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On the Responsibility to Protect

Over at UN Dispatch, Mark Leon Goldberg writes:

In a short post, Bill Easterly and Laura Freschi air some concerns over the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) that have been leveled by Noam Chomsky and General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann.

Chomsky and D’Escoto both conclude that, in practice, R2P is just Great Power imperialism in disguise. Although a lot of other statements by these two are nuts, this conclusion is not completely crazy. After all, any intervention has to be approved by the Great Powers that sit on the UN Security Council.

Not for nothing, but “in practice” R2P has never been applied. The responsibilty to protect is a legal term agreed upon by UN  member states in 2005.  It provides the Security Council a legal endrun around traditional arguments of state sovereignty in cases where a country is unwilling or unable to prevent mass atrocities from being visited upon its citizens.  Since 2005, however, the Council has yet to invoke R2P to authorize intervention.

Talk to me about “imperialism” when that happens –  if it ever does.

There are many questions relating to R2P that I could raise– but I let me just respond to one issue. How does the R2P provide “a legal endrun around traditional arguments of state sovereignty in cases where a country is unwilling or unable to prevent mass atrocities from being visited upon its citizens”?

Anything agreed to by  UN members in 2005 was not intended to in any way alter the United Nations Charter provisions on the recourse to force. Indeed, paragraph 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document which “adopted” the concept of R2P specifically provides:

The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out. (emphasis added)

In short, I cannot see how R2P provides a “legal endrun” or create additional legal authority that was not already present in the Charter.

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3 Comments

  • Perhaps I should have been more artful with my language. My point is that R2P offers member states a novel legal argument which they can put before the Security Council to justify violating a state’s sovereignty. Historically, the norm of non-interference was inviolable absent a Ch. VII resolution. It still is, but R2P gives interventionists a certain counter-argument should a member of the P5 cite “sovereignty” as a reason to uphold the general prohibition against intervention.

    • Anthony Clark Arend says:

      Thanks for the comment. I think R2P does give states a rhetorical vehicle to appeal to the Security Council, even if no additional legal authority.

    • robg says:

      There is some contradiction in saying

      R2P offers states an argument which justifies violating a state’s sovereignty.

      Sovereignty is the power of a government to exclusively “run” a state’s affairs, including – more than everything – the realisation of its citizens’ most basic interests.
      The R2P of states, however, by definition is activated only where another state – willingly or not – severely fails on a large scale to ensure and respect its citizens’ human rights.
      It is not convincing to invoke sovereignty where a state – intentionally or not – is failing severely to act as a sovereign.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.