hose who cheered “Benghazi One” as a validating triumph of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine and those who regard “Benghazi Two” as its death-knell are both mistaken. The first act of the Libyan drama in March 2011, when the international military intervention arguably saved thousands of civilians in and around Benghazi from Qaddafi’s murderous forces, was only a partial “success”, even according to R2P principles. The second, on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, when anti-American jihadists with virtually free reign in the post-Qaddafi anarchy murdered the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other officials, is not reducible simply to the governance vacuum left by an R2P-driven intervention.
R2P principles are only partially new, in any event, and they are more complex than press quotes suggest. They are noticeably weak so far as a guide to action, yet they are with us to stay. They may be fixable. It is therefore important to understand the issues they pose in all their complexity.
R2P principles were certainly a driver of the intervention that toppled the Qaddafi dictatorship, and therefore also of its chaotic aftermath. But their role should not be exaggerated, nor should they be expected to resolve the recurring debates over the weight that humanitarian obligations should be given in U.S. foreign policy, as distinct from geostrategic interests or non-intervention norms. The choices facing the United States in Egypt, Syria and Mali, for example, continue to be more complex than can be deduced from any abstract doctrine, and these choices are themselves no less complex than the dialectic between state-sovereignty and “justice” imperatives that recur throughout history.
Viewed in historical perspective, the R2P concept is a facet of the still-evolving state system. It is not its antithesis, as both some of its champions and detractors are wont to claim. Indeed, the concept is derived largely from traditional just war criteria for employing military force.
What is new is the “R”: Added to the widely asserted universal right of all humans to be protected from acts of great brutality, the international community is now purportedly bound by a responsibility to assure the needed protection. The R2P concept broadly formulates those circumstances under which national governments and/or international agencies have a moral and legal responsibility to actively engage in the required efforts. It specifies rather strictly, however, the just war criteria that must be satisfied in order for the international community to intervene militarily.
That said, the R2P concept has very large problems serving as a guide to action. It is endlessly vague about the responsibilities of the interveners once their intervention has begun. It notes the need for reasonable prospects of success but leaves to others the questions of implementation on which success may depend. To the extent that success almost invariably requires a presence of some duration and incurring significant expenditure, domestic political support is essential—a requirement that calls attention to the tradeoffs and opportunity costs involved in such interventions. On all these issues the R2P concept is very thin. It does not offer any guidance about how statesmen ought to balance their responsibility to protect others against their obligations to their own constituents. Nor does it suggest any means by which other international imperatives, such as the employment of sovereign prerogatives to counter threats to international peace and security, may be measured against the putative responsibility to protect the citizens of other countries.
he R2P concept has undergone something of a metamorphosis since it was advanced in a December 2001 report by the Canadian government-appointed International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). The ICISS report, entitled “The Responsibility to Protect”, is still the founding document of the movement, containing its fundamental philosophical assumptions and (thin) guidance for practical application. Most subsequent UN endorsements of the concept, while emphasizing or downplaying some aspects of it, are for the most part consistent with the basic thrust of the original ICISS report.
The ICISS retains the basic principles of international law enshrined in the UN Charter—the sovereign equality of states and non-interference in one another’s internal affairs as important for international order, stability and predictability. But it then reminds governments that, in signing the Charter, they have accepted additional obligations. There is no transfer of state sovereignty, the Commission insists, but it does posit a “necessary re-characterization . . . from sovereignty as control to sovereignty as responsibility in both internal functions and external duties.” Such responsible sovereignty includes, preeminently, the state’s obligation to protect its own citizenry from terrible but avoidable harm and suffering. The report makes clear that this obligation falls first and foremost on the legally sovereign state itself.
The ICISS move onto controversial terrain comes in its proposition that when a state is unable or unwilling to resolve, contain or redress a situation of avoidable suffering within its jurisdiction—and certainly when the state itself is the agent of such suffering—“then interventionist measures by other members of the broader community of states may be required.” These actions may be coercive measures against an uncooperative or perpetrator state, including military action in extreme cases. Indeed, the bulk of the Commission’s report is about such extreme cases: the threshold conditions that need to be satisfied before resorting to force, and the precautions that must be exercised to ensure that the intervention remains legitimate both in principle and in practice. As already noted, these preconditions and constraints are almost all derived from traditional just war concepts.
The ICISS report emphasizes that the acts to be prevented must be severe enough and directed at enough people to qualify as a just cause for deploying military forces across international borders to stop ongoing or impending harm. Genocide would of course qualify, but so would other acts of commission—or omission—causing “large-scale ethnic cleansing” or “large-scale loss of life.”
Strongly echoing just war theory, the report gives prominence to the last resort principle: “Military intervention can only be justified when every non-military option for prevention or peaceful resolution of the crisis has been explored, with reasonable grounds for believing lesser measures would not have succeed.” And, crucially, there must be reasonable prospects for success in halting or averting the suffering that justified the intervention. The consequences of the actions, says the report in a very elastic phrase, should be “not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction.”
Finally, the ICISS report maintains that the UN Security Council should authorize any such intervention if possible, but if the Security Council rejects the intervention or excessively delays the needed action, the Commission finds other options acceptable. These include authorization by the General Assembly under its “Uniting for Peace” procedure, or authorization by relevant regional organizations, subject to their seeking subsequent authorization from the Security Council. It does not absolutely rule out even essentially unilateral or small-coalition authorization and action in “conscience-shocking” cases when other governments are unwilling to share risks and costs.
To make sure readers of the 90-page disquisition do not miss or misinterpret the Commission’s responsibility-centered revision of traditional state sovereignty concepts, the new premises are given pride of place in the synopsis of “Core Principles” at the beginning of the report:
A: State sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself.
B: Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.
In 2005, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, possibly tired of being blamed for the UN failures to stanch the genocide in Rwanda when he was Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping, asked the heads of state convening at the World Summit to “embrace the ‘responsibility to protect’ as a basis for collective action against genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” This formulation appeared in the World Summit Outcome document. Notably absent from it, however, were the broad references in the 2001 ICISS report to other large-scale and serious violations of humanitarian law.
This World Summit’s list of absolutely prohibited acts replicates the list of prosecutable crimes in the Statute of the International Criminal Court. The trimming back came in response to complaints from Third World nationalists concerned that the R2P doctrine was or could be used as a cover for U.S. and European neo-imperialism. Employing slightly different language, others feared that the Bush Administration might seize upon the doctrine to legitimize internationally the President’s Freedom Agenda, interpreted as a license for hubristic Pax Americana power-plays.
uch of the debate over R2P among international lawyers and scholarly practitioners has been over how frontally and fundamentally—even in its trimmed-back form—the concept challenges the traditional state-sovereignty paradigm embedded in the UN Charter and, if it does amount to an alternative paradigm, whether that’s a good thing.
To legal traditionalists, the thrust of R2P is subversive of the basic Westphalian (1648) stipulation in Section 7, Article 2: “Nothing in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” The Peace of Westphalia accorded sacrosanct status to the borders established between the states and to the sovereign control by each of the monarchs over whatever happened within their respective jurisdictions. Although frequently violated, the Westphalian norms of respect for borders and non-interference continue to be invoked even by governments who transgress them, insisting that their actions are only in retaliation for, and to rectify, an enemy state’s transgressions. “Hypocrisy being the homage that vice pays to virtue”, as François de La Rochefoucauld famously put it, the norms are reaffirmed even in the breach—possibly the more because of the breaches—as the basis of international and domestic law and order. The system, of course, has never been fully maintained, although the reasons for violating it have shifted over time.
Early challenges were mostly at the domestic level as the power of monarchs gave way to the development of modern nation–states. Functions highly centralized in the monarchy had to be adapted to emerging social and economic realities. In England, the monarchy gradually was forced to share power with parliament. In France, the monarchical elements of the Westphalian system were swept away by the Revolution of 1789 and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Napoleon blatantly violated Westphalian interstate norms by using the new ideology of revolutionary self-determination to justify military intervention in the civil conflicts of other countries. It took three decades for an alliance of European continental monarchs and England to defeat Napoleon and restore the conservative Westphalian interstate order. Ironically, however, in championing the old order, the conservatives likewise violated its principles of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries. They did so both in the objectives they sought and in the conduct of the wars they waged.
Numerous other examples of the imperfect application of Westphalian principles can be adduced. Kaiser Wilhelm’s confrontation with Czar Nicolas II over Russia’s abetting Slavic revolts against the declining Ottoman and Hapsburg Empires; Tokyo’s exploitation of anticolonial, antiracist grievances in Asia in the 1930s and 1940s; and Hitler’s “Anschluss” of Germanic Austria and absorption of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia all exemplify that the system was often violated and manipulated to serve other purposes.
During the Cold War, both sides rhetorically embraced both Westphalian and counter-Westphalian norms when it suited their purposes, and their behavior showed it. The non-intervention principle had to contend against the growing strength of the human rights movement and the competition between the United States and the USSR for recognition as its champion—Washington supporting mainly political and civil rights, Moscow mainly rights to economic equality. The Soviets aided leftist “national liberation” movements in Africa and Latin America even as they supported very repressive communist regimes in East Germany and Eastern Europe, even to the point of using tanks to brutally suppress nationalist dissidents. U.S. Presidents, meanwhile, in the name of human rights, cheered on dissident movements in the Soviet sphere of influence and supported various self-determination movements against colonial holdover regimes in Africa (Washington’s early affection for Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt being a poignant if misguided case in point); at the same time, however, they also engineered various coups or insurrections against Third World regimes.
President George H.W. Bush, disciple of realist statesman Henry Kissinger, worried especially about the interstate instabilities that appeared to be loosed by the breakup of the Cold War coalitions. America and its allies fought the Gulf War, he averred, to ensure what he called the New World Order (actually the Westphalian old world order) of inviolable interstate boundaries and non-intervention commitments. He focused on limited goals, in part to maintain the integrity of the multinational coalition, and resisted the opportunity to invade Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein. However, at the end of the war, largely in response to pressures from Congress and Turkey, he did authorize a no-fly zone over Kurdish areas that Saddam was attacking. But consistent with his realist worldview, the following year the President held back from contributing U.S. military assets to the UN Protection Force in Bosnia to stanch the “ethnic cleansing” going on, this in accord with Secretary of State James Baker’s view that “we don’t have a dog in that fight.”
Near the end of his presidency, however, the elder Bush uncharacteristically deployed 28,000 troops to Somalia to prevent warlords and armed gangs from blocking UN deliveries of food and medical supplies for starving communities. The people of Somalia, especially the children, need our help, he explained. The American military units involved in the mission were “doing God’s work.” Still, the policy had limited goals and, since no effective state existed in Somalia, it was questionable whether the intervention, while humanitarian, was indeed a violation of Westphalian principles.
Bill Clinton’s view of the U.S. role in the world tended to change in the opposite direction during his presidency, but the change was erratic. Clinton’s goals shifted from giving priority to human rights even if it entailed some breach of sovereignty to building a global free market safe for American investments and trade. Having castigated his predecessor during the 1992 election campaign for not employing sanctions against China in response to Beijing’s violence in Tiananmen Square, once in the Oval Office Clinton de-linked U.S.-China trade from human rights issues. He similarly reversed himself with respect to Bush’s policy of preventing Haitian refugees escaping the Cédras military dictatorship from landing on U.S. shores, continuing to allow the Coast Guard to intercept the refugees and send them back to Haiti. Clinton partly salvaged his reputation for being on the side of human rights and democracy in Haiti by coercing Cédras to cede power.
Clinton abandoned his initial flirtation with the use of force against Serbian forces battling the Bosnian Muslims amid the Wars of Yugoslav Succession when the NATO allies refused to support the proposed policy of “lift (sanctions) and strike.” In other places, as the popular refrain goes, when the going got tough, the tough (the United States) got going (out of Somalia) or stayed out of harm’s way (in Rwanda).
Subsequently in Bosnia, of course, and later in Kosovo, Clinton did authorize the U.S. military to take the leading role in NATO’s aerial bombing of Milosevic’s military forces and facilities in response to the Serbian “ethnic cleansing” attacks on the Muslim civilian populations in these provinces. Even then, however, it is questionable if the revulsion at the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing campaign would have prompted military intervention were it not for the perception in Washington that at stake was NATO’s capacity to control the post-Cold War chaos on its southern flank.
arly in the presidency of George W. Bush, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. declaratory policy took a turn toward enlarging the R2P mandate to encompass a responsibility to protect people from tyrannical dictatorships, by regime-change military operations if necessary. Articulated as the principal rationale for Operation Iraqi Freedom after the anti-WMD objective and the alleged terrorist connections failed of proof, spreading democracy was elevated to a high-priority U.S. objective. Thus in his Second Inaugural Bush intoned:
The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. . . . So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture.
But like his predecessors who rhetorically elevated human rights and democratization to the apex of U.S. foreign policy (both Carter and Reagan, each in his own way), when Bush came to shove beyond Iraq, number 43 also subordinated his world transformative vision to the geopolitical exigencies of the moment. In situation after situation, even those involving mass atrocities—Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka—the President ruled out direct U.S. intervention if acting in accord with R2P principles might require putting substantial numbers of American soldiers in harm’s way.
Barack Obama seemed to indicate in his autobiographical writings that he is at heart an R2P believer, even a supporter of its transformative, democracy-promoting mode. But as President he has had to face the reality that the United States, like all countries, has a range of high-value interests that cannot be ignored and, while not necessarily “progressive”, are nevertheless entirely legitimate. Take the so-called Arab Spring, and demands by U.S. human rights groups that America “get on the right side of history.” The professedly democratic Egyptian uprising wrecked a government whose cooperation has been vital for assuring the free flow of oil crucial to the economic well-being of America, and for preventing another major Arab-Israeli war for more than thirty years. R2P principles do not tell us how to resolve the profound dilemmas of grand strategy; nor do they provide guidance on how diplomatic or military engagement may engage upheavals whose consequences are unknowable.
The inescapable reality of conflicting objectives was evident in President Obama’s initial reluctance to support Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow. Under Mubarak’s rule, Egypt was America’s most reliable Arab partner for moderating and occasionally managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and combating jihadi terrorists. But Obama was also determined to show that the United States was universally committed to democracy and human rights; so when the anti-Mubarak rebels gained control of the Egyptian streets, Obama finally told the dictator that he must step down. Worried, however, that under siege the Mubarak regime might try to violently repress the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, Obama instructed Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen to entreat the Egyptian military not to resort to force. Luckily, Mubarak conceded before the conflict escalated; had he decided to hang on to power, and had the military backed him up with major assaults on the unarmed rebels, it is virtually certain that no international military intervention would have been activated, or even threatened.
Nor was an R2P military response seriously considered to deal with the Bahraini assault on anti-regime demonstrations in Manama in March 2011. For one thing, however odious the crackdown—arresting doctors and nurses trying to help the wounded, for example—the number of deaths that resulted was too low to trigger an R2P intervention. The Sunni-Shi‘a sectarian character of the Bahraini troubles that grew increasingly bitter over time is very different from the people-versus-government situation in Tunisia or Egypt. This problem could not be resolved by a simple appeal to “democracy”, since in the Bahraini context that translates into simply changing the domination of one community to another. A sanctions regime was a non-starter, too, thanks to the presence of a U.S. naval base in Bahrain that is vital for the U.S. Navy’s maintenance of the free flow of oil through the Persian Gulf and would be essential should there be a military confrontation with Iran. Even the mild and ineffectual pressures brought by Washington caused enormous resentment from the other Gulf Cooperation states with whom Washington has spent decades building a system of alliances. Indeed, whether any externally sponsored resolution to the Bahraini turmoil can work is questionable, let alone a full-fledged R2P-motivated effort.
The situation in Libya was very different. Five days after Mubarak stepped down, it took only a few peaceful anti-regime protests in eastern Libya for Muammar Qaddafi to unleash a heavy military crackdown. His draconian response brought crowds into the streets demanding his ouster, some of them retaliating with small arms. The rapid expansion of the conflict, even into Tripoli and other Qaddafi strongholds, signaled an impending civil war as previously intimidated tribal militias joined the rebels.
As with Egypt, the Obama Administration was ambivalent during the early days of the crisis. Although Libya was not as strategically important to Washington as Egypt or Bahrain, Qaddafi had cooperated in covert actions against al-Qaeda and had relinquished longstanding efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, in return for which the United States provided some private assurances that it would not incline to interfere in Libyan domestic affairs. Furthermore, Libya’s fractious rebel groups inspired no confidence in their ability to mobilize a sufficiently coherent force to bring down the Qaddafi regime or, if they did succeed, to establish and sustain a legitimate and effective government. But other countries with economic and geostrategic stakes in the region—France, Britain, Saudi Arabia and friends in the Gulf Cooperation Council—prodded the United States to join them in a multilateral operation to prevent the bloodbath Qaddafi threatened.
Obama eventually authorized UN Ambassador Susan Rice to co-sponsor and help draft a UN Security Council Resolution asking member states “to take all necessary measures . . . to protect civilians and civilian populated areas” in Libya that were under threat of attack. This certainly had the feel of an R2P-inflected policy. Adopted on March 17, 2011, the resolution called for “a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.” But, consonant with White House concerns about being drawn into another military occupation of a Muslim country, Resolution 1973 specifically excluded “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”
President Obama announced that the U.S. military was providing “unique capabilities” as part of an international coalition, in which the British and French would take the leading role in implementing the no-fly zone. He made clear that there would be no U.S. boots on the ground and no effort at regime change. The no-fly zone was consistent with the R2P concept, but Obama did not explicitly invoke it despite voicing its “just cause” and “last resort” criteria. No matter, for we soon witnessed the R2P version of mission creep. As he explained in his major speech on the Libya intervention,
Qaddafi declared he would show “no mercy” to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past we have seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. . . . If we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world. It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen.
But it very quickly became evident that the policy required a hefty, multi-pronged military operation, far more robust than a no-fly zone, to prevent the siege of Benghazi. Qaddafi’s planes and helicopters, and the bases from which they came, had to be decimated; so did his forces on the ground, with their tanks and equipment. To protect civilians in Benghazi and elsewhere required defeating Qaddafi’s entire military machine, destroying its command centers, and, one way or another, removing the top commander himself from power. Barring intervention on the ground, the only way to do this was through air power combined with support for the rebels. So this was regime change via a full-scale civil war that could mean enormous civilian casualties—precisely the outcome that R2P interventions are supposed to prevent.
Fortunately, a gross breach of the just war criterion of proportional violence was averted with the rebels’ capture and execution of Qaddafi. Nonetheless, it is clear that while the U.S. motivation for the intervention was consistent with R2P principles, the means were not. The UN Security Council had authorized the use of force, albeit in a more limited way than actually transpired. The most glaring deficiency was the failure to adequately assess the prospects for success of the no-fly zone strategy for reducing the violence. That result was achieved only with the overthrow of Qaddafi, to the considerable discomfort of the Russian and Chinese governments, which had not authorized regime change. That has made their cooperation in future R2P operations far less likely.
The rapidity with which the Qaddafi government collapsed could not have been predicted and was not part of the Administration’s R2P-generated rationale for the intervention. The Administration may have hoped Qaddafi would fall, but that it would result more from British and French bombing and military support from Qatar than from the Administration’s own policy. That’s not what happened. Stepped-up U.S. support toward the end of the military campaign, to compensate for French and British weakness, allowed the effort to continue long enough so that Qaddafi could be captured and killed. Aside from the initial motivation, nothing about the Libya campaign accorded with the R2P paradigm, yet without that motivating force it probably would not have happened—for better or for worse, and that remains a matter of dispute.
If Libya illustrates the fuzziness and unanticipated consequences of the R2P impulse, the Syria conflagration reveals even more starkly its limitations as a policy template. The United States, Israel, Egypt, Russia, Turkey, Jordan and Hizballah, among others, all have strategic balance-of-power interests in whether or not the Assad regime survives. Meanwhile, the massacres of civilians Assad has countenanced or ordered have clearly crossed the threshold for activating a military intervention to stop it. Yet proponents of intervention are having difficulty with another R2P criterion: the ill-defined requirement that the results of intervention are “not likely to be worse” than the consequences of non-action. Opponents of intervention have been invoking another of the R2P criteria: the probability of success. Appropriately, they point to the deepening Sunni-Alawi divide, the growing evidence of Kurdish involvement, and the emergence of Salafist fighters who in other conflicts have espoused the massacre of Shi‘a. Hardly anyone is willing to bet either way on the outcome. Uncertainties dominate: Will Assad’s overthrow lead to a reduction in deaths or to a deepening of communal violence? If the latter, whom would an intervention force have to disarm or kill in the name of protection? How large an intervention would be required to produce high odds of success, and how long would it have to last to obviate a relapse into violence? There are strong reasons for and against intervention in Syria. The R2P concept helps call attention to them, but such is its vagueness that it cannot resolve the intervention dilemmas.
Mali furnishes yet another example. R2P juices have been activated by the failure of the state in Mali to prevent the country from becoming a cauldron of vicious inter-ethnic and sectarian carnage. The French-led intervention, whether wise or not, has been conducted in support of the (military coup-generated) Malian government. Thus far, therefore, the action supports Westphalian principles—keeping the Malian state from complete collapse—far more than it compromises them. Mali shows that sometimes both good intentions and national interests align with R2P principles and sometimes they do not.
he increasing awareness of and revulsion against ethnic cleansing and other mass atrocities in recent decades has produced widespread support for the proposition that when the states in which the outrages are occurring are unable or unwilling to counter them, international intervention is legitimate. The R2P démarche has seized the day in its core concept of an international responsibility in such situations, to protect the victims, even with force if necessary. It is this translation of the right to intervene into an apparent duty to intervene that has generated the most controversy. There is also considerable controversy over the range of situations—previously assumed to be within the sovereign jurisdiction of countries—deemed to be open to outside interference under the R2P premise that state sovereignty is conditioned upon a government’s fulfilling its obligation to protect the citizens.
The R2P concept, like the Westphalian tradition (against which it is frequently posed), raises these fundamental issues, but it cannot resolve them, even on its own terms. Its interjection into the discourse over U.S. foreign policy can be salutary insofar as it compels the United States and other powers to go beyond simple rhetorical expressions of outrage at actions that “shock the conscience of humankind”, and to consider specifically what can and should be done to prevent or contain them before they reach horrendous proportions. Under the R2P concept, these deliberations need to go beyond the determination of whether the U.S. interests and values at stake provide a “just cause” for intervention. The next step (prescribed in the ICISS report) is to apply the remaining just war criteria of last resort, proper authorizing authority, less harm from the intervention (including civilian casualties) than harm without it, and, crucially, probability of success.
This set of criteria for military intervention is considerably more complicated than a bumper sticker exhortation to responsibility. If intervention has to produce a better result than not intervening, then a lengthy stay may be necessary to prevent the resumption of killing. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show, even when the American homeland has been attacked, nation-building abroad may require longer direct involvement than the American public is willing to support. This puts messy domestic political considerations squarely and legitimately into the R2P debate. Politics, not simply being for or against a set of principles, must be considered if the principles are to have a reasonable chance of being served. Success also requires considerable attention to how operations will be implemented. These necessary considerations augur against the United States intervening militarily in Syria with sufficient force to stanch the bloodletting and carnage. This hurts all people of conscience. But the Obama Administration should be credited with acting responsibly in insisting that there must be other than humanitarian reasons to justify taking on R2P burdens in new cases.
This is not to argue against having the R2P play a prominent role in U.S. foreign policy. It probably should, and in any event it likely will. Rather it is to argue for prudence in its application, and to recognize that it falls considerably short of providing a sufficient doctrine for determining when and how to intervene in the domestic affairs of other countries. Acts that shock the conscience of humankind are, we believe, America’s business. So are acts that breach established international borders and weaken the Westphalian norm of state sovereignty, or violate important arms control agreements, or dangerously alter the global climate, or disrupt international commerce, or interfere with the free use of the international “commons” of the seas, airspace or outer space. The policies required to deal with such acts will at times be in tension with each other. No one doctrine can be expected to provide a perfect or even adequate guide to the necessary trade-offs. To pose the issue as a paradigmatic choice between Westphalia and an R2P world without borders is to vastly oversimplify the dilemmas U.S. policymakers face. We do not live in an either/or world, but rather one of difficult decisions about how to pursue goals that are frequently in conflict.