'A tradition of forgetting': stabilisation and humanitarian action in historical perspective

Sultan Barakat, Seán Deely, Steven A Zyck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While subject to increasing articulation and institutionalisation, stabilisation is a long-standing concept and practice that has consistently engaged with and, at times, conflicted with varied understandings of humanitarianism and humanitarian action. Reviewing selected historical experiences, including the Philippines (1898-1902), Algeria (1956-62), Vietnam (1967-75) and El Salvador (1980-92), this paper argues that contemporary models of stabilisation build on and repeat mistakes of the past, particularly the overt securitisation of aid and the perception that humanitarian and development actors are able to purchase security effectively. Where current stabilisation differs from its earlier incarnations, as in the introduction of the private sector and incorporation of humanitarian action into war-fighting strategies, the implications are shown to be troubling if not outright disastrous. T his examination of historical experience, which includes many failures and few, if any, successes, raises the likelihood that it is not solely the design or implementation of individual stability operations that require modification but perhaps the entire concept of stabilisation itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S297-S319
Number of pages23
Volume34 Suppl 3
Issue numberSUPPL. 3
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010


  • counter-insurgency
  • humanitarian action
  • pacification
  • post-conflict reconstruction
  • stabilisation
  • WAR
  • IRAQ

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