Review of International Studies



Shape-shifting NATO: humanitarian action and the Kosovo refugee crisis


Jef  Huysmans  1

Abstract

The article deals with NATO's intervention in Kosovo. Instead of focusing on the military and diplomatic interventions, the article looks at how NATO developed a humanitarian interest in providing assistance and protection to the Kosovo Albanian refugees. In the name of the refugees—and to a lesser extent, of internally displaced persons—NATO entered a humanitarian field and was partly transfigured into a humanitarian agency during the crisis in Kosovo. The political significance of NATO's humanitarianism was that its reputation for competence and its image of respectability and honour depended to an extent on how well it supported the international assistance to the Kosovo Albanians. The stakes were not limited to the immediate Kosovo context, however. The symbolic struggle for reputation and honour resonated directly in the political struggle for the conservation and transformation of the European security complex. The success of the humanitarian operation became an additional element of demonstrating the value of military capital for acquiring political authority in the definition and management of security problems in post-Cold War Europe.



Footnotes

1 This research was made possible by a NATO Research Fellowship (June 1998–June 2000). I would like to thank Didier Bigo and two anonymous referees for helpful comments, and An Vranckx for checking spelling and grammar.