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Frontiers of Need: Humanitarianism and the American Involvement in the Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970

Brian Edward McNeil


PhD Thesis, The University of Texas at Austin, December 2014

This dissertation focuses on American foreign policy toward the Nigerian Civil War, a conflict most famous for the images of starving women and children from the secessionist state of Biafra. In response to this unprecedented humanitarian crisis, more than 200 nongovernmental and voluntary organizations emerged in the United States alone, all calling for the U.S. government to intervene in the Nigerian Civil War. Despite this immense public pressure, policymakers in Washington were reluctant to violate Nigerian sovereignty and become involved in the conflict. This dissertation looks specifically at how American policymakers responded to this challenge from below and constructed a policy for the humanitarian problem that was designed above all to placate concerned citizens at home. By analyzing the American involvement in the Nigerian Civil War, this dissertation argues that the push for humanitarian intervention in the United States stemmed from a crisis of morality in American foreign relations during the 1960s. It reinterprets the 1960s as a period of moral crisis when many Americans questioned the morality of U.S. foreign policy and sought an alternative moral framework for America’s role in the world. For activists concerned about the Nigerian Civil War, humanitarian intervention represented a path for overcoming the perceived immorality of the Cold War. This dissertation, then, argues that humanitarian intervention abroad was primarily a domestic battle, one that revealed the fault lines of two competing conceptions of what should guide the future of American foreign policy.

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Biafran War Database.
Editor: Azuka Nzegwu.

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