April 24 discussion - responsibility to protect

On the news, you hear about yet another regime oppressing its own people. Maybe they’re being gassed to death, like the Kurds of Iraq. Maybe there’s a multi-sided genocidal war, like Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Maybe there’s an ethnic cleansing campaign going on between two countries, like the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923. What should your country do? Who, if anyone, has the right to protect the millions of victims? How does the answer depend on whether your country is the world superpower or an economic basket case; on whether the offending country is a heavily militarized nuclear power or a small island nation?

The Evans article describes the development of a “right to protect” consensus in the UN, which gained traction remarkably quickly (2005-2009). He summarizes it better than I could: “First, that the primary responsibility to protect its own people from large-scale human rights violations continued to lie with the sovereign state itself, and it was only if it was
unable or unwilling so to act that any responsibility shifted to the wider international community. Second, that when such a shift did occur, coercive military intervention was only something to be considered as the absolute last resort, with the overwhelming responsibility being to prevent the harm in question occurring at all, and by means that were supportive and persuasive rather than coercive. Third, that if coercive military intervention were ever to be justified, it could only be when multiple criteria—going to
both moral legitimacy and international legal authority—were satisfied. The emphasis throughout was not on ‘right’ but ‘responsibility’, not on ‘intervention’ but ‘protection’, and on that protection involving not just reaction after the event, but preventive and rebuilding strategies to stop it occurring, and recurring.”

Evans points to a successful case of the international community intervening (through non-violent means) to stop ethnic violence and broker a political compromise in Kenya in 2008. Wikipedia has an article on this, but I can’t link to it because new users are limited to 2 links per post.

On the other hand, Kuperman 2013 describes a particularly disastrous case of military intervention: NATO intervention in Libya. Kuperman argues that contrary to most reporting, the protesters were violent from the very beginning; that the police only resorted to using live ammunition after trying non-violent crowd control; and that the NATO intervention was justified based on protecting civilians, but quickly turned into a regime change mission. As the government was close to complete victory when the intervention started, the intervention actually caused many more civilian deaths than the do-nothing alternative. In the aftermath of the war, weapons from Libyan fighters flowed to Middle Eastern terrorists, Libya fractured along ethnic lines, a second civil war erupted, and ISIS set up shop in the country.

I’ll actually be impressed if anyone reads this far, so if you see this and your name is not Eduardo or Dylan, please reply with “Stanley hates Singaporean Raffles” so that I know.

Hope you all give this some thought. See you this Wednesday, April 24, at 6 pm on Sovereignty Lounge, BBB B101.



I did some more reading after today’s discussion and want to share some interesting references.

2012-01-27 article from Gareth Evans (guy that invented responsibility to protect) discussing responsibility while protecting in light of Lybia and Syria

Fantastic quote from 2012-08-29 article:
IBSA (India, Brazil, and South Africa) officials complained, in particular, that their diplomats were treated dismissively throughout the operation and were left uninformed. This sense of personal humiliation at the hands of the P3 (the US, France, and the UK) appears to be the most significant proximate cause of RWP (although the official reason is the path of the intervention in Libya). The IBSA countries made it clear that they would be extremely reluctant to support any new R2P action in light of the Libyan experience.

2016-07-09 article discussing how Brazil stopped pushing RwP:
Brazil’s role as a norm entrepreneur on intervention issues remains tied to the RwP concept. The initiative was withdrawn after it did not elicit the desired level of support, and by the time its potential had been realized, internal changes in Brazil and its Foreign Ministry had made continued advocacy politically unviable. Despite attempts to revive a strong role for Brazil in the R2P conversation through efforts in the General Assembly in 2015-2016, crippling fiscal austerity and the paralyzing political crisis which began in April 2016 have temporarily but severely limited Brazil’s ability to proactively advance normative initiatives. Nevertheless, the desire remains to fulfill the country’s natural function as a bridge-builder between North and South on intervention issues, and Brazil is sure not to remain absent for long from the ranks of those crafting R2P’s future contours.
As they say in Brazil: huehuehuehue.