Using humanitarian aid to ‘win hearts and minds’: a costly failure?

This article contends that the integration of humanitarian assistance in efforts to 'win hearts and minds' in counter-insurgencies has not been successful, and that the costs, both operational and legal, clearly outweigh any benefits. It demonstrates how such manipulation of humanitarian assistance runs counter to fundamental principles of international humanitarian law. In addition, a growing body of research suggests that the use of short-term aid and relief programmes as part of counter-insurgency has been ineffectual, and that, in places such as Afghanistan, it may even have undermined the overall military goal of defeating insurgents. With the United States and NATO military operations winding down in Afghanistan, it is time for the military and policy-makers reviewing 'winning hearts and minds' as a counter-insurgency strategy to draw the lessons and recognize the importance of a neutral and independent space for humanitarian aid.

About the author

Jamie A. Williamson
Legal Adviser at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Jamie A. Williamson has worked in the field of international law and practice for over sixteen years, with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations, and in academia.