With the exception of Raphael Lemkin's efforts that resulted in the 1948 Genocide Convention, no idea has moved faster than the responsibility to protect in the international normative arena. "A blink of the eye in the history of ideas," concluded Gareth Evans, former Australian foreign minister and past president of the International Crisis Group. What happened to the sacrosanct principle of state sovereignty?
R2P: Sovereignty and Intervention After Libya
In the aftermath of the Libya intervention, the responsibility to protect doctrine used to justify it has come under intense scrutiny. But does the intervention represent the doctrine's arrival as a fixture of international norms, or a dangerous precedent destined to be a highwater mark? Thomas G. Weiss, Daniel Larison, Robert Jackson, Heather Hurlburt and Nikolas Gvosdev discuss the past and future of the responsibility to protect.
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The ongoing U.S. and NATO military intervention against the Libyan government has become the first test case for the responsibility to protect doctrine since U.N. member states approved it in 2005. However, the manner in which the doctrine was used to authorize and carry out collective action against Moammar Gadhafi's regime has undermined the integrity and credibility of the doctrine in the future.
By advocating an international responsibility to protect civilian populations from all who might threaten or harm them from within their own countries, including their governments, R2P proponents assert what amounts to a revision of the U.N. Charter at its most vital war-authorizing point. It is worth examining the assumptions of the doctrine, however, and the consequences of applying it in practice.
The invocation of the responsibility to protect in the Libya case has had a range of political consequences. Two contradictory consequences in particular need to be identified and understood. First, the attention given to Libya gave a needed boost to what had been languishing R2P efforts in Cote d'Ivoire. Second, the political fallout from Libya could make it less likely that such an operation be repeated in the future.
Despite all the favorable rhetoric regarding the responsibility to protect, governments continue to hesitate to embrace the doctrine. Some experts have argued that the intervention in Libya earlier this year is a sign that this hesitation is giving way to a new willingness to act on the part of the international community. I do not share this optimistic assessment.