International Relations

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The pursuit of precision
James Patton Rogers

Why attempt to achieve precision in warfare? The Prologue explains what precision is and why it has been ardently pursued by a select group of US military thinkers and defence intellectuals for well over a hundred years. Yet where are the gaps in this history? And what can the history of precision tell us about the rise of precision weapons and drone warfare today?

in Precision
James Patton Rogers

From 1950 onwards, American nuclear strategy took a turn from the long-held ambition to achieve precision bombardment and adopted General Curtis LeMay’s destroy everything mantra. Targeting lists and proposed bomb deployment numbers quickly increased from the tens to the hundreds and into the thousands. Subsequently, by 1960/61 and the acceptance of Single Integrated Operational Plan 62 (SIOP-62) the American military was left in a situation where, if war was to break out (or was to be perceived to be breaking out), the United States would be on a default footing to launch a pre-emptive atomic strike which would destroy the Soviet Union and devastate its satellite states many times over.

in Precision
James Patton Rogers

Despite being a decade in the making, the LeMay bombardment ethos did not dominate American nuclear strategy through the 1960s. Instead, due to the changing security context of the period – and a change in presidents from Eisenhower to Kennedy – by August 1962 a shift towards a more discriminate nuclear bombardment strategy had taken place and the precision ethos had been resurrected. Prior to H.H. Arnold’s retirement and premature death in 1950, he set up a think tank dedicated, in part, to research on precision technologies and strategies. This was the RAND Corporation, and it was here that a small group of thinkers – such as Bernard Brodie, William Kaufmann, Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter – would ensure that the ambition to be precise in American nuclear and conventional bombardment would return to the forefront of American strategy.

in Precision
James Patton Rogers

As Arnold entered retirement, and Cold War tensions rose, the passion for precision faded from the frontline of American strategic thought. Communism, Korea, and the detonation of the USSR’s first atomic weapon combined to create a climate of fear and anxiety. According to a conflicting group of thinkers, such as General Curtis LeMay, there was no longer time to focus on technologically unachievable ambitions to achieve precision in war. Instead, in order to destroy something, you had to bomb everything.

in Precision
Humanitarian Disruption in Conflict Settings
Maelle L’Homme

In March 2022, intercommunal fighting forced Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to suspend its activities after nearly fourteen years of operating in Agok, a small town located in the disputed Abyei Special Administrative Area (ASAA) on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. After the shock of having to close a 185-bed hospital unexpectedly came questions about the unintentional consequences of MSF’s presence. With the benefit of hindsight, the organisation deemed it important to examine the potentially destabilising influence it might have had on the local environment. This article builds on an internal capitalisation exercise conducted with the aim of documenting MSF’s experience and critically reflecting on the potential of aid being a factor in disrupting local balances, or worse, a factor in fuelling violence. By exploring the premises that MSF was an anchor factor for the population and that the economic fallouts made Agok a place worth fighting for, the author investigates the long-term, unintended impact of MSF’s presence on the local political economy of conflict, as well as the organisation’s possible share of responsibility for aggravating intercommunal grievances. Based on the observation that aid inevitably benefits some more than others, the author also asks to what extent MSF was aware of the adverse consequences of its presence and whether more awareness would have led to different operational choices and mitigating measures. This questioning does not detract in any way from the project’s achievements in terms of providing high-quality secondary healthcare in a context where there was none, in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Duncan McLean
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
What the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Shown Us about the Humanitarian Sphere’s Approach to Local Faith Engagement
Ellen Goodwin

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be much more than a health emergency, with serious social, political and economic consequences. The diverse challenges for people and communities, specifically in low- and middle-income and fragile contexts, have necessitated multi-sectoral responses from international humanitarian and development actors. For many international faith-inspired organisations (IFIOs), these responses included a faith dimension. Drawing on interviews with staff working in IFIOs during the pandemic, this paper will argue that the COVID-19 pandemic saw many, although not all, IFIOs engage with local faith actors and local communities of faith more quickly, and in increasingly diverse and meaningful ways, than during previous comparable public health crises. This shift in willingness to engage with faith and religion at the local level has been reflected, to some extent, by the broader humanitarian sphere. The COVID-19 pandemic therefore marks an important step towards more faith-literate humanitarian responses, with many IFIOs at the forefront of this progress.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Lessons from the MSF Listen Experience
Jake Leyland
,
Sandrine Tiller
, and
Budhaditya Bhattacharya

While health misinformation is important to address in humanitarian settings, over-focusing on it can obfuscate a more holistic understanding of a community’s needs in a crisis. Through Médecins Sans Frontières’ experience of deploying a platform to tackle health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic, this field report argues that, while important, health misinformation became a diversionary topic during COVID-19, which represented a lack of trust between communities, humanitarian organisations and health institutions, rather a fundamental obstacle to effective humanitarian interventions.

From our practitioners’ viewpoint, we reflect on the deployment of the ‘MSF Listen’ platform in our programmes and how it evolved from a purely misinformation-focused digital tool to a broader workflow and approach to understanding community needs in crises through accountable management of community feedback.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Emma Tomalin
and
Olivia Wilkinson

This paper explores findings from research carried out alongside a humanitarian project called ‘Bridging the Gap (BtG): The Role of Local Faith Actors in Humanitarian Response in South Sudan’. BtG aimed to better understand the barriers that stand in the way of engagement between local faith actors (LFAs) and international humanitarians (IHs) and to introduce learning opportunities (e.g. training and workshops) to address these. We share perspectives from the LFAs who participated in this ‘localisation’ project about what it means to become ‘legitimate’ humanitarian actors that are recognised and trusted by the international system and why this is important for them, as well as what BtG tells us about the legitimacy of the international humanitarian system from the point of view of LFAs and LFAs’ legitimacy in the eyes of their local communities. We also reflect upon the ways in which the processes of NGO-isation and professionalisation that accompany this journey to become ‘legitimate’, can compromise and undervalue the very qualities that local actors are presumed to possess. This does not indicate the failure of the localisation agenda, but that bold action is needed to make localisation more inclusive in ways that might challenge some areas of humanitarian orthodoxy.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Darryl Stellmach
,
Margaux Pinaud
,
Margot Tudor
, and
Larissa Fast

This paper assesses the influence of the humanitarian innovation agenda on the aid sector, particularly medical humanitarian actors’ increasing reliance on digital technologies. Pressure to innovate arises from the belief that technological advancements can save lives, leading to the exploration of new technologies in humanitarian contexts. However, the rapid, often uncritical, adoption of new technologies and data practices has raised ethical, political and institutional concerns. To this end, the paper surveys key debates and ethical challenges arising from the deployment of biometric and medical data technologies in humanitarian and disaster settings. To achieve this aim, it gathers issues into three major categories of enquiry: governance, power and control; justice and equity; and trust. These categories assist in conceptualising the moral and ethical tensions between technologies, data and actors in humanitarian spaces. The ongoing deployment of biometric and medical data technologies in humanitarian and disaster contexts raises significant ethical challenges that can only be addressed by practitioners and researchers together. The paper concludes with a call to jointly assess the broader implications of medical data innovations in humanitarianism, emphasising the need for further research and collaboration among different disciplines.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs