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The Charity of Nations: Humanitarian Action in a Calculating World

Ian Smillie and Larry Minear
The Charity of Nations: Humanitarian Action in a Calculating World
ISBN: 978-1-56549-191-5
ISBN: 978-1-56549-190-8
2004/276 pages
A Kumarian Press Book
"Offers an insightful analysis of the complexities of the humanitarian enterprise. The authors' grasp of the topic is impressive. This book is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about fundamental trends in humanitarianism today."—Angelo Gnaedinger, International Committee of the Red Cross

"The Charity of Nations is much more than an indictment of a humanitarian apparatus that allows 'forgotten emergencies.' Its provocative proposals for strengthening the multilateral system will be important food for thought among practitioners and policymakers alike. This is a timely, important, and highly readable book."—Sadako Ogata, Former UN High Commissioner for Refugees

"Well researched, well documented, and challenging for all actors involved in humanitarian action... Scrutinizes today's humanitarian action and the motivation of its donors. The authors make the case for a better-coordinated multilateral approach to support a more effective and principled humanitarian response."—Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator


Ian Smillie and Larry Minear probe the reasons behind governmental and nongovernmental responses to urgent human need. They explain why some crises got the lion's share of attention and resources, while others are essentially forgotten.

Vibrantly contrasting cases of Afghanistan, East Timor, and Sierra Leone, among others, illustrate how foreign policy and domestic politics have shaped what has become the business of humanitarianism. The authors call for a revamped humanitarian structure—one that eliminates the ambiguities and confusion that exist today. They argue for a shift away from a rampant political and commercial intrusion, and a rededication to multilateralism, genuine accountability, and trust.


Ian Smillie is, among numerous other projects, associated with the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University and research coordinator for Partnership Africa Canada's Diamonds and Human Security Project. He has served during his distinguished career as executive director of CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas) and he was a founder of Inter Pares. Larry Minear is visiting professor at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition and Science Policy. Previously, he was director of the Humanitarianism and War Project, a research initiative based at Tufts.


  • Introduction.
  • The Humanitarian Enterprise Today.
  • Forgetting Sierra Leone.
  • East Timor—The Perfect Emergency.
  • Afghanistan: Back to the Future.
  • Alarums and Excursions.
  • Foreign Policy Imperatives.
  • Domestic Considerations: Me First.
  • Scenes of Riot: The Humanitarian Free-for-All.
  • Trust and Mistrust: Assessing Needs, Judging Performance.
  • The Way Ahead.
  • Appendix: Donor Response to Six Crises: A Comparison.