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A concern with security can undermine protection in important ways, though the discourse of protection can be manipulated by those with a security agenda. War (especially a ‘good war’) confers a degree of legitimacy (and legality) for various kinds of violence. The more ‘legitimate’ a particular military endeavour appears to be (and the more the enemy has been demonised), the more opportunities there are likely to be for violence and exploitation under the cover of this legitimacy. The positioning of a civil war within some kind of ‘global war’ (the Cold War, the ‘war on terror’) helps to create ‘windows of impunity’ for powerful local actors, many of them governmental. At any given moment in any given place, a particular ‘enemy’ (perhaps more than one) will be identified, and protection problems are likely to accumulate around this definition of the security problem. There is also likely to be a favoured instrument (or perhaps more than one) for addressing the crisis (defeating spoilers, deploying peacekeepers, delivering relief etc.). The designation of enemies and the commitment to favoured solutions may both create major protection problems as certain kinds of violence are tolerated in the interest of some ‘wider’ or ‘more pressing’ goal. Weighing advocacy against relief delivery is always difficult. But we should consider the possibility that de-emphasising advocacy emboldens abusive parties on the ground so that humanitarian space shrinks over time. Abusive parties are learning lessons fast about how to manipulate information flows surrounding conflicts; the international humanitarian community needs to speed up its ‘lesson learning’ accordingly.

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Refugee Studies Centre

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