The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ Was Doomed to Fail

The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ Was Doomed to Fail
A man stands next to a hole in a wall at the Gadhafi family compound during NATO's intervention, Tripoli, Libya, May 1, 2011 (AP photo by Darko Bandic).

On a late April evening 25 years ago, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair delivered a speech at the Economic Club of Chicago that would go on to shape the next decade of U.S. foreign policy. In the speech, titled “Doctrine of the International Community,” Blair drew on biblical ideas to advocate that “those nations which have the power, have the responsibility.” By “those nations,” he meant the U.S., stating bluntly, “We need you engaged.”

What did Blair think the U.S. had the responsibility to do? To stop genocides and other forms of mass atrocities within other countries when they occur. No longer could claims of respecting sovereignty serve as an excuse to not step in and protect those suffering at the hands of their own government. Blair’s doctrine would eventually be embodied in ideas such as “Liberal Interventionism” and, most prominently, “Responsibility to Protect,” or R2P.

At the time of the speech, Blair was advocating for and justifying the actions of NATO in what was still the Serbian province of Kosovo, where a month earlier, in March 1999, the alliance had initiated airstrikes against Serbian forces. The goal was to stop Serbia from carrying out war crimes and ethnic cleansing against Kosovar Albanians in the midst of Kosovo’s separatist war.

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