Lies and Brainwashing
The former president of MSF offers a trenchant critique of the politicisation of humanitarianism, such that it is now used to justify war.
Translated by Nina Friedman
In the eyes of Rony Brauman of Médecins Sans Frontières, wars are always triggered in the name of morality. Today’s ‘humanitarian’ interventions are little more than new moral crusades—and their justifications are based on lies. There are plenty of examples of hawkish propaganda in recent years: Saddam Hussein’s mythical weapons of mass destruction; dubious predictions of genocide in Kosovo; doctored figures of famine in Somalia; and a fake massacre of protesters in Libya.
Without being militantly non-interventionist, Brauman is extremely suspicious of the thirst for war displayed by many of today’s world leaders, the consequences of which are devastating. He is critical of international peacekeeping bodies and tribunals: for him, the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court represent the interests of the powerful above all else.
Basing his argument on the criteria for a ‘just war’, Brauman criticises the Western obsession with imposing democratic values by force. In this sober and convincing book, he thoroughly dismantles the notion of the justness of ‘humanitarian wars’.
Rony Brauman is Director of the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, Paris. Former president of Médecins Sans Frontières, his books include La Médecine humanitaire.
Régis Meyran is a journalist and researcher at the Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, with a PhD in Social Anthropology and Ethnology from EHESS, Paris.
‘In an era in which most public intellectuals are wildly over-rated, Rony Brauman is wildly under-rated. In Humanitarian Wars?, Brauman turns his attention to moral and legal justifications for what are all too frequently misdescribed as humanitarian military interventions. That he finds these justifications wanting is no surprise; but never have the reasons why they are incoherent morally and politically and what they conceal about the agendas of the governments that advance them been analysed with such scrupulous rigour and attention to nuance and ambiguity. This is an essential book.’ — David Rieff, author of A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis
‘When it comes to “humanitarian intervention”, a subject that tends to provoke either evangelical defence or polemical demystification, there is no sharper thinker than Rony Brauman. He has wrestled with all the questions it poses before attempting to answer them; and, even then, he admits that no answer is final. His writing isn’t simply valuable, it’s indispensable: anyone reflecting on modern humanitarianism has an obligation to read him.’ — Adam Shatz
‘Rony Brauman has always spoken truth to power. These dialogues are great examples of how a leading humanitarian thinker can help us re-frame our understanding of wars and their so-called humanitarian justifications. A stimulating read.’ — Bertrand Taithe, Professor of Cultural History, founding Director of the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, University of Manchester
‘[Brauman is] one of those rare creatures in France who truly thinks about war, conflict, and humanitarian engagement.’ – François Bonnet, Editor-in-Chief, Mediapart, and former Editor-in-Chief, Le Monde
‘Without doubt, Rony Brauman is one of the best informed, most highly respected and most independent voices in France today.’ – Jean-Claude Guillebaud, founder and former director, Reporters Without Borders