Whether the result of typhoons, earthquakes or civil wars, humanitarian disasters can bring nations together as they meet the urgent needs of victims. In turn, humanitarian relief efforts can be seen as a useful tool of diplomacy, affording a donor government opportunities to further its foreign policy objectives, or increasing the visibility and credibility of multi-lateral organizations operating overseas.
On May 19, the Brookings Institution-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement explored the role of public diplomacy in humanitarian crises, assessing the benefits and costs for governments and other organizations when they offer relief assistance after large-scale disasters. Topics discussed included: the extent to which humanitarian response is shaped by foreign policy or institutional concerns; the lessons learned from previous experiences; ways to deliver humanitarian assistance both to meet the needs of the victims and to enhance the standing of governments providing assistance; and whether public diplomacy in humanitarian crises can have negative effects.
Participants included Brookings nonresident fellow Kristin Lord, associate dean at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and a former State Department advisor; Major Shannon Beebe, senior Africa analyst with the U.S. Army; and Brookings senior fellow Elizabeth Ferris, co-director of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement. Frank Sesno, professor of media affairs at George Washington University and former CNN Washington Bureau chief, moderated the discussion.