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TAI on R2P


In the aftermath of the 2011 Libya intervention, the White House’s recent decision to step up aid to the Syrian uprising, and the appointment by President Obama of two so-called “humanitarian hawks” to high-level positions, the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) is on the lips of lawmakers, NGOs, and commentators more than usual these days.

The latest issue of the American Interest features two essays that explain the origins, limitations, and pitfalls of R2P. Any readers interested in better understanding  some of the concepts that have shaped US foreign policy in recent years—and where they could take us in the near future—should read these essays by Rajan Menon and Seyom Brown and Ronald E. Neumann .

From Menon:

This worldview emanates from a distinctive variant of liberalism that the Norwegian political scientist George Sørensen calls the “liberalism of imposition” (as opposed to “the liberalism of restraint”). Its adherents reject the realist account of world politics, seeing it as—among other things—statist, preoccupied with competition and conflict, dismissive of the multiple manifestations of international cooperation, and uncommitted to human rights and justice because of its singular focus on state security interests. Revolutionary liberals, as I call them, are by contrast in the business of studying and fostering cooperation—among states, with international organizations and non-governmental entities playing a central role. Part of their agenda of collective action for the common good involves advancing human rights and justice. This can be done in many ways; humanitarian intervention is just one of them. Revolutionary liberals see the United States as having a special, even unique, role in enabling this and other forms of collective action because of the values America embodies and the still unrivalled power it wields.

And from Brown and Neumann:

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.

Read both pieces here.

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  • Kavanna

    Really? After all that nonsense in Iraq?

    What a joke this administration is.

    • bpuharic

      What an overreaction, typical of the right. Obama sends a few 9mm semiautos to Syria and it’s immediately seen as a failure, compared to our successful intervention in Iraq.

      The right has a patent on blinders that can’t be removed.

      • Tom

        If you think this is a few pistols…well, I have some prime farmland in the Atchafalaya for you.

  • lukelea

    As a general rule I’d like to see a stepped up reliance on coordinated trade sanctions, embargoes, access to the international monetary system, ability to fly, or even use a credit card to pressure the ruling elites in un-liberal states to abide by minimum standards of civilized conduct. A new Democratic League or League of Democratic Nations in other words, which is not easy to get into the way the UN is.

  • Pete

    Funny, but the ‘responsibility to protect’ is voiced by those who themselves do not bear or risk of the burden of protecting.

    With their wagging tongues, they are trying to foster this duty onto the shoulders of others.

  • Anthony

    Quite informative and contrasting views on R2P. Moreover, “sovereignty as control to sovereignty as responsibility in both internal functions and external duties” – even under just war theory – is extremely fluid phrase (the imperfect is our paradise – Wallace Stevens).

  • bpuharic

    I’m certainly old enough to remember when Nixon and Kissinger were hammering the USSR on human rights. Even then I was old enough (in my mid 20’s) to cynically know they didn’t give a damn about human rights, but used the concept as a tool to break the legitimacy of Soviet ideology.

    The current positioning of this administration bears a strong similarity to that. We’re not going to affect the outcome of the struggle. We can’t. It has its own dynamic, fueled by religious hatred intrinsic to Islam. But we can maintain a voice with some players in the drama.This is a long game driven by Syrians themselves where we’re just an observer.

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