Yesterday I raised some of the reasons to oppose intervention in Syria. Today I want to consider a complementary concern, the responsibility to protect. Since Wikipedia has already presented a good summary, I will draw on it for most of these quotes.
The responsibility to protect (R2P or RtoP) is a United Nations initiative established in 2005. It consists of an emerging intended norm, or set of principles, based on the claim that sovereignty is not a right, but a responsibility. R2P focuses on preventing and halting four crimes:After a discussion of the history of the responsibility to protect, the article discusses it in practice:
- war crimes,
- crimes against humanity, and
- ethnic cleansing,
which it places under the generic umbrella term of mass atrocity crimes. The R2P has three "pillars":
- A state has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.
- The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility.
- If the state manifestly fails to protect its citizens from the four above mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.
In the international community R2P is a norm, not a law, however it is grounded in international law. R2P provides a framework for using tools that already exist, i.e. mediation, early warning mechanisms, economic sanctioning, and chapter VII powers, to prevent mass atrocities. Civil society organizations, States, regional organizations, and international institutions all have a role to play in the R2P process. The authority to employ the last resort and intervene militarily rests solely with United Nations Security Council.
In practiceSome readers will recognize in that list of six criteria some of the thinking used in Just War discussions.
Threshold for military interventions
According to the International Commission for Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) report in 2001 (which was not adopted by national governments), any form of a military intervention initiated under the premise of responsibility to protect must fulfill the following six criteria in order to be justified as an extraordinary measure of intervention:
- Just cause – Is the threat a "serious and irreparable harm occurring to human beings"?
- Right intention – Is the main intention of the military action to prevent human suffering or are there other motives?
- Final resort – Has every other measure besides military invention been taken into account? (This does not mean that every measurement has to be applied and failed, but that there are reasonable grounds to believe that only military action would work in that situation)
- Legitimate authority
- Proportional means – Are the minimum necessary military means applied to secure human protection?
- Reasonable prospect – Is it likely that military action will succeed in protecting human life, and are the consequences of this action sure not to be worse than no action at all?
1. No discussion needed here - clearly "serious and irreparable harm occurring to human beings" happened in the recent attack, and there has been no action by the Assad government to suggest that it would not happen again.
2. Motives are hard to read, but in this case I think the principal motive is to prevent human suffering. Others may disagree.
3. Final resort - I leave to other members who are more knowledgeable whether all other measures have been taken into account. Please leave your thoughts on this if you have information to share.
4. Legitimate authority - in principal this is the UN with a resolution from the Security Council. In Libya that resolution was obtained with abstentions from Russia and China. At present Russia has blocked action; perhaps that will change. If Russia remains an obstacle, how far does the responsibility to protect lie with each and every member of the international community? That is, if the UN is stymied does that responsibility in some measure devolve onto individual members such as the US?
5. Proportional means. We as private citizens don't know what means are being contemplated and can't judge of this in advance. The fact that President Obama sent Seal Team Six in for Osama Bin Ladin instead of bombs suggests that it is at least sometimes taken into account.
6. Reasonable prospect. How does one weigh this? We know what is hoped for, an end to the use of chemical weapons. How do we weigh the likelihood of that, and how do we balance that against other possible dire outcomes?