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Globalization: Introduction to the phenomenon and its implications for humanitarian action

30-09-2004 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 855, by Jean-Luc Blondel

This article provides an introduction to the phenomenon of globalization and its implications for humanitarian action. The process of globalization entails risks as well as chances and although it is difficult to measure with any degree of precision it is a factor in many contemporary conflicts. Humanitarian action has a fundamental international dimension and is thus affected by globalization in that it has an impact on the way that risks and potential dangers are managed.

 

Abstract 
 

Globalization is both a fact of life, principally in economics, technology and communication, and an international view of the world. It needs to be considered in terms of its inherent ambivalence and contradictions: it can, for instance, promote cultural and scientific exchange, but it also facilitates coordination between criminal organizations; through the dissemination of human rights it may help to give greater freedom, but may also destroy cultures or inflict damage on traditional economies.

While it is difficult to determine to what extent globalization is directly responsible for starting or prolonging certain conflicts, the economic aspect is probably an increasingly important factor in many contemporary conflicts. Resistance against globalization and the struggle, which may sometimes be violent, to preserve a cultural identity are other factors to be mentioned. The globalization process is serving as a template for terrorism and international endeavours to combat that particular form of violence, with the risk also of oversimplifying the causes of the phenomenon and the challenges it presents. 

Humanitarian action - in which the ICRC is one of the key players - has a fundamental international dimension because of the universal nature of international humanitarian law and the principles governing such work on behalf of all victims of armed conflict. Humanitarian action is therefore also affected by globalization in that it has an impact on the way that risks and potential dangers are managed (an analysis of the local si tuation must go hand in hand with a broader analysis at regional and global levels) and on communication (calling for a large degree of consistency in the conduct of operations and in public statements).

 

   
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