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Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 10.1 (2003) 369-381

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Contract of Mutual (In)Difference:
Governance and the Humanitarian Apparatus in Contemporary Albania and Kosovo

Mariella Pandolfi*


In his book Le malheur des autres, Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Médecins Sans Frontières and the former French Health Minister, wrote that "[h]umanitarian activities have become customary." 1 Kouchner's statement points to the new forms of globally organized power and expertise, located within new transnational regimes, humanitarian networks, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and multi- and bilateral organizations that are now developing. These new transnational regimes, parallel to local forms of rule, constitute a mobile apparatus which I have defined as migrant sovereignties. 2

With the explosive growth of NGOs of all scales and varieties that has occurred since 1945, we are witnessing a massive transformation in the nature of global governance. 3 Such growth has been fueled by the connected development of the U.N. system, and, more particularly, by the increasing global circulation and legitimization of discourse and politics of "human rights." Resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council and various international agencies and meetings show that new forms of sovereignty have come into place alongside older, territorialized forms. These new forms legitimize the right of interference and intervention, identifying a [End Page 369] deterritorialized sovereignty that migrates around the globe to sites of "crisis" and humanitarian disaster.

At a time when international humanitarian processes are proliferating in militarized contexts the world over, it is imperative that we take time to reflect on the theoretical foundations, as well as the practical consequences, of such interventions. This is a perilous but necessary exercise, forcing us to consider the complex relationship between humanitarian organizations, international institutions, and specific segments of local élites. This paper addresses the ways in which the humanitarian-military apparatus constructs the logic behind its interventions, how interventions are carried out, and how they impact the local scene. It aims to identify the means by which institutional categories and interventions are transferred into this local political sphere and canonized as models of governance.

My work is specifically concerned with the post-war and post-communist Balkan territories and the assemblages that crisscross those territories. 4 From 1991 until the crucial months of the war, the international presence in Albania and Kosovo was active at various institutional levels. The true agents of military-economic-humanitarian action were the various international organizations, agencies, foundations, and NGOs, whose operations were shaped by a temporality of emergency. These agents espouse the legitimacy of the right of interference, the rhetoric of institution building, and a Western, neo-liberal, forced democratization of the southeastern European frontier. The power they wield is real, and is superimposed onto bureaucratic procedures and lengthy intergovernmental negotiations. 5

The title of this paper—Contract of Mutual (In)Difference—seeks to draw attention to a central feature of our age that has gained prominence over the past ten years: the coexistence, within the same territorial perimeter, of two opposed modes of sovereignty. One of these is tied to a territorial configuration such as the nation-state, religion, or ethnicity. The other, which has resulted from the proliferation of non-territorialized forms of power and governance, such as the complex military-humanitarian apparatus, is deployed, legitimized, and imposed according to a planetary logic in "crisis" situations by an international "humanitarian" rule of law. [End Page 370]

This discussion draws on fieldwork conducted in Albania and Kosovo since 1997, which has allowed me to travel behind the lines, so to speak, of the humanitarian apparatus. My argument is that military forces and multi- and bilateral organizations are transforming into a new form of transnational domination. 6

I will begin by describing the convergence between military and humanitarian forms of intervention, and the role of NGOs as operators of a new military-humanitarian form of governance. I will show that the forms of governance that are expressed through NGOs can be understood as a new form of sovereignty, at...