Thursday, May 29, 2008

Responsibility To Protect is not dead... yet

A useful conversation with Edward Luck, the Secretary-General's special advisor on Responsibility To Protect, served to highlight that the entire debate over what R2P is has been warped by the western media and, particularly, the French. (My opinion here, not Ed's.) Here's why: humanitarian military intervention -- the sort that many advocated in the Myanmar case, either by outright governmental overthrow or at least by an unlicensed airlift campaign a la Berlin -- is NOT the same thing as R2P. The original text for R2P that was agreed by the members states that:

1. States must protect their own citizens.
2. If a state can't protect its own citizens, the international community must help it do so.
3. If it continues to refuse to do so, the international community must work together to help its citizens anyway.

The French, and a large number of editorial pages, skipped straight from Step 1 to Step 3. (Never mind that the R2P text doesn't include natural disasters anyway, and that no developing state would have supported it if it did.) The fact is, the area where we will see R2P used most effectively is on the diplomatic front. The first use of Responsibility To Protect, as Luck pointed out, was in Kenya, where Kofi Annan negotiated a political compromise to help the state keep its own citizens safe when it could not have done so without international help. We must not view R2P through an Iraq prism, an "invade or do nothing" prism. If that's what it's about, R2P will never get off the ground. But that's not, when you get down to it, what it's about.

Which means it's time for me to explain what I meant by "Myanmar and the death of Responsibility To Protect." Whatever the Western media and Bernard Kouchner said, R2P was never put to the test in Myanmar. Because the situation was a natural disaster, it didn't even apply. R2P has been severely damaged, however, not by the fact that there was no humanitarian invasion of Myanmar, but rather by the fact that calls to do so in the name of R2P severely warped and damaged what R2P actually means. China and the developing countries are now very suspicious of the term, now that they've seen what Kouchner and company wish to do with it. It's going to take a long time to heal that loss of trust.

p.s. Professor Luck (he's also at Columbia University) also agreed with me, and with most of the Secretariat it appears, that military or coercive action against the regime would have exacerbated the problems, rather than fixing them. That was nice to hear also.

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