Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience, edited by Claire Magone, Michael Neuman and Fabrice Weissman, Hurst & Co, $24.50.
Can one remain silent about a serious crime? And when does the cause justify an alliance with a dodgy partner? These are some of the questions raised by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) in Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed. The book highlights the dilemmas that humanitarian actors face today in a world where conflicts often involve nonstate actors and where state sovereignty markedly controls aid policies. How to judge whether a compromise is acceptable is the key question that underlines the whole book. The authors try to address the issue through the analysis of specific negotiation situations they experienced personally, and through interviews with key protagonists. As the global volume of humanitarian assistance increases, the freedom of action of NGOs, such as MSF, appears actually to be shrinking. From the experiences collected in Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed one realizes how difficult it is to trace the perimeters of humanitarian action. There is no mathematical formula to indicate which interest or priority should apply in a conflict or post-disaster situation. The humanitarian action is rather the result of repeated concessions and compromises with the relevant local and international actors. Since its creation in December 1971, MSF has been dedicated to supplying medical assistance and equipment to regions affected by armed conflict, natural disasters, epidemics or hunger. The authors, who have all worked with MSF in the field, draw up an extremely frank and sharply self-critical book that should become an important reference for anyone interested in the themes of development, humanitarian issues, and civil society.