From Protection to Policing: Military Air Power and the Governance of Humanitarian Crises, 1992-2011

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MacLennan, Jack Adam




International military intervention undertaken to protect civilians victimised by civil conflict became increasingly common following the Cold War. Within the increasingly developed liberal global order, the use of force has become a humanitarian tool. The specific politics created by using force in this way, however, have not been systematically studied by either the literature on “humanitarian intervention” or the Responsibility to Protect. This project problematizes the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s reliance on a particular kind of technology, air power, by asking what humanitarian politics result from this approach. Rather than simply an instrument of global policy, air power transformed how these two actors understood ethnic conflict through the political affordances it does, and does not, allow. In keeping with the technical and doctrinal context provided by air power, such conflict is reconfigured from a practice of directly protecting bodies to managing the circulation of objects as a means of policing conflict spaces. What results s a depoliticisation of conflict and a disjoint between the humanitarian ethos and physical effect of such interventions. In this way, human protection becomes a second order effect of ordering conflict spaces. The precise political effect of this was a depoliticisation of both civilians, and their politics, because they were indiscernible to this model. As a result, the impact of these interventions was problematic in humanitarian terms. This was obscured and the model allowed to persist because popular, professional, political, and academic discourses all assume the use of military power is purely technical, rather than political in its own right. This dissertation unpacks this dynamic by providing a historical, multi-case study analysis of how the relationship between humanitarianism and air power emerged, what tactics and strategies result, and how the deployment of these means affects the ongoing politics of global humanitarianism and the Responsibility to Protect.


International Law and Relations
Military Studies
Political Science




Carleton University

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Political Science

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Theses and Dissertations

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