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Contesting the Neutral Space: A thematic analysis of military humanitarianism

MRTF patrols, working with the Afghan National Army have discovered caches of arms, ammunition and bomb making materials during an ongoing operation in the Miribad Valley within Oruzgan Province, southern Afghanistan.
Contesting the Neutral Space: A Thematic Analysis of Military Humanitarianism by Lieutenant Colonel Richard Barrett
1 April 2010
Lieutenant Colonel Richard Barrett

In a 2007 presentation to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), General John Abizaid, former commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) and commander of coalition forces in Iraq, stated that Iraqi insurgents were threatening the humanitarian ‘neutral space'. He indicated that insurgents and terrorists were increasingly targeting humanitarian aid workers in an attempt to polarise participants in the conflict. The pressures on the neutral, or humanitarian space, however, do not only originate with insurgents, but also with military strategies designed at least in part to deal with them.


This paper will analyse how military contributions to humanitarian crises have influenced the nature of the neutral space. It concludes that militant groups are likely to continue to target humanitarian actors in order to confine or destroy the neutral space. As a result, both military and non-government organisations (NGOs) will need to analyse how the recent trend of military humanitarianism will have an impact on the future viability of the neutral space.

Last updated
7 December 2017
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