Recalibrating a New International Order


As crises in hotspots of world unfold, a new debate is drawing attention whether sovereignty and responsibility for protecting the population sit at odds with each other. Not amazingly such discussion is taking the center stage against the background of two year-long conflict in Syria, where chemical disarmament plan is being implemented for curbing the violence.

A few months earlier before Russia-led proposal for eliminating the chemical weapons in Syria was floated and later agreed internationally, news was abuzz that a Libyan model of humanitarian intervention would be launched in Syria to restore peace. In view of the Western perception that Libya provided a successful experimentation of the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), some developed countries, in particular the U.S., seemed to favor military intervention in the name of saving the lives of Syrian citizens.

Despite the chaos seen in post-intervention Libya where ethnic rivalry is ruining the peaceful efforts and pushing the country towards greater destabilization threatening the region, some American academician like Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor of international affairs at Princeton University, who once served in the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Bureau, has expressed optimism that R2P is a workable doctrine. She has been quoted by Ruan Zongze, a Chinese scholar associated with China Institute of International Studies in his article “Responsible Protection: Building a Safer World”.

It may be in order to recall the history that led R2P to dominate the UN General Assembly deliberations in 2005 when the UN convened a summit in commemoration of its sixtieth anniversary. Then it adopted an Outcome Document after a lengthy debate outlining the prerequisites that should be fulfilled before a military action is approved under the signboard of the protection doctrine.

As per the above UN document four essential elements have been identified for agreeing to apply the R2P principle in settling conflicts, where mass atrocity has been committed by the national governments. They are as follows:

  1. The basic object of R2P must be made clear. The objective of such principle should be the protection of innocent people, who have been victimized by their own governments. The object of such endeavor must not be the protection of the political parties.
  2. The invocation of R2P doctrine should be backed by UN Security Council’s authorization. Hence, legitimacy becomes one of the criteria for applying the notion.
  3. Means of protection must be strictly limited. There should be proportionate use of force to save the innocent lives.
  4. Protectors should be responsible for post-intervention and post-protection reconstruction.

The debate on the rationality of applying R2P was interesting if the 64th session of the UN General Assembly is any guide. During the UNGA meeting on the subject the President of General Assembly in 2009, Miguel d Escosta Brockman, then Nicaraguan foreign minister, said that the idea of R2P was cover to legitimize armed intervention by rich Western countries in the affairs of the poor countries. The Chinese academic Ruan Zonze has quoted the President of the 64th session of the UN General Assembly. Brockman who said, “a more accurate name of the concept (R2P) would be “Right to Intervene” (R2I).

The mass killings that took place in Rwanda, Bosnia in the 1990s which are often attributed to the failures of UN Peacekeeping and the Kosovo intervention supposedly to save the people of the province, whose lives were threatened due to war in Former Yogoslavia played roles in inducing the international community to formulate a principle applying which innocent population could be saved from mass atrocities committed by the national governments.

In that vein Canada set up an International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 1999 which for the first time articulated the idea of responsibility to protect in its report to the UN in 2001. The report recommended that the world community would intervene even by using coercive measures in order to protect the civilians from atrocities. The commission believed that such military intervention launched on behalf of the international community for protecting the innocent lives would be justified when the national governments fail to provide security to their own citizens .

It was under such understanding among the members of the UN Security Council, which in February 2011, passed a resolution (1973) supporting forceful action like the imposition of no-fly-zones in Libya, among others, to prevent then Libyan leader Qaddafi from killing the innocent civilians. Despite good intentions behind the above resolution of the UN Security Council, the three permanent members acerbically known as FUKUS (France, UK, and the U.S.) overstretched the mandate given by the council in engineering the regime change. The UN-sanctioned war in 2011 in Libya was not meant for overthrowing the government. The mandate of resolution 1973 was confined to the protection of the innocent Libyans.

Since then Libya is in turmoil and many developing countries which viewed R2P as a Western plot to intervene in the domestic affairs of poor countries have grown more skeptical of the controversial concept. India, among many others, has had been in the forefront of criticizing the principle of R2P. The Chinese scholar Ruan Zongze quotes Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s permanent representative to UN, who participating in the UN Informal Discussion on “Responsibility While Protecting “ (February, 2012)  said, “Libya has given R2P a bad name”.

In the aftermath of growing criticism of R2P new proposals have been floated to enrich the same. Among these are the Brazilian proposal known as “Responsibility While Protecting” and “Responsible Protection”. The second one is the idea innovated by Ruan Zongze, whose article “Responsible Protection: Building a Safer World” has provided a clearer picture of protection issue.

Australia’s foreign minister and chancellor of Australian National University, Gareth Evans in his recent Project-Syndicate article “Protecting Civilians Responsibly” has raised the hope that a lively debate is taking place among the members of the Chinese think tank about improving the concept  of R2P. Taking a cue from Ruan Zongze’s 2012 article on the concept Gareth Evans believes that there is enough room of improvement for making the protection principle more applicable.

The world community needs to recalibrate a just international order by making protectors more responsible for stabilizing post-intervention societies by initiating development and reconstruction efforts to mitigate the economic hardship of the people to secure whose lives military intervention has been approved.

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