- Correspondence:Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect
To the Editors (Gareth Evans and Ramesh Thakur write):
As cochair (Evans) and member (Thakur) of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), and principal authors of its 2001 report The Responsibility to Protect (R2P),1 we read Robert Pape's article with great interest—but also with growing surprise and ultimately considerable disappointment.2 Intervention can be studied as an analytical concept or as a political project, and Pape's article clearly falls into the latter category. His purpose is to advance his so-called pragmatic standard of humanitarian intervention against the standard of the genocide convention (which, in his view, sets the bar much too high) and R2P (which he thinks is loose and permissive, setting the bar much too low). For an article proposing to advance humanitarian intervention as a political project, however, it is remarkably disconnected from political reality.3
Pape completely overlooks the emergence of R2P over the last decade as the normative instrument of choice for converting shocked international conscience about mass atrocity crimes into decisive collective action. His forty-page article devotes just two pages to R2P, focusing entirely on its original artiulation in the ICISS report and totally ignoring its subsequent intellectual and political evolution. "[S]ome policy advocates and scholars," he states, "have argued for the adoption of the 'responsibility to protect' standard" (pp. 50-51). Pardon? R2P was actually adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, sitting as the 2005 World Summit, the largest gathering of the world's heads of state and government ever convened,4 and subsequently in multiple [End Page 199] resolutions of the Security Council.5 Despite this completely authoritative statement of the principle (or "standard," in Pape's preferred terminology), he concludes, astonishingly, that "the international community is unlikely to embrace the R2P movement" (p. 52). The 2005World Summit Outcome Document and its subsequent translation into shared understandings in intergovernmental circles have simply been airbrushed from history in Pape's account.
We do not pretend that there is now anything close to unanimous consensus in the international community as to how R2P should be applied in every case where mass atrocity crimes are threatened or occurring, especially at what might be called the "sharp end" of the R2P response spectrum, where a situation is, prima facie, so grave as to compel consideration of not just lesser measures (e.g., diplomatic persuasion and pressure, targeted sanctions, or the threat of International Criminal Court prosecution), but the extreme option of coercive external military force. There was such consensus when the Security Council, specifically invoking R2P, authorized military action in Libya in March 2011,6 but it fell apart later in the year as the "BRICS" countries charged that the NATO-led forces had exceeded their civilian protection mandate.7 This in turn has contributed significantly to the paralysis of the Security Council in the face of the even more grievous situation that subsequently unfolded in Syria. It will clearly take time for trust to be restored between the major players, although—as will be explained—we are optimistic that it can be.
In what follows, we first outline the evolution of R2P since 2001, totally neglected in Pape's analysis. Second, we spell out five objections to the analysis he does offer—that it resurrects unacceptably divisive "humanitarian intervention" discourse; opens the door to unilateral interventions; ignores prevention and rebuilding responsibilities; wholly overstates the permissive scope of R2P; and exaggerates the obligations it creates. Finally, we discuss where R2P stands in the wake of Libya and Syria.
The Evolution of R2P Since 2001
In current international policy discourse on the question of mass atrocity crimes, it is the multidimensional and nuanced concept of R2P—not the older one-dimensional military concept of humanitarian intervention—that dominates real-world debate. There have been a number of crucial way stations in the evolution of the concept from its original formulation by our ICISS commission—all ignored by Pape—starting with the [End Page 200] important reports of the UN Secretary-General's High-Level Panel (disclosure: Evans was...