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The End of the Responsibility to Protect?
Chris Keeler
Foreign Policy Journal
12 October 2011
Critics of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and interventionism in general have long accused international humanitarian action of being a form of imperialism cloaked in humanitarianism. The BRIC/IBSA countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa; hereafter referred to as BRICS) are beginning to unite around this skepticism, countering western enthusiasm. The first four BRICS countries refused to vote in favor of the decision to intervene in Libya due to a desire to pursue policies of non-intervention. When NATO used the UN mandate in Libya to justify regime change, BRICS countries only hardened their support for non-intervention, with South Africa joining the quasi-alliance in the UN. After the recent resolution condemning Syria failed to pass through the UN Security Council, it seemed clear that for many politicians in BRICS countries, humanitarian intervention has become no more than an inappropriate violation of national sovereignty. Consequently, though the intervention in Libya can be considered a success, it has created a general cloud of suspicion surrounding western humanitarian efforts that will continue to be an obstacle to the implementation of the R2P doctrine elsewhere. (…)
R2P in Syria
Unlike in the Libyan case, the proposed resolution concerning Syria did not authorize any use of international force or sanctions, but rather was a strict condemnation of the violence. The resolution did, though, hint at the possibility of later sanctions should the violence continue and never explicitly ruled out foreign military action. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said that the resolution would not “ease the situation” and the Russian envoy to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, called the resolution a way to legitimize “already adopted unilateral sanctions and to forcefully overthrow regimes.”
The countries that abstained—Brazil, India, South Africa and Lebanon—all stressed the importance of finding a peaceful settlement through dialogue and reiterated the importance of Syrian territorial integrity. The link between NATO actions in Libya and the unwillingness of western allies to explicitly rule out the use of force in Syria was evident in the reactions of those opposed to the resolution.
South Africa said that previous council texts “had been abused and implementation had gone far beyond mandates” and that the council “should not be part of any hidden agenda for regime change.” The Russian foreign ministry was even more forthright, releasing a statement directly comparing the mission creep in Libya to the Syrian resolution:
(…) The situation in Syria cannot be considered in the Security Council in isolation from the Libyan experience. The international community is wary of the statements being heard that the implementation of the Security Council resolutions in Libya as interpreted by NATO is a model for its future actions to exercise the “responsibility to protect.” It’s not hard to imagine that tomorrow “united defenders” may begin to apply this “exemplary model” in Syria as well. (…)
The Future of R2P
(...) Interestingly, this stand against the interventionism of the R2P in Syria was made possible by the implementation of the same doctrine in Libya. It is impossible to remove the current impasse from the context of the Arab Spring, including the intervention in Libya. Thus, we cannot predict how the world would have responded to the Syrian uprising without NATO’s abuse of Resolution 1973. (…)
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