Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Responsibility to Protect

One of the primary reasons that I was opposed to the Iraq War in 2003 was that by invading Iraq, Bush tied the international community's hands on stopping the genocide in Sudan. Although I think we have to continue our dubious ventures in Iraq, I hope that Bush's reputation remains forever tarnished for his actions.

That said, I've come across a few good resources on better ways to address atrocities. One notable option is an idea called "The Responsibility to Protect." This concept states affirmatively that nations have a responsibility to protect their citizens. In cases where nations are engaged in mass atrocities, the international community has a responsibility to intervene.

This policy overturns the Westphalian view of International Relations which pretty much gave nations sovereignty over its citizens, allowing them to kill with impunity.

The first resource I wanted to point out is the University Channel podcast titled The United Nations and the Prevention of Atrocities dated 2007-01-30 which features a conference call with Lee Feinstein. This podcast explores the application of The Responsibility to Protect in Darfur.

You can also read the 2001 report by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS).

The Responsibility to Protect makes a very profound change in the way that we view international law. The traditional approach was pretty much like criminal law. You would wait for the crime to happen, then punish then try and punish the criminal for their action. This is pretty much the model of the ICC. If a genocide occurred, we would slap the dictator's hand and give them a villa in France while sternly saying "bad dictator." The responsibility to protect moves the international community away from this vague notion of post genocide justice to a proactive stance of protecting people.

Lee Feinsteion states, and I agree here, that the principle to protect really did not apply in Iraq. Saddam Hussein's atrocities had occurred prior to the US invasion. It appeared to me in 2003 that Hussein had had his fill of genocide for the time being and was content to luxuriate in his palaces, while his sons killed a small number of people for sport. Trying Hussein for past atrocities is something that would fit in the ICC model of trying people for international crimes.

This ICISS model and ideals like the responsibility to protect shows the type of thinking that I wish was going on in Washington in lieue of the neocon and progressive nonsense that dominates modern discourse.


Charles D said...

I would agree there is a responsibility to protect as you describe it here. The question is who has the responsibility to do the protecting?

As with any situation where we have individuals being threatened by violent criminals, we need a neutral party with no other axe to grind to do the intervention and an agreed upon and uniformly enforced rule of law with which to investigate and prosecute the violent criminals.

In the Iraq case, the Darfur case, the Kosovo case, or in the Congo, we need an international force sufficiently powerful to intervene and sufficiently autonomous to do so without currying favor from governments who may have ulterior motives for allowing the violence to continue.

y-intercept said...

The podcast I cited shows that there is a fair amount of quality thought being invested on issues like this. The other problem with something like the "Responsibility to Protect" is that it can easily become an empty slogan. I think Bush used the words in one of his speeches leading up to the invasion ... despite the fact that Iraq was not entering a genocide.

Revolutionaries have a long history of turn ideals like this on its head. A Marxist is likely to say that they have a responsiblity to protect people from the market. I suspect that there are many radical environmentalists who've concluded that a genocide is the only way to save us from the inconvenient truth of global warming. Like the ICC, it would take a great deal of international effort to establish a foundation for this ideal, and it is possible for nut jobs like the progressives or neocons to undermine it.

I simply highlight it as a quality idea worth consideration.