R2P: Responsibility to Protect

Recently, while discussing and debating the meanings of liberalism and foreign intervention with Max Ajl and Jeremy Hammond, Max raised the R2P doctrine: the responsibility to protect. This reminded me of a new web resource, authored by Anthony Fenton, an independent journalist in British Columbia, called the Web of Democracy. Fenton’s site, created only last month, which already has many items that focus on R2P. In fact, it was such an inspiration that I decided I should add it to my section on “humanitarian interventionism” in my course next winter, The New Imperialism. In preparation for that, and using many of Fenton’s sources and leads, I have started two diigo lists, one for the New Imperialism, and one for R2P specifically.


Given that here in Canada the current Liberal leader of the opposition, Dr. Michael Ignatieff (shown in photo above), served as Director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University and has been a leading proponent of the new imperialism and “humanitarian interventions,” R2P will become further entrenched as federal policy should he (likely) win the next elections against our neo-con Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Indeed, just as in the U.S. where there is no distinction on matters of foreign policy between liberals/Democrats and neo-con Republicans, so here in Canada there is no substantive difference on such matters when it comes to the ruling Conservative Party (a new coalition of ultra-right parties that replaced the previously dominant national party, the Progressive Conservatives), and the opposition Liberal Party. Thus, for example, Ignatieff went on record supporting the Conservatives’ call for an extension of the military mission in Afghanistan, in 2006. As Ignatieff stated in parliament on 17 May 2006:

I also want to express my unequivocal support for the troops in Afghanistan, for the mission and for the renewal of the mission. However I do so in explicit disagreement with the New Democratic Party. I support the mission precisely because it is the moment where we have to test the shift from one paradigm, the peacekeeping paradigm, to a peace enforcement paradigm that combines military, reconstruction and humanitarian effort together. I have been to Afghanistan and I believe this new paradigm can work.

As a result, Canada’s long standing role in peace keeping mission has declined drastically. The Polaris Institute, an Ottawa think tank, has condemned the government of Canada for “virtually abandoning UN peacekeeping”. In a report the Institute revealed that Afghanistan accounts for 68% of the $6.1 billion spent on international missions between the fall of 2001 and March 2006. Canada now ranks 50th out of 95 countries currently contributing military personnel to UN missions (source).

At the same time, the military mission in Afghanistan is increasingly being redefined in several terminological layers, as the mission changes once again. Now it is all about counterinsurgency, winning hearts and minds…and the responsibility to protect: note the number of times that the new U.S. General in charge of the mission in Afghanistan, the famed head hunter known as Stanley McChrystal, has identified the “goal” as being to “protect civilians.”

Moreover, Ignatieff’s ties to R2P are made explicit on his Liberal Party biography page:

He has seen, in some of the darkest places on earth, that Canada is a model for the world. Michael is committed to restoring Canadian leadershipthe Canadian example that has been a beacon of hope for so many, for so long.

Michael has been a leading advocate for this international leadership throughout his career, as a teacher at universities around the world: the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, Cambridge University in Britain, l’École des Hautes Études in Paris, and Harvard University, where for five years he was Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights. He’s contributed to the World Economic Forum and served on international commissions that have contemplated the future of NATO, humanitarian law, citizenship and minority rights.

In 2001, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy appointed Michael as one of Canada’s representatives on the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, a groundbreaking effort to help shape future United Nations actions in response to humanitarian crises. (emphases added)

As stated above, Ignatieff has worked with the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, whose lead motto is “Responsibility to Protect.” As described by Anthony Fenton in his chronology of R2P’s development, ICISS was founded in September 2000 by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, at the behest of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

With primarily liberal philanthropic foundation funding, the esteemed commission embarks on a one-year process entailing massive research, discussion, global consulting, and, above all a consensus-building campaign to once and for all re-orient the debate about humanitarian intervention. The goal was to move, as in Kosovo, from an intervention that is illegal but (as decreed by the intervenors) legitimate, to a future of interventions that are both legal and legitimate.

ICISS has subsequently received major funding from the MacArthur, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Hewlett foundations, for a total of $1,650,000 in 2001 alone. What Fenton also reveals, in that same very detailed chronology, is the fact that these foundations and agencies have seeded numerous projects across a variety of universities and academic publishers. In addition to a growing number of funded research projects and books, we also see the creation of the Global Responsibility to Protect, a journal, and Michael Ignatieff is a member of its editorial board.

See Michael Ignatieff speaking on R2P on the Liberal Party’s YouTube page:

Thus, instead of non-intervention, and instead of humanitarian aid the way it was once understood (helping to relieve poverty, famines, disease), Canada is thrusting itself into a brave new liberal world order of jumping all over any (suitably weaker, suitably peripheral) nation that fails to mirror the “Canadian model,” that fails to drift like a moth towards the “Canadian beacon.” Worse yet, institutions such as ICISS will have us commit to preemptive military missions, to prevent a “likely ‘large-scale’ killing” with neither likely nor large-scale ever defined (and one can already be sure of exemptions for the most favoured partners of the West, such as Israel). Such plans are not mere wishful thinking, but have since been enshrined in a developing body of international law. On 28 April 2006, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1674, where Article 139 states:

The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapter VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case by case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to help states build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assist those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.

One would think that a concerted attempt was being made to show the good anthropological sense of some of the “conservative anti-interventionists” discussed in a previous post. In Canada the only place to look for similar opposition to liberal arrogance and imperial hubris is on the left of the political spectrum, specifically the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois. If history is any indication, most Canadians will be either too trusting, numb, or outright apathetic to make a difference at the next elections, and so we will all pay dearly for the adventures of elite ideologues, as we have been and as have those who suffer our presence abroad. May they fight back with even greater vigor, because it would seem that they cannot count on much to change on our end.

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9 thoughts on “R2P: Responsibility to Protect

  1. Pingback: Canada has a Responsibility to Protect? « One Day for the Watchman

  2. Marc Tyrrell

    One of the more interesting problems with the R2P doctrine is that it is stated as a “Right” and not a “Responsibility”. This allows a lot of freedom in when, where and by whom it will be applied, especially since such an action can be vetoed by any permanent member of the Security Council. This leads us directly into the realm of international power politics to the point that R2P will only be applied against de facto non-aligned groups.

    Max, you note how we have shifted away from the Peacekeeping role, and you’re quite right, we have. But, I would suggest that the Peacekeeping role itself was a post-WW II artifact of Cold War politics and, once the environment changed, so to did the role of various national militaries.

    What concerns me and, I think, you too, is how R2P will be used as an excuse to carve up the globe in a manner similar to how it was done in the 19th century. While it bothers me in too many ways to go into right now, one of those is that it could easily, IMO, fail in the short run and, through the process of failing, destroy the societies that are involved in it.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Very interesting points Marc, especially about the issue of “right” and the transformation away from peace keeping. Any perceived selectivity will doom the stated good intentions of R2P, in some ways similar to the way the ICC (once a hit with African states) has come to be seen by many African statesmen as a neo-colonial tool that is obsessed with Africa. However, some R2P advocates, and I sense this most in the case of Gareth Evans, don’t seem prepared to handle criticisms in a reasonable and honest manner, and that too will likely doom the good intentions they claim to have.

    2. Ricardo Arredondo

      Max, I believe that Marc has not grasped the R2P concept adequatly. R2P means an obligation (which is the other side of the coin of a “right”) which is primarily in the concerned State. Should national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, then there is a subsidiary obligation on the international community to protect populations from being subject of these four crimes.

      I apologize if my English is not clear enough.

      1. Marc Tyrrell

        Ricardo, I agree that that was the initial intent of R2P, i.e. the sense that If X happens, we (the UN) have the right to take action in contravention of local sovereignty. I would even agree that when it was initially adopted, that sense of obligation was present. I would argue, though, that that initial obligatory intention has disappeared as a result of the way the UN is structured.

      2. Maximilian Forte

        Interesting comments, Ricardo and Marc. Marc, I am thinking that if the obligatory intention (responsibility) was originally there, then subsequently codified in a UN Sec. Council Resolution, then it remains available to be reactivated whenever they (members of the Security Council) think it can be feasibly implemented against a particular state.

        Aside from that, this very slanted and partial attempt at global governance and global policing is going to further isolate the UN. I recall how almost as soon as the cologne & Campari technocrats of the UN moved in to set up their management HQ in Baghdad, soon after the invasion, their place was totally leveled and they lost many people in that bombing, including one of their most illustrious technocrat, Sergio Vieira de Mello. What amazed me is how the UN assumed that locals would not want harsh revenge after the UN’s awful record in its sanctions regime against Iraq. Multiply that history a few more times, and pretty soon the UN will be seen by many more people as a body for the rich and powerful, with some Third World spectators and occasional performers to add some colour to the proceedings.

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