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The Law Of War

African villagers greet a Canadian peacekeeper

DND photo IS2007-0422

Normative Considerations Bearing on The Responsibility to Protect – Prospects and Implications in a Fracturing International System

by Patrick F. White

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The end of the Cold War ushered in a new era of international politics. A significant aspect of this change was seen in the number and type of conflicts fought throughout the world, notably intra-state as well as ethnic and religious wars; all of which created immense human suffering. This reality necessitated new responses by states and international organizations interested in establishing settlements for these conflicts. As an extension of the rapidly changing United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions of the 1990s and practices of the UN, the ‘responsibility to protect’ as a concept has been a natural outgrowth of this process. A document entitled The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was the final product of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) that was embarked upon at the suggestion of Kofi Annan by Jean Chrétien at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000, and it released its findings in December 2001. The ICISS mandate was to make an attempt at: “Reconciling the international community’s responsibility to act in the face of massive violations of humanitarian norms while respecting the sovereign rights of states.”1 During the high-level plenary meeting of the 60th Session of the General Assembly (World Summit 2005,) the UN accepted the R2P document in the 139th and 140th paragraphs of the Outcome Document. The 2005 World Summit Fact Sheet states:

...[that there was] clear and unambiguous acceptance by all governments of the collective international responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Willingness to take timely and decisive collective action for this purpose, through the Security Council, when peaceful means prove inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to do it.2

This has not been apparent. Despite the adoption of R2P, including a resolution of the Security Council, during the intervening years between its drafting and its official adoption, radical changes in the international system have severely threatened the utility of the R2P. These changes, spurred by the ongoing challenges posed by globalization, and especially international terrorism, have, in turn, prompted the growth of so called ‘post- modern’ and ‘unilateral’ modes of international relations. That R2P rests upon rocky normative foundations devalues its prospects of achieving its stated objectives in this international environment. R2P is not a robust platform to re-engage the UN in its peacekeeping role within the international system.

After evaluating the nature of sovereignty, R2P, and the new modes of international relations, this article will conclude that R2P does not establish a suitable modus operandi in the present globalizing, radicalizing, and violent world because it is moored to first principles that cannot be reconciled adequately with credible military intervention, especially in an international system that is divided. More appropriate and actionable responses to international security threats, including intervention, follow from normative conceptions of the state, and human rights that have a greater correspondence with reality.

Ratification of the Treaty of Muenster by Gerard Terborch

Art Resource ART125881

Ratification of the Treaty of Muenster, 1648, by Gerard Terborch.

Westphalian State Sovereignty: A Normative Concept in Flux

The modern concept of sovereignty, the foundational concept of the modern international system, can be traced back to the Thirty Years War in the middle part of the 17th Century. These treaties proceeded to promote the territorial bounding of the state, and, therefore, a number of other manifestations of sovereignty emerge within this context. Within the understanding of noted Stanford University International Relations professor Stephen Krasner, the concept of sovereignty has four sub- units: interdependence sovereignty, domestic sovereignty, international legal sovereignty, and Westphalian sovereignty. Interdependence sovereignty is: “...[the] ability to regulate the movement of goods, capital, people, and ideas across borders.”3 Domestic sovereignty is manifested by: “...[the] structure of authority within the state and to the state’s effectiveness or control.”4 International legal sovereignty mandates: “...[that] only juridically independent territorial entities are accorded recognition.”5 The fourth characteristic Westphalian sovereignty demands: “...autonomy of domestic authority structures.”6 These aspects are not mutually exclusive or dependent. Rather, there is considerable overlap between these aspects of sovereignty. Also, the sovereignty that specific states exude is not uniform across the international system. It is a fluid concept. Krasner concludes: “...[that] absent voluntary initiatives or coercion, the conventional bundle of sovereignty rules is the default. These rules constrain options in situations where neither coercion nor cooperation is viable. But rulers can devise innovative solutions, and these solutions can work, especially if they are the result of voluntary agreements that establish equilibrium outcomes.”7 This is the normative character of sovereignty that can change, and continues to undergo change.

The nature of sovereignty in the 20th Century evolved in a number of important ways. The most significant came with the ending of the Second World War and the concomitant establishment of the United Nations, an organization that embodies the notion of collective security. Additionally, the growth of globalization and international trade has diminished some aspects of interdependence sovereignty in many nations. The end of the Cold War has also had a loosening effect upon accepted norms of conduct by virtue of states no longer having to abide by the rules of superpower politics. Further, many states currently, although they have international legal sovereignty, do not possess the fundamental domestic sovereignty all states require that has been especially apparent in the growth of civil and ethnic wars. Yet, because those states do not possess the full gamut of conceptual sovereign characteristics, the diminishment of the conceptual framework of sovereignty should not necessarily follow. The notion of a collective security regime is premised upon the independence of the sovereign states that compose it, in addition to the dedication to reduce conflict between them, based upon the rights associated with that elemental sovereignty. However, the problem of failed and failing states persists.

The UN has been at the centre of the debate that considers the re-conceptualization of sovereignty. Civil and ethnic conflicts that occurred in the 1990s spurred Kofi Annan to argue at the 1999 General Assembly that sovereignty might have to be premised upon the respect for human rights.8 Growing out of the salience of internal conflicts – for which the UN had little recourse to intervention – new approaches were deemed necessary. This has fundamentally altered perceptions, as well as the orientation of the international system and the role states play within it. The conceptions of universal human rights as such, and the development of ‘human security,’ have been paramount in this shift, and they bear profound consequences. Prior to addressing these concerns directly, it is important to address the perceived changes in international politics since the end of the Cold War that have grown out of the normative and actual weakening of sovereignty, and for which a new modus operandi for international relations and the UN is required.

The “Post-Westphalian” State: Fracturing the International System

As the concept of sovereignty became contested after 1945, despite its entrenchment in the UN Charter, and especially since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, real problems for international politics have developed. This is due particularly to globalization and all that it entails in rolling back the independence of individual states and aspects of their sovereignty. Specifically, growing interdependence, the laxity of international legal sovereignty, concern for human rights in failing states without domestic sovereignty, and thus a decline in Westphalian sovereignty (independence from foreign institutions) have all given rise to the ‘post-Westphalian’ era of reduced sovereignty for states. As the nature of the state and its characteristics have changed, so also must the conception of the international state system. In coping with these changes, especially since 1991, there have been two perceptible options for reconceptualising the international system and the way individual states operate within it. These options are respectively called ‘post-modern’ and ‘unilateralist.’

The conception of ‘post-modern’ statehood has been suggested by the esteemed British diplomat, political scientist, and Orwell Prize winning author Robert Cooper. In his book The Breaking of Nations, Cooper develops a tripartite division of the world of states composed of, as he views it, pre-modern, modern, and post-modern states. At bottom, this post-modern system is “...defined by its security policy.”9 The EU is seen as the exemplar of the ‘post-modern’ and its germinating treaties, the Treaty of Rome and the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, are its foundation. The ultimate problem, according to Cooper, is that in conjunction with the threats of a globalizing world and weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the post- modern state faces dangers that had been bred in the ‘pre-modern’ world. Pre-modern states are defined by incoherent government that does not exert full sovereignty, imparting three lessons. The first, “chaos spreads,” leads in part to the second lesson, “when states collapse crime takes over.” The third lesson is “crime spreads,” and in its worst manifestation, it can become a direct threat to state security, such as the 9/11 attacks.10 The solution Cooper advocates is the development of a more complete (global) post-modern state system, a loose “voluntary empire” in the form of the Bretton- Woods institutions for which the EU is the best current example.11 However, force is and must remain an important fixture of the international system. Post- modern international relations are not always possible, specifically, when the pre-modern world chafes against the post-modern world. Thus, Cooper, in more strident language, believes that within the post-modern world, a kind of post-modern intervention is “...sustainable, both morally and practically, in the European context.”12 Such is R2P, extended to a global level.

In regard to the second group of developments in the international system since 2001, of special concern are the threats whose military responses and policy are at odds with multilateral diplomacy and the traditional UN modus operandi. This process can be characterized as being to the extent the threat is uncooperative and unilateral. Growing out of the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001, the United States chief among them, and understandably so, reassessed national security and foreign policy approaches, and began to reassert the right of pre-emptive military action present in Article 51 of the UN Charter. In tandem with the growing threat of terrorism and its concomitant problem of failed and failing states (something Cooper recognizes as indications of the ‘pre-modern’ world), the US established its own National Security Strategy 2002 (NSS). The NSS squarely confronts these dual problems and a third threat of ‘rogue states’ through means that undermine the authority of the UN and its ideal of collective security by asserting American predominance, willingness to act unilaterally – and pre-emptively, if necessary. Additionally the strategy sees a “historic opportunity” for the United States to shape the international order, and that it should do so, emphasizing the need for democratic government worldwide. The ‘linchpin,’ and the one that provides the NSS 2002 with its urgency, is the fourth threat, its coup, WMD proliferation. On this pretext, it appears that almost any action can be justified to secure the United States.13

Flowing directly from the logic of the NSS was the American-led invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, which combined the alleged threats of Iraq being a state sponsor of terror with a state that possessed WMDs. Since the UN had never given clear authorization for the invasion, a serious blow was dealt to the role of the UN as the mediator of the legitimate use of force within the international system. This is perhaps most damaging because of the role that the United States plays in setting international standards of behaviour within the international system. And it has direct bearing upon the utility of the R2P doctrine.

These divergent forces within the international system portend poorly for that doctrine. The root of the problem stems from the embedded tension of the UN Charter that enshrines both state sovereignty and human rights. The logic of R2P runs directly over this fissure. Mirroring this tension is the conflict with respect to the balance between the currently antagonistic concerns of national interests that have become paramount and collective security that is seen as ineffective in the face of uncertain and overwhelming threats. In this regard, R2P is a policy that exacerbates the tensions of the international system. Moreover, because the UN is perceived as unable to deal with the threats of the post-Westphalian order, its reputation and credibility have diminished. What then is R2P, and what is its standing in the international system?

Cover: The Responsibility to Protect

Attempting to cope with the Post-Westphalian State System: The Responsibility to Protect

The ‘responsibility to protect’ initiative is markedly different from the UN policies regarding intervention in conflict, collectively referred to as peacekeeping, which preceded it. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) policy, endorsed by the UN in the World Summit Outcome Document 2005 and Security Council Resolution 1674, is a sweeping analysis and prescriptive policy work intended to resuscitate the flagging role of UN peacekeeping operations at the turn of the 21st Century. The ICISS’s goals were threefold: “1) to promote a comprehensive debate about humanitarian intervention; 2) foster a new political consensus on how to reconcile the principles of intervention and state sovereignty; and 3) to translate that consensus into action.”14 R2P’s two main contributions to the debate with respect to humanitarian intervention include the insistence that not only does a right of intervention exist but that this right should actually be conceptualized as a responsibility by the international community embodied in the UN. In unveiling this normative shift, the ICISS recommended a spectrum of options for the international community to contend with a mass violation of human rights. The Responsibility to Protect embraces three constitutive ‘responsibilities’:

  1. The responsibility to prevent: to address both the root causes and direct causes of internal conflict and other man-made crises putting population at risk.
  2. The responsibility to react: to respond to situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures, which may include coercive measures such as sanctions and international prosecution, and, in extreme cases, military intervention.
  3. The responsibility to rebuild: to provide, particularly after a military intervention, full assistance with recovery, reconstruction, and reconciliation, addressing the causes of the harm the intervention was designed to halt or avert.15

The threefold aspects of R2P are a comprehensive prescription for the solution of international violations of human rights. These, however, may be its greatest downfall. By recommending a program of assistance so comprehensive, it may overburden itself and reduce the credibility of such intervention.

The role of international law lies at the heart of the contention over R2P, because the first principle of the international system, sovereign equality, might be broken in the pursuit of advancing the second principle, human rights through military intervention. This is an entirely problematic proposition. Yet, the World Summit 2005 acceptance of R2P, and the Security Council’s endorsement of it with Resolution 1674 (Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict) is unambiguous with respect to its condemnation of the targeting of civilians in war. Specifically, Paragraph 4: “...Reaffirms the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity; ...”16 With this Resolution, the UN appears not only to have accepted that a normative shift has occured with regard to the protection of human rights but it has also affirmed an insitutional mechanism tasked to assure that these principles are upheld, namely, itself. R2P poses an additional problem for international law. By conflating a number of threats presented by failed and failing states, distinctions between how these countries negatively impact other states and how international efforts, including intervention, might respond are muddled. This, however, is taken for granted.

Soldier with child in Africa

DND photo IS2007-0352

The R2P policy has attempted to create a new precedent in international law, the responsibility to intervene in human rights abuses. Despite the acceptance of R2P, crises, such as that in Darfur, Sudan, continue to stand in glaring defiance of the objectives of R2P, with the ‘sovereign’ authority of the government of Sudan predominating over the transcendant ‘post-Westphalian’ qualities of the genocide occurring there. The implications of this are yet to be determined. In addition to the inefficacious use of R2P, there is a present danger embodied in precedent-setting or convention-changing acts. Changing norms of behaviour and expectations are, by definition, destabilizing to the international system. Elizabeth Kier and Jonathan Mercer quote political scientist Terry Nardin, who qualifies this concern: “The laws of war are a ‘patchwork of heterogeneous, obsolescent and undeniably inadequate customary and conventional rules.’ However flawed they may be ... they have the undeniable advantage of being common standards for the conduct of war.”17 The same applies with respect to sovereignty and intervention. These ‘common standards’ provide a stable centre of gravity for the international system. Attempting to change one or all of them faces the risk of ruining what, however little, can be agreed upon by the international system. It may be suggested that because R2P has already galvanized support at the UN, this hurdle has been jumped. Yet, it remains to be seen whether the adoption of R2P was done so out of real conviction, or out of feigned humanitarianism. Who, at an institution founded upon the ideals of universal human rights operating by diplomatic means on the international stage, could be reasonably expected to argue against the principles embedded within the Responsibility to Protect? This appears highly unlikely. What it might suggest is that the World Summit and Security Council’s acceptance of R2P, rather than being interpreted as overwhelming affirmation, is, rather, the reasonable outcome of the structural constraints of the UN as an institution, whose support for R2P, in actuality, is quite tepid. For the people of Darfur, this is a tragedy, most searing because it fits ‘as a hand in a glove’ the conceptual framework of the ‘responsibility to protect.’ That the ‘responsibility to protect’ continues to be a contested norm of the international system may explain the paucity of support for intervention, despite the acceptance of R2P by all those involved. Yet, by virtue of its tentative and indecisive action, the UN has displayed a dubious and Janus-faced commitment to R2P. This cannot be perceived as instilling confidence for further R2P missions, or for garnering additional support for its principles. Part of the incompatibility between the theory of R2P and its unfeasible implementation is the rocky normative foundations it rests upon. The genealogy of R2P and the implications of its first principles upon the usefulness of the policy will now be presented.

UN Headquarters

Defense Imagery.Mil/Donald S. Momtgomery DN-SC-94-02522

View of the United Nations Building on the East River on lower Manhattan Island.

Human Rights Confusion: The Development of ‘Human Security’ and the Responsibility to Protect

In many respects, the preceding discussion has missed one of the foundational aspects of sovereignty as it has developed since 1648, the historical/philosophical underpinnings of national and international security bearing upon sovereignty. It cannot be forgotten that the modern state and the political philosophy that grew in justification of the state have roots in the first role of the state as security provider, its pre-eminent responsibility. The state was the best protector from English philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s “...war of all against all.”

Yet, as the state grew in competency and power, the state itself became an instrument of insecurity for the citizens it was ostensibly supposed to protect. Thus, the end of the 18th Century witnessed the development of conceptions of abstract universal human rights that became entrenched by the American and French Revolutions as a means to rein in the power of the state vis-à-vis its own citizens. This conception of human rights, and the adoption of written constitutions to protect them, spread throughout the 19th Century, and especially, the late 20th Century. On 10 December 1948, the UN joined in adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, establishing itself, in lockstep with the UN Charter, as a strong voice for the concept of universal human rights. The first three Articles of the Declaration display the fundamental nature of the human rights they endorse:

Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.18

For the most part, human rights have been taken for granted by those who live in the industrialized and democratic world. Only in this globalizing age has the viewing on television of ethnic, civil war, and genocide, especially throughout the 1990s, rekindled a concern for the active promotion of human rights.

Accordingly, in 1994, the UN unveiled its Human Development Report that set out a new conceptualization of security that emphasizes universal human rights and the role of international society in their promotion through the concept of ‘human security.’ The Report explicitly structures human security as composed of two elements: “It means, first, safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression. And second, it means protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions of the patterns of daily life.”19 The sub-areas that human security now concerns itself with, beyond military threats and war, consist of: economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security, and political security.20However laudable the intent of the Report, its expansive definition of security, encompassing as it does virtually all aspects of human existence, reduces its theoretical value, becoming a catchall concept that consequently is of considerably less practical value for institutions that would employ it. More damagingly, the Report replaces the state with the individual as the referent object of international security.

Nevertheless, ‘human security’ has been adopted and endorsed by a number of important industrialized nations, namely Canada, Norway, Japan, and Switzerland. These countries have attempted to spur a dramatic normative shift in the thinking of security and its role in international conflict, and more consequentially, in domestic conflict. These states, Canada chief among them, have recognized the conceptual expansiveness of human security and have attempted to provide a more useful definition. The Canadian narrow definition of human security is: “...freedom from pervasive threats to people’s rights, safety or lives.”21 In other words, human security refers only to physical threats to individuals. Tightening the parameters of human security permits greater utility. However, it remains a half-measure that leaves the core of the normative shift in place, and this continues to have practical repercussions.

At issue in the present context are the teleological implications of accepting and adopting human rights in the form of “human security” as the foundation of international society. In this regard the thinking of Constructivists is enlightening. German authority in International Relations, Friedrich Kratochwil, writes:

... [that] the problem constructivism raises in a big way is not the one of existence but of recognising what the existing thing is. In other words, we cannot talk ‘about things in themselves,’ but need descriptions: these descriptions are not neutral and somehow objective but embrace all types of social practices and interests that then make the things into what they are called or referred to.22

This is particularly true with abstract human rights; a social fiction. And for these reasons, it is essential to address human rights as contingent products of European civilization and the nation-state, which are not universal in any geographic or philosophic manner. This is not to say that they should not be universal, but rather, that human rights are not enjoyed by all inhabitants of the earth, given mostly to the overbearing or, on the other hand, the lack of any government institutions which recognize or provide those ‘human rights.’ The language of universal human rights as such obscures this reality, and the political philosophy that gave rise to it is easily criticized. The rights of citizens can and should be made tangible in law – it is the right and duty of every sovereign state.

Proclamations of universal and inalienable human rights do little to ameliorate the problems of those whose inherent human dignity is violated. Appeals to abstract notions of rights and an entitlement to those rights are absurd. In this sense, human rights are prone to the same criticism Marx had for capitalist relations of production and religion. He writes:

The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself. The worker puts his life into the object; but now his life not long belongs to him but to the object. Hence, the greater the product of his labour is, he is not. Therefore the greater this product, the less is he himself. The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labour becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power of its own confronting him; it means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien.23

How true of the ‘human rights’ of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 and Darfurians in 2007. The more human rights are violated, the more one can protest that those inalienable human rights should be respected, and do nothing about it. Of course if one already possesses something it does not have to be obtained or achieved. As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said in his Beyond Good and Evil, “The more abstract the truth is that you would teach, the more you have to seduce the senses to it.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Art Resource ART363700

Friedrich Nietzsche.

The universal human rights fallacy has immeasurable consequences for the conception of human security and for the institutions and policies that promote it. The acceptance of human rights as the sine qua non of international relations only leads to the superficial emotional international humanitarianism that presently characterizes the approach to conflict post-1990. The alternative to universal human rights is a much more prudent and responsible conception of the rights of man (i.e., people) and the necessary ensuing responsibilities. This approach historically has been attributed to philosopher Edmund Burke:

In the famous law of the 3rd of Charles I, called the Petition of Right, the parliament says to the king, “Your subjects have inherited this freedom,” claiming their franchises not on abstract principles “as the rights of men,” but as the rights of Englishmen, and as a patrimony derived from their forefathers.24

Accordingly, it is not the case that humans derive what freedoms they have from an inherent right or entitlement to them, but, rather, from the achievement of them through social compact that demands eternal vigilance and individual efforts to maintain the social order upon which any stable government can operate, that, in turn, ensures those ‘human rights.’

The foregoing multi-dimensional criticism of the liberal notion of human rights has a significant impact on the teleological implications of human rights protection in the current international system. In some respects, the difference is only rhetorical, but this is still important. Language anchors a debate. The Burkeian view would not endorse the R2P agenda because of its focus upon protecting universal human rights – an absurdity. How does one protect something that does not exist? This drives to the heart of the matter. R2P ‘puts the cart before the horse.’ What ought to be the approach to aiding vulnerable populations is the promotion of institutions and societal capacities to make stable government a possibility from which rights (necessarily national rights) can flow. To continue with the metaphor, national governments must be ‘the horse that pulls the cart’ of individual freedom and the political rights of individuals.

That R2P endorses the alternative view forces the mandate of its interventions to such an expansive degree that it is inconceivable of being ‘operationalized.’ This has disastrous consequences for the military operations taken in support of “humanitarian” values. If R2P is employed it will always be prone to criticism because universal human rights, as all ideals are interpreted in their maximal form, will force interventions to the extreme. There will always be individuals or groups who maintain that their rights have not been upheld. Consolidating the criticism of human rights and intervention, and bringing it to a crescendo, is the French cultural theorist Paul Virilio:

But let us come back to this question of universal values which should, according to Tony Blair, begin to supplant the question of territories and the sovereignty of nation states. When you claim to prosecute a war in the name of ‘human rights’ – a humanitarian war – you deprive yourself of the possibility of negotiating a cessation of hostilities with your enemy. If the enemy is a torturer, the enemy of the human race, there is no alternative but the extremes of total war and unconditional surrender. We can see, then, that this new logic of war leads, like the aero- spatial strategy which underpins it. To the uncontrolled ‘escalation’ condemned by theorists of international geopolitics.25

What is ‘humanitarian war’ and its consequences if not the ‘responsibility to protect’? And what is ‘human security’ without a doctrine like the ‘responsibility to protect’ to ensure that humans are secure? The acts of violence that R2P seeks to prevent or stop are symptoms. The ultimate causes of this variety of violence stem from the failure of governments to protect their populations, to which sovereign states, by definition, are obligated.

Soldier with children in Africa

DND photo IS2007-0356

In this sense, the sovereignty of states must be affirmed, which also raises the expectations of governmental behaviour. If governments cannot, or will not, fulfil those responsibilities, as R2P points out, the international political community embodied in the UN must take action. This action, however, must not be taken in the name of universal human rights, but for the limited objectives of the reestablishment of proper sovereign government that holds out the potential for creating a rights- holding population, in time. If this is not possible, due to a lack of politico-military power or will, or because the prospects of success are dim, intervention should not be undertaken. However, the threats of the globalizing world are still pressing. Some threats and conflicts continue to pose significant threats that may require intervention because the implications for not doing anything are too immense. Moreover, intervention may, in fact, be able to offer a permanent solution to a conflict. How this might be done in specific instances remains to be made explicit. It is beyond the scope of this article to do so. The emphasis in the present context is that normative conceptions of the state and human rights that more accurately reflect reality and inform constructions of the international system have important implications for peace within it.

Osama bin Laden

Reuters file photo RTX52YO

Osama bin Laden, 26 May 1998.

This is necessary and possible: necessary because the territoriality of the states persists;26 possible because sovereign states, short of becoming amorphous ‘post-modern’ states or belligerent ‘unilateralists,’ can still, in a globalizing world, engage in more substantial multilateral international politics to achieve these ends.27 Multilateral politics would meet some of the criteria of a more strident United States, whose capacity and willingness to undertake unilateral military or political positions is waning. Equally unlikely is the inherent development of an EU security and defence policy because of the strong residual normative belief in the centrality of national interests and national security, whose referent object is, and must be, the state.

Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel

Art Resource ART177952

Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel.


“The Owl of Minerva first takes flight with twilight closing in.”
G.W.F. Hegel, “Preface,” Philosophy of Right

Perhaps the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s dictum also explains the disjunction between R2P and the international system. It has only come after the fact. Its prescriptive universal agenda might have produced a better world society of states at the end of the Second World War, or at the end of the Cold War. A policy such as R2P would have been ideally suited for international intervention in the 1990s, yet, even by 2001, the window of opportunity for as sweeping a doctrine as R2P had gone.

The bifurcation of the international system in the first decade of the 21st Century has both cramped and strained the freedom of action of the United Nations due to globalization, the internationalization of domestic conflicts, the growth of non-state actors, and the erosion of the state monopoly on force. Responses split between ‘post-modern’ states, and the impetus created by those new threats toward the unilateral and pre-emptive use of force, means that serious disunity has left the most vulnerable situations in the world alone. The very humanitarian crises The Responsibility to Protect seeks to ameliorate have been hamstrung by its political masters at the UN, and the UN itself cannot bridge or merge the international divergence. However, as an international forum par excellence, there remains a role for the UN. More pressing is a reconsideration of the normative foundations for which intervention is employed.

The normative assumptions of R2P with respect to the nature of the state and human rights are detrimental to the ends it seeks to achieve. Universal human rights compel the agenda in directions that are unfavourable to the possibility of sensible and achievable intervention. As the expansive and inalienable reading of human rights leads to the messianic promotion of human rights worldwide – R2P wholly overstates its case. This is not only harmful for the intellectual coherence of R2P, but more importantly, for its prospects for implementation and for the alleviation of suffering of vulnerable populations worldwide.

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Patrick F. White has an MA in Security and Defence Management from the Royal Military College of Canada, as well as an Honours BA in History and Political Science from the University of Toronto. In 2006, he served as an intern at UN Headquarters in New York in the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management. He is currently studying law at the University of London.


  1. The Responsibility to Protect: Mandate and Organization of the Commission, at <http://www.iciss.ca/mandate-en.asp>.
  2. United Nations. World Summit 2005: Fact Sheet, at <http://www.un.org/summit2005/presskit/fact_sheet.pdf>.
  3. Stephen Krasner, Problematic Sovereignty: Contested Rules and Political Possibilities (New York: Columbia UP, 2001), p. 2.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., p. 21.
  8. Krasner, p. 12.
  9. Robert Cooper, The Breaking of Nations (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2004), p. 50.
  10. Ibid., pp. 66-68.
  11. Ibid., p. 70.
  12. Ibid., p. 60.
  13. United States. The White House. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. (Washington, DC: September 2002).
  14. Neil MacFarlane et al., “The Responsibility to Protect: Assessing the Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty,” in International Journal, Vol. 57, No. 4, Fall 2002), p. 490.
  15. The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (Ottawa: International Development Research Council, 2001), p. 4.
  16. United Nations Security Council. Resolution 1674, at <http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions06.htm>.
  17. Elizabeth Kier and Jonathan Mercer, “Setting Precedents in Anarchy,” in International Security, Vol. 20, No. 4, 1996, p. 90.
  18. United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), at <http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html>.
  19. United Nations Development Report, “New dimensions of human security,” (1994), at http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/1994/en/pdf/hdr_1994_ch2.pdf (1994), p. 23.
  20. Ibid., pp. 24-25.
  21. Government of Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, at <http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/foreignp/humansecurity/menu-e.asp>.
  22. Emphasis in text, Friedrich Kratochwil, “Constructing a New Orthodoxy? Wendt’s ‘Social Theory of International Politics’ and the Constructivist Challenge,” in Millennium: Journal of International Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2000, p. 95.
  23. Emphasis in text, Karl Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” in Robert C. Tucker (ed.), The Marx-Engel’s Reader (New York, W.W. Norton, 1978), p. 73.
  24. Emphasis in text, Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 28.
  25. Emphasis in text, Paul Virilio, Strategy of Deception (New York: Verso, 2000), p. 8.
  26. Peter Andreas, “Redrawing the Line: Borders and Security in the Twenty-first Century,” in International Security, Vol. 28, No. 2, Fall 2003.
  27. Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye Jr., “Two Cheers for Multilateralism,” in Robert O. Matthews et al., (eds), International Conflict and Conflict Management, (Scarborough, ON: Prentice-Hall Canada, 1989).

Soldier with children in Africa

DND Photo IS2007-0360

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