cover image The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War

The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War

Conor Foley, . . Verso, $26.95 (266pp) ISBN 978-1-84467-289-9

British aid worker Foley paints a bleak portrait of humanitarian intervention in this book that exorcises his failed missions during a career with such organizations as Amnesty International and the UNHCR. He revisits his time in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Indonesia, enumerating the knotty ethical dilemmas inherent in offering humanitarian aid (i.e., the blurring boundary between “development and humanitarian action” or the challenges of maintaining political neutrality while providing aid). Foley doesn’t dissect these dilemmas with enough clarity for a nonexpert reader to understand the pros and cons of modern interventionism. Moreover, Foley is too exasperated by a morass of “too little, too late” missions over the past 15 years to objectively analyze interventionism’s touchy relationship to international law. He refrains from offering solutions and is content to point out thorny problems ranging from the use of force and usurpation of national sovereignty to cultural insensitivity. His bitterness suffuses the book, which ends on a hollow prescription: “the need to develop a rather different discourse on human rights interventionism, one which is more modest in recognizing its limitations, but more ambitious in recognizing what needs to be done.” (Nov.)