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International Assistance After Conflict: Health, Transitional Justice, and Opportunity Costs

Swenson, G. & Kniess, J. (2021). International Assistance After Conflict: Health, Transitional Justice, and Opportunity Costs. Third World Quarterly, 42(8), pp. 1696-1714. doi: 10.1080/01436597.2021.1928489


After violent conflicts, international actors face difficult choices about whether and how to provide assistance. These decisions can have immense consequences. As aid always occurs under conditions of scarcity, theoretical reflection is crucial to reveal the opportunity costs and potential tensions between alternative courses of action. Yet, there has been relatively little scholarly reflection on what should constitute priorities for post-conflict assistance and why. This paper advances this debate by comparing two very different areas of assistance that both embody compelling values and goals: public health and transitional justice. It argues that aid for public health deserves greater attention based on powerful normative considerations and its impressive empirical record. It also suggests the need to examine not only clearly underperforming areas, but also tough cases. Transitional justice, despite its strong normative foundations, faces challenges and limitations that justify reform and a reconsideration of the emphasis commonly placed on it. Our intention is not to suggest that long-standing commitments ought to be abandoned or that all aid should be allocated to health. Rather, by scrutinizing the priorities of international assistance, we hope to start a general discussion about how the international community can best help societies heal after conflict.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way
Publisher Keywords: conflict and security; law; health; peacebuilding; fragile states; foreign policy
Subjects: J Political Science
J Political Science > JX International law
K Law > K Law (General)
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
SWORD Depositor:
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