A Shrinking Humanitarian Space: Peacekeeping Stabilization Projects and Violence in Mali
Published in International Peacekeeping, 2022.
While the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali is the deadliest active UN mission, aid workers are not a prominent target in the country. The low number of attacks against aid workers in Mali is insofar puzzling because humanitarians repeatedly argue that integrated UN missions shrink the humanitarian space and hence impede the security of aid workers. MINUSMA is an integrated peacekeeping stabilization mission, meaning that political, military and humanitarian objectives should be aligned.
I argue that UN integration negatively affects the humanitarian space through two mechanisms. Firstly, integrated peacekeeping missions blur the lines between civil and military action, and humanitarians become associated with armed actors. Secondly, integrated UN missions politicize humanitarian aid through biased mandates and funding mechanisms.
I test the argument by matching novel data on MINUSMA's stabilization projects with other aid projects, to control for the fact that humanitarian aid projects may also influence violent dynamics on the ground. I find that stabilization activities decrease humanitarian access in the short term locally. Hence, the fallacy of UN integration is that due to the shrinking humanitarian space, aid workers are limited in their access to populations, which ultimately results in fewer attacks.