Essential Readings: Sanctuary in International Relations

Well, everyone’s doing it. Tom Ricks has one. So does Drezner. Who am I to resist peer pressure? Here are my top five picks for anyone interested in getting smart on the geopolitics of sanctuaries/safe havens. Yes, it’s more than just a guerrilla thing, and yes, it’s more than just a territorial thing. It’s even more than a material thing. It’s a whole lot of different things – but then, I wouldn’t want to let all the cats out of the bag before my book’s out, would I? 

I’ve excluded edited volumes (among them my two prior projects on the subject). I’ve also excluded unpublished papers, peer reviewed journal articles, and books on cognate topics like state failure, terrorist sponsorship, and the like). For COIN fetishists wondering why I didn’t include Mao et al: I’ve left out plenty of material, and stuck to a narrow sampling of secondary sources that take a swipe at this from an international relations perspective. Consider them your primers. 

Brynen, Rex. Sanctuary and Survival: The PLO In LebanonWestview Press, 1990.

DESCRIPTION: Drawing on extensive interviews with senior leaders in the PLO and its consequent organizations, this book examines the PLO’s Lebanese era in the broader theoretical context of relations between a national liberation movement and a sanctuary state. The author analyzes the PLO’s relations with the Lebanese government, its role in the civil war, the consequences of escalating conflict with Israel, and the challenges facing the Palestine movement after Israel’s 1982 invasion. Throughout, he focuses on the PLO’s efforts to maintain a secure political and military base of operations in Lebanon.

Hassner, Ron. War on Sacred Grounds. Cornell University Press, 2009.

DESCRIPTION: Sacred sites offer believers the possibility of communing with the divine and achieving deeper insight into their faith. Yet their spiritual and cultural importance can lead to competition as religious groups seek to exclude rivals from practicing potentially sacrilegious rituals in the hallowed space and wish to assert their own claims. Holy places thus create the potential for military, theological, or political clashes, not only between competing religious groups but also between religious groups and secular actors.

In War on Sacred Grounds, Ron E. Hassner investigates the causes and properties of conflicts over sites that are both venerated and contested; he also proposes potential means for managing these disputes. Hassner illustrates a complex and poorly understood political dilemma with accounts of the failures to reach settlement at Temple Mount/Haram el-Sharif, leading to the clashes of 2000, and the competing claims of Hindus and Muslims at Ayodhya, which resulted in the destruction of the mosque there in 1992. He also addresses more successful compromises in Jerusalem in 1967 and Mecca in 1979. Sacred sites, he contends, are particularly prone to conflict because they provide valuable resources for both religious and political actors yet cannot be divided.

The management of conflicts over sacred sites requires cooperation, Hassner suggests, between political leaders interested in promoting conflict resolution and religious leaders who can shape the meaning and value that sacred places hold for believers. Because a reconfiguration of sacred space requires a confluence of political will, religious authority, and a window of opportunity, it is relatively rare. Drawing on the study of religion and the study of politics in equal measure, Hassner’s account offers insight into the often-violent dynamics that come into play at the places where religion and politics collide.

Lang, Hazel J. Fear and Sanctuary: Burmese Refugees in ThailandCornell University Press, 2002.

DESCRIPTION: An examination of the plight of the refugees of Burma’s protracted civil war, many of whom have fled across the border into Thailand. This study looks at the changing nature of the refugee situation and the responses of the parties involved, including the United Nations, the refugees themselves, and governments in both Bangkok and Rangoon. In the process, Fear and Sanctuary addresses pertinent international questions regarding civil war, ethnic resistance against an oppressive state, displacement, and refugee protection.

Lischer, Sarah Kenyon. Dangerous Sanctuaries: Refugee Camps, Civil War, and the Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid. Cornell University Press, 2005.

DESCRIPTION: Since the early 1990s, refugee crises in the Balkans, Central Africa, the Middle East, and West Africa have led to the international spread of civil war. In Central Africa alone, more than three million people have died in wars fueled, at least in part, by internationally supported refugee populations. The recurring pattern of violent refugee crises prompts the following questions: Under what conditions do refugee crises lead to the spread of civil war across borders? How can refugee relief organizations respond when militants use humanitarian assistance as a tool of war? What government actions can prevent or reduce conflict?

To understand the role of refugees in the spread of conflict, Sarah Kenyon Lischer systematically compares violent and nonviolent crises involving Afghan, Bosnian, and Rwandan refugees. Lischer argues against the conventional socioeconomic explanations for refugee-related violence—abysmal living conditions, proximity to the homeland, and the presence of large numbers of bored young men. Lischer instead focuses on the often-ignored political context of the refugee crisis. She suggests that three factors are crucial: the level of the refugees’ political cohesion before exile, the ability and willingness of the host state to prevent military activity, and the contribution, by aid agencies and outside parties, of resources that exacerbate conflict. Lischer’s political explanation leads to policy prescriptions that are sure to be controversial: using private security forces in refugee camps or closing certain camps altogether. With no end in sight to the brutal wars that create refugee crises, Dangerous Sanctuaries is vital reading for anyone concerned with how refugee flows affect the dynamics of conflicts around the world.

McQueen, Carol. Humanitarian Intervention and Safety Zones: Iraq, Bosnia, and RwandaPalgrave MacMillan, 2005.

DESCRIPTION: Neither willing to engage in a meaningful way to save targeted civilians in Iraq, Bosnia and Rwanda nor stand entirely aside as massive violat
ions of humanitarian law occurred, states embraced safety zones as a means to ‘do something’ whilst avoiding being drawn into open warfare.Humanitarian Intervention and Safety Zones: Iraq, Bosnia and Rwandaexplores why and how effectively safety zones were implemented as a way to protect civilians and displace persons in three of the most important conflicts of the 1990s. It shows how states consistently sought to reconcile their political and humanitarian interest, a process which often led to problematic and ambiguous outcomes, and assesses in fascinating detail the difficulties and controversies surrounding the use of such zones, variously called safe havens, safe areas, secure humanitarian areas, andzones humanitaires sures. The book also asks whether or not such zones could serve as precedents for possible future attempts to ensure the safety of civilians in complex humanitarian emergencies.

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