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Humanitarianism, State Sovereignty, and Authoritarian Regime Maintenance in the Syrian War

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Reinoud Leenders, Kholoud Mansour

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-257
Number of pages52
Issue number2
Early online date19 Jun 2018
Accepted/In press27 Mar 2018
E-pub ahead of print19 Jun 2018
PublishedJul 2018


King's Authors


Through a case study of the Syrian war since 2011 this article explores how humanitarianism, state sovereignty and authoritarian regime maintenance have come to be closely intertwined. While the Syrian regime’s state sovereignty claims facilitated its tight control over a massive UN-led humanitarian aid effort, the latter in turn became a platform to project and magnify these claims, and to get them confirmed. The article details how the Syrian regime’s injection of its state sovereignty claims into a large-scale humanitarian aid effort gave it access to critical benefits and resources that fed into its efforts of authoritarian regime maintenance at times of acute threats to its survival. Drawing on the notion of state sovereignty as a social construct, it shows that in response to the regime’s loss of compliant domestic audiences for its implausible claims, the regime managed to compensate by turning its state sovereignty claims to external audiences, primarily by way of its cooperation with UN humanitarian agencies and their donors. These findings call for closer attention to assertive ‘sovereign’ states in humanitarian crises and civil war generally. They also suggest that is important that the study of the international politics of authoritarianism broadens its mostly bilateral focus, and includes cooperation with international organizations.

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