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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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The Trials and Tests Faced by R2P
Rachel Gerber
The Stanley Foundation
August 2011
 
(…) In a snapshot of the current debate surrounding the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and global efforts to prevent large-scale violence against civilians, Libya and Syria would dominate a frame of amorphous figures with blurred edges, each shifting haphazardly in unknown directions. (…)
 
As NATO’s mandate in Libya enters its sixth month and the Syrian government clings to power with increasing violence, some claim R2P has failed to deliver its promise to ensure protection for civilians whose governments have turned against them. While it would be foolish to claim that unfolding events and global action (or inaction) will have no influence on the long-term development of the Responsibility to Protect principle, pointing to today’s snapshot as evidence of failure ignores its broader context. When taken at a wider angle, the current picture reveals many positive trends. (…)
 
UN member nations questioned whether and what kind of action the Security Council should take to counter such threats, but never the basic right of the council to do so. “It’s not your business” is no longer a viable argument to give the international community when it comes to internal violence targeted at civilians—a recent and striking shift in the history of global politics for which R2P deserves its share of credit.
 
Far from a checklist that mandates uniform action, R2P is a dynamic policy framework that is meant to twist, bend, and adapt as best it can to the complex realities of the world it hopes to improve. (…)
 
Moving forward, novel approaches and compelling moral sentiments must eventually meet the messy realities of the world.
 
Many have classified the campaign in Libya as a mistake because the conflict has proven more protracted and complex than initially anticipated. Struggle is equated with error. Though, as decades of peacekeeping experience have taught us, civilian protection is rarely a simple endeavor.
 
We learn by doing and, until very recently, inaction has been the global response to mass violence. As R2P is applied, mistakes will be made, as must adjustments. Translating a sense of obligation into effective policies requires experimentation and adaptive learning.
 
Global leaders must take care that this inevitable process of trial and error does not automatically become trial by fire for the broader commitments made in adopting the Responsibility to Protect.
 
A recent debate on the Responsibility to Protect within the UN General Assembly suggests that governments understand this problem, and remain committed to preserving R2P, even when its application in cases like Libya raises more questions than it provides answers.
 
As global events unfold, R2P is facing the tests and trials that both its supporters and skeptics always knew it would. But the real world is where we all must come of age. In the end, we are stronger for it. (…)
 
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