard the safety of civilians in order to gain publicity for a group, cause, or individual.
  • In current international affairs, the threat of Islamic terrorism, a form of religious terrorism committed by Muslims for the purpose of achieving varying political and/or religious ends, has been particularly prevalent.
  • The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, committed by members of Al-Qaeda, left nearly 3,000 people dead and would mark the beginning of the War on Terror.

Key Terms

  • revolutionary: Of or pertaining to a revolution in government; tending to, or promoting, revolution; as, revolutionary war; revolutionary measures; revolutionary agitators.

The threat of terrorism is one of the greatest challenges facing the United States and the international community. Common definitions of terrorism refer to those violent acts that are intended to create fear (terror). The acts are perpetrated for a religious, political, and/or ideological goal. They deliberately target or disregard the safety of civilians in order to gain publicity for a group, cause, or individual. Terrorism has been practiced by a broad array of political organizations, including right-wing and left-wing political parties, nationalistic groups, religious groups, revolutionary groups, and ruling governments.

Islamic Terrorism

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September 11, 2001 attacks: The attack on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.

In current international affairs, the threat of Islamic terrorism, a form of religious terrorism committed by Muslims for the purpose of achieving varying political and/or religious ends, has been particularly prevalent. Islamic terrorism has taken place in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the United States since the 1970’s. Islamic terrorist organizations have been known to engage in tactics including suicide attacks, hijackings, kidnappings, and recruiting new members through the Internet. Well-known Islamic terrorist organizations include Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad.

The 9/11 Attacks and the War on Terror

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, in which members of Al-Qaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden hijacked and crashed four passenger jets in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, left nearly 3,000 people dead. These attacks marked the beginning of the “War on Terror,” an international military campaign led by the United States and the United Kingdom (with the support of NATO and non-NATO allies) against Al-Qaeda and other associated militant organizations with the stated goal of eliminating them. The War on Terror would include the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nuclear Weapons

The proliferation of nuclear weapons, explosive devices which derive force from nuclear reactions, is a key challenge of foreign policy.

Learning Objectives

Identify the history of nuclear weapons and international efforts to regulate them

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Only two nuclear weapons have been used in the course of warfare, both by the United States against Japan near the end of World War II.
  • In 1957, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established under the mandate of the United Nations to encourage development of peaceful applications for nuclear technology, provide international safeguards against its misuse, and facilitate the application of safety measures in its use.
  • Currently, the prospect of nuclear technology falling into the hands of rogue states and terrorist organizations is considered a major threat to international security.

Key Terms

  • fusion: A nuclear reaction in which nuclei combine to form more massive nuclei with the concomitant release of energy
  • fission: The process of splitting the nucleus of an atom into smaller particles; nuclear fission

The proliferation of nuclear weapons, explosive devices which derive their destructive force from nuclear reactions (either fission or a combination of fission and fusion), is an important challenge of foreign policy.

Only a few nations possess such weapons or are suspected of seeking them. The only countries known to have detonated nuclear weapons—and that acknowledge possessing such weapons—are (chronologically by date of first test) the United States, the Soviet Union (succeeded as a nuclear power by Russia), the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. In addition, Israel is also widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, though it does not acknowledge having them. One state, South Africa, fabricated nuclear weapons in the past, but has since disassembled their arsenal and submitted to international safeguards.

Only two nuclear weapons have been used in the course of warfare, both by the United States near the end of World War II. On August 6, 1945, a uranium gun-type fission bomb was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, on August 9, a plutonium implosion-type fission bomb was exploded over Nagasaki, Japan. These two bombings resulted in the deaths of approximately 200,000 Japanese people—mostly civilians—from acute injuries sustained from the explosions.

Since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have been detonated on over two thousand occasions for testing purposes and demonstrations. Because of the immense military power they can confer, the political control of nuclear weapons has been a key issue for as long as they have existed; in most countries the use of nuclear force can only be authorized by the head of government or head of state. In 1957, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established under the mandate of the United Nations to encourage development of peaceful applications for nuclear technology, provide international safeguards against its misuse, and facilitate the application of safety measures in its use.

By the 1960s, steps were being taken to limit both the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries and the environmental effects of nuclear testing. The Partial Test Ban Treaty (1963) restricted all nuclear testing to underground facilities, to prevent contamination from nuclear fallout, while the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968) attempted to place restrictions on the types of activities signatories could participate in, with the goal of allowing the transference of non-military nuclear technology to member countries without fear of proliferation. Currently, the prospect of nuclear technology falling into the hands of rogue states and terrorist organizations is considered a major threat to international security.

Iraq

Particularly since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, U.S. relations with Iraq have been central to its foreign policy.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the history of U.S.-Iraq relations and the U.S. Occupation of Iraq

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom claimed that Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed a threat to their security and that of their coalitional and regional allies.
  • On March 20, 2003, a U.S.-led coalition conducted a military invasion of Iraq, referred to as Operation Iraqi Freedom, without declaring war.
  • The last U.S. troops left Iraqi territory on December 18, 2011 after Barack Obama announced an eighteen month withdrawal window for combat forces.

Key Terms

  • sectarian: Of, or relating to a sect.
  • Sunni: The branch of Islam that believes that the Qur’an is the final authority, and that their leaders have no special sacred wisdom.
  • Shia: the second largest denomination of Islam; “followers”, “faction”, or “party” of Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali, whom the Shia believe to be Muhammad’s successor

Since the United States recognized an independent Iraq in 1930, relations with that nation have been an important aspect of U.S. foreign policy.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom claimed that Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed a threat to their security and that of their coalitional and regional allies. Some U.S. officials also accused Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of harboring and supporting al-Qaeda, but no evidence of a meaningful connection was ever found. Other proclaimed accusations against Iraq included its financial support for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, Iraqi government human rights abuses, and an effort to spread democracy to the country.

On March 20, 2003, a U.S.-led coalition conducted a military invasion of Iraq without declaring war. The invasion, referred to as Operation Iraqi Freedom, led to an occupation and the eventual capture of President Hussein, who was later tried in an Iraqi court of law and executed by the new Iraqi government. Violence against coalition forces and among various sectarian groups soon led to the Iraqi insurgency, strife between many Sunni and Shia Iraqi groups, and the emergence of a new faction of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

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Operation Iraqi Freedom: A U.S. Marine tank in Baghdad during the Iraq War.

The “One weekend a month, two weeks a year” slogan has lost most of its relevance since the Iraq War, when nearly 28% of total US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan at the end of 2007 consisted of mobilized personnel of the National Guard and other Reserve components. [35] In July 2012, the Army’s top general stated his intention to increase the annual drill requirement from two weeks per year to up to seven weeks per year.

As public opinion favoring troop withdrawals increased and as Iraqi forces began to take responsibility for security, member nations of the Coalition withdrew their forces. In late 2008, the U.S. and Iraqi governments approved a Status of Forces Agreement, effective through January 1, 2012. The Iraqi Parliament also ratified a Strategic Framework Agreement with the U.S., aimed at ensuring cooperation in constitutional rights, threat deterrence, education, energy development, and in other areas.

In late February 2009, newly-elected U.S. President Barack Obama announced an eighteen month withdrawal window for combat forces, with approximately 50,000 troops remaining in the country “to advise and train Iraqi security forces and to provide intelligence and surveillance. ” On October 21, 2011, President Obama announced that all U.S. troops and trainers would leave Iraq by the end of the year, bringing the U.S. mission in Iraq to an end. The last U.S. troops left Iraqi territory on December 18, 2011.

Afghanistan

The relationship between the United States and Afghanistan has become an integral aspect of U.S. foreign policy.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the nature of the U.S. foreign policy toward Afghanistan since 2001

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Following the attacks of September 11, 2001– thought to be orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, who was residing in Afghanistan under asylum at the time– the United States launched and led Operation Enduring Freedom.
  • The United States has taken a leading role in the overall reconstruction of Afghanistan by investing billions of dollars in national roads, government and educational institutions, and the Afghan military and national police force.
  • U.S. forces are scheduled to begin leaving between mid-2011 to the end of 2014. Concerns remain regarding the Taliban insurgency, the role of Pakistan in training those insurgents, and the risk of Afghanistan degenerating into a failed state after the withdrawal.

Key Terms

  • Taliban: A Sunni Islamic student movement in Afghanistan; organized in 1994 by the radical mullah “Mohammad Omar”
  • insurgency: rebellion; revolt; the state of being insurgent

The relationship between the United States and Afghanistan has become an integral aspect of U.S. foreign policy.

Following the attacks of September 11, 2001– thought to be orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, who was residing in Afghanistan under asylum at the time– the United States launched and led Operation Enduring Freedom. This major military operation was aimed at removing the Taliban government from power and capturing Al-Qaeda members, including Osama bin Laden himself. Following the overthrow of the Taliban, the U.S. supported the new government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai by maintaining a high level of troops in the area, as well as by combating Taliban insurgency. Afghanistan and the United States resumed diplomatic ties in late 2001.

The United States has taken a leading role in the overall reconstruction of Afghanistan by investing billions of dollars in national roads, government and educational institutions, and the Afghan military and national police force. In 2005, the United States and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement, committing both nations to a long-term relationship.

The U.S. Armed Forces has been gradually increasing its troop level in Afghanistan since 2002, reaching about 100,000 in 2010. They are scheduled to begin leaving between mid-2011 to the end of 2014. In 2012, Presidents Obama and Karzai signed a strategic partnership agreement between their respective countries, designating Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally. Concerns remain regarding the Taliban insurgency, the role of Pakistan in training those insurgents, the drug trade, the effectiveness of Afghan security forces, and the risk of Afghanistan degenerating into a failed state after the withdrawal.

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Operation Enduring Freedom: An American soldier on patrol in Afghanistan

China

Three issues of particular importance in Chinese-American relations are economic trade, the contested status of Taiwan, and human rights.

Learning Objectives

Examine the social, political and economic issues that are significant for U.S.-China relations

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • China, which became the world’s second largest economy in 2010, may overtake the United States and become the world’s largest economy by 2030, if current trends persist.
  • American support for the island nation of Taiwan, which China claims as one of its provinces and has threatened to take over by force, is another source of tension.
  • The Chinese government ‘s stance toward human rights, which has been criticized by international humanitarian groups, is another source of controversy.

Key Terms

  • one child policy: A policy of population control in China that officially limits married, urban couples to having only one child
  • joint venture: A cooperative partnership between two individuals or businesses in which both profits and risks are shared

The political, economic, and military rise of China, with its enormous population of more than 1.3 billion people, is a key foreign policy challenge for the United States. Within current U.S.-China relations, three issues of particular importance stand out: economic trade, the status of Taiwan, and human rights.

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U.S.-China relations: President Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao

Since China and the United States resumed trade relations in 1972 and 1973, U.S. companies have entered into numerous agreements with Chinese counterparts that have established more than 20,000 equity joint ventures, contractual joint ventures, and wholly foreign-owned enterprises. The American trade deficit with China exceeded $350 billion in 2006, and is the U.S.’ s largest bilateral trade deficit.

China, which became the world’s second largest economy in 2010, may overtake the United States and become the world’s largest economy by 2030, if current trends continue (although this growth might be limited by domestic challenges facing China, including income inequality and pollution). Among foreign nations, China holds the largest amount of U.S. public debt and has been a vocal critic of U.S. deficits and fiscal policy. In turn, the United States has criticized China’s undervaluation of its currency, the Renminbi.

American support for the island of Taiwan, which China claims as one of its provinces and has threatened to take over by force, is another source of tension. The U.S. maintains sympathy for a independent Taiwan due to its liberal, pluralistic democracy, and gives Taiwan extensive political and military support. This support has resulted in threats of retaliation from China.

The Chinese government’s policy toward human rights is another source of controversy. International human rights organizations have identified a number of potential violations in China, including the use of capital punishment, the application of the one child policy, the denial of independence to Tibet, the absence of a free press, the absence of an independent judiciary with due process, the absence of labor rights, and the absence of religious freedom.

Israel and Palestine

The conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinians is an important issue affecting American and international policy.

Learning Objectives

Explain the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for American foreign policy in the Middle East

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Many currently consider the central foreign policy issue in the conflict to be the creation of an independent Palestinian state next to the existing Jewish state of Israel.
  • The Oslo Accords of 1993 allowed the Palestinian National Authority to have autonomy over large parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, although terrorism from Palestinian extremist groups and the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 would derail further negotiations.
  • Current issues for negotiations include: mutual recognition, borders, terrorism and security, water rights, control of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, Palestinian incitement, and finding a solution for Palestinian refugees from Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

Key Terms

  • Palestinian: An inhabitant of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, legally governed by the Palestinian National Authority.

The conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinians is an important issue affecting American and international policy. While the United States has a longstanding policy of political, military, and economic support for Israel, it often must balance such support with its relations with Arab nations and its commitment to a Palestinian state.

The conflict dates back to early Arab opposition to Jewish national sovereignty and numerous wars fought between Israel and neighboring Arab states. However, many currently consider the central foreign policy issue to be the creation of an independent Palestinian state next to the existing Jewish state of Israel. Most of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories taken by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, are considered acceptable locations for a future Palestinian state.

Numerous efforts have been made to achieve peace through a negotiated settlement between the Israeli government and its Palestinian counterparts. Most prominently, the Oslo Accords of 1993 allowed the Palestinian National Authority to have autonomy over large parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, although a campaign of terrorism from Palestinian extremist groups and the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 would derail further negotiations.

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The Oslo Accords: The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993

Current issues for negotiations include: mutual recognition, borders, terrorism and security, water rights, control of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, Palestinian incitement, and finding a solution for Palestinian refugees from Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. Another challenge is the lack of unity among Palestinians, reflected in the political struggle between Fatah, which controls the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, and the terrorist group Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since Israel’s withdrawal from that territory in 2005.

Humanitarian Efforts

Humanitarian aid is material or logistical assistance in response to crises including natural and man-made disasters.

Learning Objectives

Compare and contrast humanitarian aid with development aid

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The primary objective of humanitarian aid is to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity.
  • The humanitarian community has initiated a number of inter-agency initiatives to improve accountability, quality and performance in humanitarian action.
  • Prominent humanitarian organizations include Doctors Without Borders, Mercy Corps and the International Red Cross.

Key Terms

  • humanitarian: Concerned with people’s welfare and the alleviation of suffering; humane or compassionate.
  • socioeconomic: Of or pertaining to social and economic factors.

Humanitarian aid is material or logistical assistance in response to crises including natural and man-made disasters. The primary objective of humanitarian aid is to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity. Humanitarian aid differs from development aid, which seeks to address the underlying socioeconomic factors leading to a crises.

Aid is funded by donations from individuals, corporations, governments and other organizations. The funding and delivery of humanitarian aid has become increasingly international in scope. This makes it much more responsive and effective in coping with major emergencies. With humanitarian aid efforts sometimes criticized for a lack of transparency, the humanitarian community has initiated a number of inter-agency initiatives to improve its accountability, quality and performance.

The People in Aid initiative, for example, links seven areas that would improve the operations of aid organizations – health, safety and security learning; training and development; recruitment and selection; consultation and communication; support management and leadership; staff policies and practices; and human resources strategy.

Prominent humanitarian organizations include Doctors Without Borders, Mercy Corps and the International Red Cross. Major humanitarian projects include the Berlin Airlift, in which U.S. and U.K governments flew supplies into the Western-held sectors of Berlin during the Soviet blockade of 1948-1949. Another example is the aid efforts for refugees felling from the fighting in Bosnia and Kosovo in 1993 and 1999, respectively.

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Humanitarian aid: Aid for refugees of the Kosovo War