Pavers of Roads with Good Intentions: R2P Debate Rising Part II.

Here Safranski and I agree on the proper role of theorists, but it wasn’t theorists that adopted R2P as a norm; it was the UN Security Council, as set forth in UNSCR 1674 in 2005, which was later utilized in the Libya intervention authorization (UNSCR 1973). Currently there are no higher authorities on interventions, peacemaking, and peacekeeping than the Security Council, which is surely not composed of academic theorists, but rather high-level diplomats that make moves, and yes, establish law, only on the explicit authorization of their countries. That the Security Council adopted the principles of R2P speaks more to the usefulness and applicability of the concepts than to any academic theorizing thereof.

First, while we should acknowledge that the UNSC resolutions that R2P advocates crow about are not nothing, their importance should not be exaggerated either. They are a precedent, but a very limited one that does not abrogate everything that has come before.

Since the inception of the UN the Security Council has passed over 2200 resolutions, which would put those devoted to R2P at a whopping .0009 %.  Moreover, of the UNSC resolutions passed, many merely take note of an event, express concern or urge restraint; other, more forcefully worded resolutions, dealing with conflict were dead letters from the moment of adoption, being ignored by warring parties exercising their sovereign rights of self-defense. The number of UNSC resolutions that led to effective action of any kind, much less decisive humanitarian military intervention envisioned by more muscular interpretations of R2P, have been few with a mixed track record of success.  Resolutions 1674 and 1973 by the Security Council exist within the much larger context of international law precedents going back centuries, most of which directly contradict the operative assumptions of “New Sovereignty”.

Furthermore, much of the text of Resolution 1674 itself is devoted to caveats reiterating traditional sovereign prerogatives and that protection for civilians occur under established conventions for the law of armed conflict before gingerly endorsing R2P provisions from the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document  of the World Health Organization. The legality of these qualifications and reservations are taken seriously by the member states of the Security Council because without them, 1674 would have never passed, nor 1973 after it ( likely to be the last of its kind for a long while in light of Russian and Chinese vetoes on Syria resolutions, which after Libya are certain to continue).  At best, in international law R2P has managed to secure only a toehold and its definition and application lack agreement (and even acceptance) among the world’s great powers.

R2P is not a secure legal scaffold on which to construct a foreign policy or decide on matters of peace and war.

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6 comments on this post.
  1. Nathaniel T. Lauterbach:

    Hi Mark-
    Good response.  The usage of UNSCR 1674 reminds me of the SeaLand situation–that micronation and self-styled “principality” off the coast of England.  The “ruler” attempted to garner de facto recognition of his principality by attempting to catch the UK Goverment referring to his principality as such.  All very dubious, of course.
    I wonder if the pushers of R2P would be so adament if the Security Council repudiated R2P doctrine.  I think not.
    I especially like the line of argument stating that R2P is inherently antidemocratic and technocratic.  It certainly it.
    Foreign entanglements!?  Ha!

  2. larrydunbar:

    “R2P is not a secure legal scaffold…”

    On the other hand, would it not have been the same scaffold that Saddam would have faced if R2P had been in effect during the Bush administration? 

  3. Grurray:

    Not quite: 
    The legal avenue taken was based on Iraq specifically being a threat to US security and American citizens.
    This qualified it as a preemptive action, which has a bit firmer footing on self defense grounds.
    On the other hand, justifications for previous military actions in Iraq were hung on that “wobbly” scaffold,
    with the chief offense being violations of international law:


  4. david ronfeldt:

    Much as I’m distressed by R2P presumptions about protecting the rights of citizens threatened by evil-doing sovereigns abroad, I’m also distressed by a correlate presumption that I’ve not seen recognized as such:  It’s the claim by such sovereigns — most notably in Syria — that they have the sovereign authority/right to disavow masses of their own citizens and reclassify them as terrorists, making them outside the law.  These two extremely contrary presumptions are like mirror-images: both claim rights (responsibilities?) that exceed traditional concepts of sovereignty both extend from notions about the importance of networks that reach across borders; each appears to be a reaction to efforts to validate the other; and in some ways, they both reflect obverse kinds of tribalism.  Or so I’m wondering.

  5. zen:

    Hi Nate,
    The R2P crowd employs a nice soft shoe with the media, which is not terribly interested in the details or evidence, just dramatic statements and pictures.
    Sealand wasn’t the only gambit of this type; there was a story about the minerva reef where some wealthy US figures tried to build up physically and use as an independent mini-state and tax haven. Allegedly the State Department asked the nation of Tonga to annex the reef to stop the enterprise

    Hi Larry,
    No, I don’t think it would. R2P has a flip side of encroachment on US sovereignty that I do not think neocons like Bolton, Feith, Wolfowitz, Perle would have wanted to accept. neither would conservative hardliners like Cheney and Rumsfeld ( nor would I , for that matter),  There’s sufficient authority under the Laws of War and the Nuremburg precedent to have hanged Saddam 
    Hi David,
    you are correct David that these sovereigns have no right, either under numerous formal conventions or underlying natural law theory to commit these crimes. If the political will is present, neighboring states ( Turkey, Israel, Iraq, Jordan – Iran has intervened) with influxes of refugees or which face a security threat from the chaos in Syria have a right to act. So might the UNSC under the provision of a threat to peace and security. We don’t need drastic changes in international law to fix the problem, we need states that see an interest in doing so and right now no one does

  6. larrydunbar:

    ” R2P has a flip side of encroachment on US sovereignty that I do not think neocons like Bolton, Feith, Wolfowitz, Perle would have wanted to accept. neither would conservative hardliners like Cheney and Rumsfeld”

    Ha! True enough, but then I never thought you were worried about being hanged 🙂