Second Sir Zelman Cowen Oration
Australian Institute of International Affairs, Melbourne
22 August 2007
Sir Zelman Cowen is an inspirational figure for a great many Australians, and I feel very privileged to have known him throughout most of the latter part of his career () and I am deeply honoured to have been invited to give this Second Oration in the series so appropriately initiated by the AIIA to recognize that contribution.
()It is on the virtue of reasoning, of diplomatic persuasion hopefully in more propitious circumstances that I want to focus in part in this talk on deadly conflict and how to end it.
()What the US and the UK needs, like every other country including our own, and what the polling evidence suggests all our publics will support, is a foreign policy based on a principled and judicious mixture of both idealism and realism.
One crucial element in that mix is a willingness to accept and embrace - without ifs, buts and maybes - the principle of 'the responsibility to protect'. The concept - which had its birth in the Canadian-sponsored Commission that I co-chaired in 2001, is a simple one. It is that while the primary responsibility to protect its own people from genocide and other such man-made catastrophes is that of the state itself, when a state fails to meet that responsibility, either through incapacity or ill-will, then the responsibility to protect shifts to the international community to be exercised by measures all the way up to, if absolutely necessary, military force.
Given the implications of this for traditional notions of state sovereignty, it was a huge breakthrough, within a remarkably short time as the history of ideas goes, for the 150 heads of state and government at the World Summit last year, followed by the Security Council itself, to adopt, in effect as a new international norm, this new 'R2P' principle (as 'responsibility to protect' has now come to be abbreviated in this age of acronymphomania). At least a toehold has now been cut, but as the recent history of Darfur makes all too clear, as does the looming new catastrophe in Iraq if the coalition gets it withdrawal as badly wrong as it did its arrival, there remains a long way to go in ensuring that in practice this principle actually means something.
We can, if we need to, always justify R2P on hard-headed, practical, realist, national interest grounds: states that cant or wont stop internal atrocity crimes are the kind of rogue states, or failed or failing states, that cant or wont stop terrorism, weapons proliferation, drug and people trafficking, the spread of health pandemics and other global risks.
But at the end of the day the case for R2P rests on our common humanity the impossibility of ignoring the cries of pain and distress of our fellow human beings. For any of us in the international community from individuals to NGOs to national governments to international organizations to yet again ignore that distress and agony, to once again make 'never again' a cry that rings totally emptily, is to diminish that common humanity to the point of despair.
()What we perhaps still need to learn is that merely lamenting the absence of political will as so many commentaries do, stopping the analysis right there doesn't help very much: what we have to is work out how to mobilise it, recognizing and squarely dealing with all the institutional dynamics and personalities and interests involved. And that requires both good institutional structures, of the kind just discussed, and good arguments financial arguments (that prevention is always cheaper than cure), national interest arguments, political interest arguments (of the kind, e.g., that enabled the Christian right to mobilize the Bush administration on Darfur), and moral arguments (because however base and self-interested their actual motives are governments always like to be seen as acting from higher ones).
But even the best arguments are not much use without receptive ears, and the bottom line when it comes to ending deadly conflict or anything else keeps coming back to leadership.
()The kind of leadership I'm talking about doesn't always have to be delivered in a spectacular way to be effective, and it doesnt always have to be delivered by the biggest figures or the greatest powers. I'm thinking of the kind of leadership that was shown by Canada, for example, and its Prime Minister Paul Martin, who worked away diligently behind the scenes for months in the run-up to the 2005 World Summit to ensure that the 'responsibility to protect' norm would be embraced: an example which, if followed by a few more leaders in a few more capitals, would have saved a good deal more of the outcome we hoped for from that summit, which turned out a huge missed opportunity for the international community. ()
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