Accountability, Empowerment, and the Ethics of Military Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations

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Clifford, Joanne Elizabeth




Abstract In addition to the traditional goals of saving lives and diminishing suffering, contemporary humanitarianism demands that practitioners also incorporate social accountability practices into their humanitarian programming. In addition to accountability to affected populations, this requirement places an emphasis on capacity building and sustainability, affording primacy to local participation with the aim to empower—rather than disempower—aid recipients. While this evolution of expectations is clearly visible within the civilian humanitarian sphere, a similar evolution of expectations has also occurred in the joint civilian-military domain of United Nations peace operations. Unfortunately, these social accountability considerations have yet to be widely incorporated into Canadian military doctrine. Accordingly, contemporary Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations remain modeled upon the former traditional narrow definition of humanitarian action, simply to save lives and reduce suffering. Moreover, a secondary stated objective of Canadian military HADR operations is to promote a positive image of Canada abroad and at home, suggesting that military HADR is not premised exclusively upon humanitarianism, but that geopolitics and domestic public relations play a significant role. The CAF has been very successful in achieving this secondary objective, with the majority of Canadian citizens strongly supportive of military involvement in HADR. In this dissertation, I explore these theoretical and practical differences between civilian and Canadian military HADR doctrine and practice, with a focus on social accountability and empowerment. I suggest that the doctrinal differences between these two groups can, in large part, be attributed to their respective accountability constructs. The predominantly upwards-oriented vertical accountability model employed by the CAF stands in stark contrast to the downwards-oriented social accountability construct increasingly utilized in the humanitarian sphere. The CAF has not incorporated social accountability considerations into its current HADR doctrine or practice, which raises concerns regarding the potential dis-empowering effects of military HADR, and by extension, the legitimacy of military involvement in the HADR sphere. Accordingly, I suggest that the HADR model currently utilized by the CAF carries ethical risks, which due to the secondary utilization of HADR as a geopolitical and public relations instrument, may ultimately become political risks.


Military Studies
Health Sciences




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Doctor of Philosophy: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Ethics and Public Affairs

Parent Collection: 

Theses and Dissertations

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