The overriding challenge faced by policy-makers in the post–Cold War era is not, as many would have us believe, the achievement of integration of humanitarian action into the prevailing politico-military context. It is rather the protection of its independence. The debate, rather than focusing on fitting humanitarian action more snugly into the given political framework, should explore how to ensure the indispensable independence of humanitarian actors from that framework.
The experience of the Humanitarianism and War Project, an action-oriented research and publications initiative studying humanitarian activities in post–Cold War conflicts, suggests the essential elements of such independence. They include structural protection for humanitarian action against political conditionality; more sensitivity to local perceptions regarding humanitarian actors and action; tighter discipline within the humanitarian sector by those providing assistance and protection; increased attention to the origins of aid resources and of the personnel administering them; greater participation and ownership by local institutions and leaders in crisis countries; and an agreed overarching political framework that gives higher priority to human security.