R2P: Solution for UN Dilemma regarding Intervention?

The concept of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’, invented by the ICISS in 2001 and adopted by the Un World Summit in 2005, tries to reconcile the controversy between humanitarian intervention and the sovereignty and non-intervention principle by giving a new account of legitimate sovereignty.¹un

According to the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, sovereignty is defined as the responsibility of each state to protect its own citizens from mass atrocities.² If the state is unwilling or unable to fulfill his responsibility, then the duty to protect the people falls within the obligations of the international community.³ Thus the notion of R2P shifts the emphasis away from a ‘right to intervene’ to a ‘responsibility to intervene’.

The United Nations understands itself, first and foremost, as an organization for the perseverance of international peace and security and thus prioritizes the principle of self-determination and the conservation of existing borders.4 However, this principle has been challenged by the shift of the numbers from inter- to intrastate conflicts and subsequent demands for humanitarian intervention in countries like Somalia, Sudan, East Timor, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Lybia and Syria.

Thus there has been a tension in the political debate between defenders of a Hobbesian notion of legitimate sovereignty, such as Michael Walzer 5 and those who favor more Kantian people-centered accounts such as David Luban6, John Rawls7, Charles Beitz8, Fernando Teson9 and Simon Caney10. Until recently this tension has been seen as one between the ‘rights of states’ and the ‘rights of people’.

Todd Lindberg hailed R2P as a revolution that places the necessary focus lens on human security and not the security of states.11  This is a terminological advantage because it stresses the vulnerability of the victims and their viewpoint according to Arbour12. She argued that R2P also entails a conceptual advantage insofar that it clarifies that in principle all states collectively carry the burden, of being responsible for protecting civilians in the world, and not some self-ascribed intervener. 13 Moreover Arbour14 mentions that when in the 1990s the prevention of genocide failed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the UN Security Council created ad hoc tribunals. This can be regarded as empirical evidence for the impact of R2P on erosion of traditional understandings of absolute sovereignty.

In UN Resolution 174 of 2006 the UN Security Council endorsed the notion of R2P in thematic resolution on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.15 This is an important step because the General Assembly, which endorsed R2P in the World Summit Outcome Document in 2005, only guides principles, but Security Council reaffirms and executes them.

In the Resolution 1706 in 2006 the Security Council invoked R2P for the situation in Darfur in Sudan.16 In addition Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon embraces the concept of R2P in 2007 just like his predecessor Kofi Annan.17 Furthermore, he stimulated the process of operationalization by appointing a new special adviser on genocide and a special adviser to work on institutional process issues.18 When the violence in Kenya broke out in 2007, R2P was invoked in the public debate by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Ban-Ki-Moon and Francis Deng.19

However, there are also more critical voices that question the actual impact of R2P on bridging the gap between the primacy of state sovereignty and human rights. Brown20 argues that the emphasis on ‘protection’ in the notion of R2P can be interpreted in a very Hobbesian manner by authoritarian states that could argue that they are protecting their people from internal anarchy and external aggression even though they are not respecting basic human rights. In addition, the concept of R2P seems to have been endorsed in the World Summit 2005, only because it was believed not to create legal duties.21

But there was also strong resistance against R2P, especially from countries that could be the potential interveners, because they didn’t want to be constrained by the notion of R2P or to be held liable if they fail to intervene.22 R2P was seen as ‘conceptual straightjacket’, limiting options.23 For instance, Michael Byers believes that R2P was weakened to such an extent in the definition of the World Summit Outcome Document 2005 that it would not protect civilians and might even restrain traditional Security Council action.24 Some countries in Latin America, Africa and in the Arab world even denied that R2P was ever adopted.25 Hence Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon met great resistance, when he wanted to appoint a special adviser for R2P.26 In the end he could only appoint the special adviser, Edward Luck, without an appropriate job title.27 R2P is based on belief that if states have to justify their action or inaction publicly, they can be shamed into stopping mass atrocities in other countries.28 But this disregards problem of indeterminacy and there is only little proof, that opinion can change behavior of states.29

Moreover there is a lack of political will and commitment to the principles of R2P as some states are constantly inhibiting and undermining the validity of R2P.  Latin American, Arab and African states even denied that R2P was ever adopted in 2005, as the World Summit definition referred to the protection of civilians but not the adoption of R2P.30 There was also strong resistance against R2P from countries that could be the potential interveners, because they didn’t want to be constrained by the notion of R2P or to be held liable if they fail to intervene.31 R2P was seen as ‘conceptual straightjacket’, limiting options.32 This view is supported by Michael Byers, who believes that R2P was weakened to such an extent in the definition of  2005 that it would not protect civilians and might even restrain traditional Security Council action.33

The tension between the two aims of R2P, to enable real humanitarian intervention and to prevent neo-imperialist abuse, leads to a blockade where anti-interventionists can use formal precautionary principles to inhibit intervention.34 Exactly this complication occurred when Security Council states used arguments concerning minimum thresholds and who exactly is the responsibility-carrier in order to block sanctions and possible intervention in response to the crisis in Darfur, Sudan.35

In conclusion, the notion of R2P has not resolved the dilemmas posed by humanitarian intervention. The resistance of UN Security Council members to even consider binding criteria or a limitation of their veto rights and the denial of some developing countries to have ever adopted  R2P in 2005 shows that the international community is simply not ready to be guided by the notion of R2P.

1)     Brown, Chris. “On Gareth Evans “The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All”” Brookings Institute (2008): p. 1. Web. 27 Apr. 2012.

2)     Evans, Gareth J. “The Solution: From “The Right to Intervene” to “The Responsibility to Protect”” The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2008. p. 48. Print.

3)      ibid.

4)      Brown, Chris. “On Gareth Evans “The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All.” Brookings Institute (2008): p. 2. Web. 27 Apr. 2012.

5)     Walzer, Michael, and David Miller. Thinking Politically: Essays in Political Theory. New Haven: Yale UP, 2007. Print.

6)     Luban, David. “Just War and Human Rights.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 9.2 (1980): p. 160-81. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.

7)     Rawls, John, and John Rawls. The Law of Peoples ; With, The Idea of Public Reason Revisited. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1999. Print.

8)     Beitz, Charles. Political Theory and International Relations. Vol. 2. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1999. Print.

9)     Tesón, Fernando R. Humanitarian Intervention: An Inquiry into Law and Morality. Ardsley, NY: Transnational, 2005. Print.

10)   Caney, Simon. Justice beyond Borders: A Global Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.

11)  Lindberg, Todd. “Protect the People.” Washington Times. 27 Sept. 2005. Web.; cited in Bellamy, Alex. “Whither the Responsibility to Protect? Humanitarian Intervention and the 2005 World Summit.” Ethics & International Affairs 20 (2006): p. 144. Wiley Online Library. Web. 27 Apr. 2012.

12)  Arbour, Louise. “The Responsibility to Protect as a Duty of Care in International Law and Practice.” Review of International Studies 34.03 (2008): p.448. Cambridge Journal Online. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.

13)   Arbour, Louise. “The Responsibility to Protect as a Duty of Care in International Law and Practice.” Review of International Studies 34.03 (2008): p. 449. Cambridge Journal Online. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.

14)   Arbour, Louise. “The Responsibility to Protect as a Duty of Care in International Law and Practice.” Review of International Studies 34.03 (2008): p. 446. Cambridge Journal Online. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.

15)  Arbour, Louise. “The Responsibility to Protect as a Duty of Care in International Law and Practice.” Review of International Studies 34.03 (2008): p. 449. Cambridge Journal Online. Web. 23 Apr. 2012; Evans, Gareth J. “The Solution: From “The Right to Intervene” to “The Responsibility to Protect”” The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2008. p. 50. Print.

16) ibid.

17) Evans, Gareth J. “The Solution: From “The Right to Intervene” to “The Responsibility to Protect”” The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2008. p. 50-51. Print.

18) ibid.

19) Evans, Gareth J. “The Solution: From “The Right to Intervene” to “The Responsibility to Protect”” The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2008. p. 51. Print.

20) Brown, Chris. “On Gareth Evans “The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All”” Brookings Institute (2008): p. 2 . Web. 27 Apr. 2012.

21)  Brown, Chris. “On Gareth Evans “The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All”” Brookings Institute (2008): p. 1. Web. 27 Apr. 2012.

22)   Arbour, Louise. “The Responsibility to Protect as a Duty of Care in International Law and Practice.” Review of International Studies 34.03 (2008): p. 450. Cambridge Journal Online. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.

23) Arbour, Louise. “The Responsibility to Protect as a Duty of Care in International Law and Practice.” Review of International Studies 34.03 (2008): p. 448-49. Cambridge Journal Online. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.

24) Byers, Michael. “High Ground Lost on UN’s Responsibility to Protect.” Winnipeg Free Press. 18 Sept. 2005. p. 144-45. Web.

25) Evans, Gareth J. “The Solution: From “The Right to Intervene” to “The Responsibility to Protect”” The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2008. p. 52. Print.

26) ibid.

27) ibid.

28) Bellamy, Alex. “Whither the Responsibility to Protect? Humanitarian Intervention and the 2005 World Summit.” Ethics & International Affairs 20 (2006): p. 149-50. Wiley Online Library. Web. 27 Apr. 2012.

29) Bellamy, Alex. “Whither the Responsibility to Protect? Humanitarian Intervention and the 2005 World Summit.” Ethics & International Affairs 20 (2006): p. 150. Wiley Online Library. Web. 27 Apr. 2012.

30) Evans, Gareth J. “The Solution: From “The Right to Intervene” to “The Responsibility to Protect”” The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2008. p. 52. Print.

31)   Arbour, Louise. “The Responsibility to Protect as a Duty of Care in International Law and Practice.” Review of International Studies 34.03 (2008): p. 450. Cambridge Journal Online. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.

32)   Arbour, Louise. “The Responsibility to Protect as a Duty of Care in International Law and Practice.” Review of International Studies 34.03 (2008): p. 448-49. Cambridge Journal Online. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.

33)  Byers, Michael. “High Ground Lost on UN’s Responsibility to Protect.” Winnipeg Free Press. 18 Sept. 2005. p. 144-45. Web.

34)   Bellamy, Alex. “Whither the Responsibility to Protect? Humanitarian Intervention and the 2005 World Summit.” Ethics & International Affairs 20 (2006): p.148. Wiley Online Library. Web. 27 Apr. 2012.

35)  Bellamy, Alex. “Whither the Responsibility to Protect? Humanitarian Intervention and the 2005 World Summit.” Ethics & International Affairs 20 (2006): p.149. Wiley Online Library. Web. 27 Apr. 2012.

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