The Stanley Foundation
Menu
Close
Seeking a secure peace with freedom and justice, built on global citizenship and effective global governance.
Search 
"R2P" involves more than military intervention

Rachel Gerber
The Des Moines Register
April 2011

The humanitarian impulse that prompted military action in Libya and the Ivory Coast has led many to point to an international principle known as the "responsibility to protect" and cite both operations as proof of its growing influence.

The speed with which the international community intervened to protect Libyans from atrocities committed by their own government was truly astounding. Consensus to act built momentum that strengthened United Nations peacekeeping mandates in the Ivory Coast, which recently resulted in a captive Laurent Gbagbo.

Yet, the responsibility to protect, or R2P, is a complex framework for mass atrocity prevention and response, and there is a danger in conflating its success with that of recent military engagements.

R2P, adopted in 2005 by the full spectrum of world leaders, is first and foremost an affirmation of the responsibility of governments to protect their own populations from the most heinous forms of civilian-targeted violence. This primary responsibility echoes the deeply held American value that governments rule only by the consent of the governed. When a government systematically slaughters its own civilians, that consent is broken.

Governments fail to protect their populations either because they are unable or unwilling to do so. For those unable, R2P charges the international community to help them meet their protection responsibilities. Long before crises erupt, it commits U.N. member states to help countries build institutions that provide stability and buffer against the risk of atrocity.

When preventive efforts fail, R2P insists the world take action. The use of military force, however, rests explicitly on the inadequacy of peaceful measures to protect populations under threat. Even coercive responses include non-military options such as economic sanctions, travel bans, asset freezes and other diplomatic maneuvers.

Force, once exercised, is difficult to manage. Uncertainties lead to inevitable miscalculations and unintended consequences. In many situations, geopolitical complexities lead even the most enthusiastic of "protectors" to conclude that military intervention will likely do more harm than good.

The founders of the R2P concept were well aware of these limitations. Acknowledging them, their report cites six criteria against which to weigh military action. The list begins with right authority, just cause and right intention, and is notably summed by the following: last resort, proportional means and reasonable prospects.

Libya and Ivory Coast are unique among the many crises that threaten mass atrocities in the way each of these criteria suddenly and starkly aligned. While simultaneous crackdowns by other regimes in the Middle East and North Africa may evoke a sense of just cause, military intervention would likely cause more deaths than those saved, making intervention reckless and disproportionate. Chronic and highly complex cases such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, on the other hand, suggest little reasonable prospect for the success of a "military solution."

Many have been quick to criticize the apparent selectivity of a military response to the threat against Ivorian and Libyan civilians, given other cases in which nations have clearly failed to protect their people. If R2P were reduced to a simple doctrine of military intervention, such selectivity would be difficult to deny.

When you look at other ways R2P has been applied, however, the picture balances significantly. Large-scale ethnic violence was stemmed in Kenya in 2008 through mediation prompted by R2P principles. Key global players have invested greatly in the peaceful transition of an independent southern Sudan. Civilian-based stabilization support has sought to diffuse risk in post-atrocity Kyrgyzstan. These efforts may be imperfect, but each reflects acceptance by the international community of its obligation to protect civilians.

R2P's ultimate success should be judged not by the number of military responses mobilized to halt mass killing, but rather by the full range of efforts made by the international community to ensure that all nations earn and retain the consent of the governed. The concept as a whole encompasses so much more than intervention.
Share: Email Facebook Twitter
HIGHLIGHTS
Courier Courier
The weather has turned chilly, which means it’s time to sit down with the hot beverage of your choice and peruse the Fall 2017 issue of Courier from the Stanley Foundation. This issue includes a look at unarmed civilian protection, the rise of commercial satellite imagery in the monitoring of nuclear proliferation, the threat of environmental problems in Colombia and a tribute to two diplomats from the Marshall Islands. Fall 2017 PDF (1,151K) Subscribe for FREE.

the latest the latest
Our bimonthly newsletter is filled with resources to keep you up to date with our work at the Stanley Foundation. Each edition includes news about recent publications and stories as well as features our people and partners.

You will also find many extras, from upcoming events to multimedia resources. Sign up for the latest to stay engaged on key global issues.


Employment Opportunities
Administrative Specialist, Policy Programming
We are seeking an organized, efficient, and detail-oriented administrative specialist. This full-time position provides direct administrative support to the vice president/director of policy programming strategy, and the Policy Programming team who are collectively responsible for conceptualizing and implementing the foundation’s policy and media programming.

Employment Opportunities
Operations Specialist
The Stanley Foundation is looking for a dedicated, dynamic individual who has a passion for working in the field of event planning and prefers a small-business atmosphere with opportunities for international travel.

Program Associate, Media Programming
The Stanley Foundation seeks a program associate for media programming. Media programming includes workshops, story labs, trainings, briefings, forums, reporting projects, and fellowships for journalists and other media practitioners.


Stanley Foundation Annual Conferences Stanley Foundation Annual Conferences
The Stanley Foundation holds two annual conferences, UN Issues and the Strategy for Peace Conference. These bring together experts from the public and private sectors to meet in a distraction-free setting and candidly exchange ideas on pressing foreign policy challenges.

Divided into roundtable talks, the cutting-edge discussions are intended to inspire group consensus and shared recommendations to push forward the debate on the foundation’s key policy areas.


The Stanley Foundation: Part of COP23 The Stanley Foundation: Part of COP23
As a part of our efforts to limit global warming to 1.5° C, the foundation put forward policy ideas to achieve a global turning point in emissions by 2020, built upon efforts to catalyze global climate action by countries and sub- and non-state actors, and worked with journalists to strengthen coverage of the UN climate negotiations.

A Climate for Conflict: Stories from Somalia A Climate for Conflict: Stories from Somalia
The Ground Truth Project, New America, and the Stanley Foundation are hosting a Screening of “A Climate for Conflict” and discussion with the creators followed by a panel discussion on Climate Security and Societal Resilience on May 30, 2017.

Somalia today is at a crossroads between a deepening crisis and a path to stability. Photographer and filmmaker Nichole Sobecki and writer Laura Heaton spent 18 months documenting personal stories of Somalia, creating a film, photography, and reporting that vividly illustrate the human consequences and security risks of a changing climate. Read more.

Follow the conversation online with #AClimateforConflict.


Receive Materials Receive Materials
The Stanley Foundation publishes policy briefs, analytical articles, and reports on a number of international issues. To reduce our carbon footprint and cut waste, we almost exclusively, use electronic distribution for our publications. Sign up to receive our resources via e-mail.

Watch and Learn Watch and Learn
Stanley Foundation events, talks, video reports, and segments from our Now Showing event-in-a-box series can now be viewed on YouTube. To receive regular updates on our video posts, please subscribe today.