, Volume 92, Number 1

José Ciro Martínez and Brent Eng



This article dissects the role of emergency food aid during the current Syrian conflict. Drawing on Séverine Autesserre’s concept of frames and Giorgio Agamben’s theory of sovereignty, we argue that the neutrality frame, which undergirds the majority of humanitarian relief efforts in Syria, obfuscates the impact of emergency food aid, both on sovereign power relations and local political dynamics. While neutrality appears benign, it has had a tangible impact on the Syrian civil war. Through close scrutiny of various case-studies, the article traces how humanitarian efforts reinforce the bases of sovereign politics while contributing to a host of what Mariella Pandolfi (1998) terms ‘mobile sovereignties’. In the process, humanitarian organizations reaffirm sovereign power while also engaging in similar activities. We then analyse how and why ostensibly neutral emergency food aid has unintentionally assisted the Assad regime by facilitating its control over food, which it uses to buttress support and foster compliance. By bringing external resources into life-or-death situations characterized by scarcity, aid agencies have become implicated in the conflict’s inner workings. The article concludes by examining the political and military impact of emergency food assistance during the Syrian conflict, before discussing possible implications for the humanitarian enterprise more broadly.

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The unintended consequences of emergency food aid: neutrality, sovereignty and politics in the Syrian civil war, 2012–15
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