Obama and R2P

Via POMED, the conservative Heritage Foundation raises the alarm that Obama may be committing the US to the Responsability to Protect doctrine after the Libya intervention:

Therefore it would appear that the Obama Administration has adopted both the basic philosophy and the operational characteristics of R2P. This should come as no surprise when the key decision makers regarding Libya included Samantha Power, who authored a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on genocide, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who promised during her presidential campaign to “operationalize” the R2P doctrine and “adopt a policy that recognizes the prevention of mass atrocities as an important national security interest of the United States, not just a humanitarian goal” and “develop a government-wide strategy to support this policy, including a strategy for working with other leading democracies, the United Nations, and regional organizations.”[5]

But the Administration should renounce its flirtation with R2P and reject it as its philosophical basis for military intervention. Adhering to the R2P doctrine sets a dangerous precedent. The more nations that appear to follow the doctrine out of a sense of obligation, the more that the doctrine may be considered to have attained normative status—a step towards recognition of R2P as binding customary international law. If R2P is considered to have attained that status, its principles may be considered obligatory, rather than voluntary.

Such an occurrence is likely to constrain U.S. action in the future. Inevitably a time will come when the U.S. will want to intervene in a situation, perhaps to stop an atrocity, only to be criticized for not first receiving authorization from the U.N. Security Council. U.S. strikes against a nation’s leadership in some future intervention may be condemned as “disproportionate” to the humanitarian mission of protecting a civilian population. In short, by adopting the principles of R2P in the Libyan intervention, the President is legitimizing the doctrine and raising the bar for justification for future U.S. military actions.

What is being described here — that US military action against another country should not happen without UNSC sanction — is a good thing. It would have prevented the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I would rather worry of an obligation to act if R2P becomes the norm. What is it with these neocons, who always want to leave the option to attack a country on the table? Might as well leave the UN if that's the case, since its basic principle is that no country can attack another outside of UNSC sanction or aside from cases of self-defense. 

1 Comment

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.