Stanley's blog

R2P understood

I recommend to you the lecture given by Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group, in Singapore on 5 August which contains a clear explanation of the concept of the “responsibility to protect”, commonly referred to as “R2P”.

The “responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”, which won unanimous endorsement at the UN General Assembly in 2005, has two thrusts: the first focusing on the responsibility of sovereign states to protect their own peoples and of other states to assist them in doing so, and the second on the need to take collective action in the case of states ‘manifestly failing to protect their populations’.

While ‘the right to intervene’ might be seen in most of the global North as a noble and effective rallying cry, the global South is still wedded to sovereignty, not least among those states all too vividly remembering being on the receiving end from the colonial and imperial powers.

The key is to find a solution which is neither an absolutist defence of all the worst manifestations of traditional sovereignty, nor an equally absolutist statement of the right to intervene coercively anywhere and any time when people seem to be suffering. Talk not about the right of big states to do anything, but the responsibility of all states to protect their own people from atrocity crimes, and to help others to do so.

Focus not on the notion of intervention but of protection: look at the whole issue from the perspective of the victims, and look at the responsibility in question as being above all a responsibility to prevent. And accept coercive military intervention only as an absolute last resort, after a number of clearly defined criteria have been met, and the approval of the UN Security Council has been obtained.

There are still three big challenges that need to be addressed:

The first is to ensure that the scope and limits of the responsibility to protect are fully and completely understood that is not the case now. R2P must not be seen as a Trojan horse for bad old imperial, colonial and militarist habits.

The second is institutional preparedness, to build the necessary capacity within international institutions, governments, and regional organisations.

The third is political preparedness.

Above all, R2P is about taking effective preventive action, and at the earliest possible stage. Reaction can involve political, diplomatic, economic and legal pressure. Coercive military action is not excluded when it is the only possible way to stop large scale killing and other atrocity crimes.

But even if the threshold of seriousness is crossed, there are another four criteria of legitimacy which also have to be satisfied if the case is to be made out for coercive, non-consensual military force: the motivation or primary purpose of the proposed military action; last resort; the proportionality of the response; and, the balance of consequences.

There are a huge range of issues that need to be addressed to ensure that R2P is effectively operational. When it comes to military preparedness, a great deal more needs to be done.

This involves neither traditional war fighting nor traditional peacekeeping. The task is partly what is now described as “peacekeeping plus” or “complex peacekeeping”,where it is assumed from the outset that the mission is likely to require military force to be used at some stage, for civilian protection purposes as well as in self-defence. New UN peacekeeping missions in recent years have been constructed almost routinely on this basis.

The remaining challenge is the age-old one of mobilising political will. Political will is not a missing ingredient, waiting in each case to be found if we only had the key to the right cupboard or lifted the right stone. It has to be painfully and laboriously constructed, case by case, context by context.

Gareth Evans’ book on R2P will shortly be published.

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  1. “[…] the motivation or primary purpose of the proposed military action […]”… I think for my part that this could be to most hotly debated aspect of R2P – because some (the “global South”?) will immediately raise the issue of the “secondary, tertiary, n-ary” purpose of the intervention – in other words, the issue of hidden agenda and *real* reason for motivation – which should determine *who (which country-ies)* will be appointed to the R2P mission…

    If the appointed powers are not motivated they will not be efficient, but if they are motivated, what will *really* motivate them to action? Noble, generous, humanitary concern for the victimised populations? Or rather more selfish, unadmittable but real and concrete self-interest reasons? which might have nothing to do with the good of the victimised populations, and might even be contrary to them, even if the intervening power is in opposition to whoever rules on the victimised?

    R2P “complex peacekeeping” should be carried out in a general framework of trust; however, as we all know, some powers in the world clearly encounter open distrust, or at leastr mistrust, from a lot… and yet are powerful enough to impose their views and act like so-called “rogue states” to – officially – “ensure respect of international legality”.

    Don’t you think the concerned high-level groups devoting their thoughts to R2P should come up with some means to address this particular issue? For this is the main part of what makes people suspicious of the whole R2P concept…

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