Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



Does the delivery of humanitarian aid outside the control of the state increase repressive practices by the government and harm the population? Concerns over the unintended negative impacts of humanitarian aid continues to drive research and spirited debate by scholars, policy makers, and practitioners. Although several contend humanitarians serve as “watchdogs” and constrain repression by their presence in a country, whether they do this, the methods employed, and the scope of impact has not been theoretically or empirically addressed. The watchdog theory proposes that the presence of humanitarian international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) generates information about the disaster, the actions of the state, and the condition of the population. Humanitarian INGOs distribute this information both domestically and internationally using six watchdog mechanisms to pressure the government from above (internationally) and below (domestically) to change or restrain repressive practices. When humanitarian INGOs actively employ all six watchdog mechanisms together, they are more likely to change state repressive behavior. The watchdog theory is tested using three case studies covering the period of 1983 to 2012, comparing four humanitarian interventions in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Indonesia, and Haiti. Overall, the cross-case comparisons indicate support for the watchdog theory and find that humanitarian INGOs do choose to actively advocate using all six mechanisms, particularly since 2001, to mitigate state repressive behavior during a humanitarian crisis. Consequently, the watchdog theory not only informs the debate about humanitarian aid’s impact, but provides insight into when, how, and under what conditions humanitarians can reduce the potential for aid to do harm.



Committee Chair

Tirone, Daniel C.

Available for download on Thursday, February 27, 2025