DARFUR AT A CROSSROADS: GLOBAL PUBLIC OPINION AND THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT
The Brookings Institute
5 April 2007
On April 5, the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement hosted a discussion to examine the relationship between global public opinion and policy options for Darfur . The following is an excerpt from a transcript of that discussion, moderated by Elizabeth Ferris, Co-Director, Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement; Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution. The panelists included: Steven Kull, Director, Program on International Policy Attitudes; Editor, World Public Opinion.org and Susan E. Rice Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution Gayle Smith Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
MR. KULL: () So, putting all this together, you can see that of all these 14 countries plus the Palestinian territories, in every case you have some endorsement of the idea of the U.N. Security Council taking such action, either saying that it has the right or that it has the responsibility
() There's clearly an indication that this is growing, and it's a question now of the kind of how are governments going to, in a sense, follow through on the principles that they, in a sense, have endorsed, such as in the responsibility to protect summit, the genocide convention, and so on. Often there's this assumption that oh, publics will only support using military force or taking action when it's related to their national interest, narrowly defined, and that is not really sustained by polling data.
MS. RICE: () It's interesting that Gayle spent a good bit of time examining the gap between U.S. public disposition and opinion and U.S. policy as it relates to the responsibility to protect, as well as specifically to Darfur, and noted that something that I want to underscore which I found particularly fascinating, and that is 65 percent of the American public, as validated in multiple surveys, is willing to contemplate the involvement of U.S. military forces in a peacekeeping and in fact it would be a peace enforcement operation in Darfur.
() Now, it's interesting as I said, these were dialogues, but what we found is that what we heard from government former government representatives, from academics about their perceptions of the responsibility to protect and in particular whether it would be appropriate for the international community to engage or intervene in a place like Darfur tended to closely track the approach and the policies of the governments from which they came. As he noted but I think is worth reiterating, it's remarkable that, broadly speaking across the globe, the international norm of the responsibility to protect is very well ingrained considering how brand new it is really, not even two years old as a matter of international policy or law. But let me just comment specifically on a few cases.
We had a dialogue with Chinese counterparts which was quite interesting, and I'm going to have to oversimplify and try to synthesize the findings, but in the case of China , there was an interesting acceptance in principle of the notion of the responsibility to protect. But when it came down to any specific case, most notably Darfur but, frankly, any case that agreement in principle eroded, evaporated into no, we can't possibly agree to that. And so to find the Chinese public having a greater willingness to embrace a responsibility, even in the right, and that number being far larger than any of us might have anticipated, is remarkable indeed. And while given the nature of the system of governance in China , it may not soon translate into changed policy. I think it bodes well for the future, and it certainly if not for Darfur in the short term and it certainly indicates that the Chinese public is, even if as relatively uninformed as the American public about Darfur , really plugging in, in an interesting way, to the broader issues and debates that animate the international community.
So, overall, in the U.S. and around the world there is far greater acceptance of the responsibility to protect the role of the Security Council, and even specifically for action in Darfur where people are aware of Darfur, than the policies of either the U.S. government or the other Security Council governments would suggest.
MS. SMITH: () I think your question gets to another point that's important here, and I think the survey gives us reason to be hopeful, which is that there are any number of places in the world today where one could make the case that in order to act on the responsibility to protect, we ought to be up and moving. Darfur is one of them. It's the most dramatic, and I think in many ways the most urgent.
It's, particularly in Europe, a relatively underdeveloped public grassroots movement, a reluctance or refusal on the part of media in some countries to give it the air time that it deserves, although certainly in places like Britain there's much more good coverage of what's gone on in Darfur and indeed in other parts of the world where atrocities are taking place.
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