Tag Archives: Responsibility To Protect

R2P not R2I

The latest edition of The Economist contains an excellent article about attempts to undermine the UN commitment (such as it is) to the “responsibility to protect” (R2P). It contains some important history:

R2P is certainly not—to judge by a careful reading of its history—a mere ploy by rich and powerful countries to poke their noses into the affairs of small nations. Its origins are somewhat more interesting.

One of the first international bodies to endorse the concept, or a version of it, was the African Union, which emerged from the discredited Organisation of African Unity. The AU’s Constitutive Act included a provision for “the right of the Union to intervene in a member state pursuant to a decision of the [AU] assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.” It cited a new principle of “non-indifference” to large-scale crimes.

One of R2P’s keenest sponsors was Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian who preceded Mr Ban as secretary-general. Mr Annan has agonised in public about the UN’s failure in Rwanda, when he was head of un peacekeeping, and has argued that his success as a peace-broker in Kenya last year owed something to the existence of R2P as a moral instrument.

Meanwhile, America, far from dreaming up R2P as a crafty way of justifying imperialist adventures, was initially rather sceptical. Under the Bush administration, both the Pentagon and the State Department were intensely wary of signing up to anything that might bind them to take draconian action in the name of humanity.

Indeed, R2P was a part of a much broader 2005 reform of the United Nations that George Bush first sought to weaken, then only reluctantly accepted. And to this day, there are voices on America’s political right that remain profoundly sceptical about the idea of costly pledges to wage wars in the name of protecting people from inhumanity.

New UK Cabinet member and peer Glenys Kinnock speaks on the Responsibility To Protect

Most—almost all—of the media’s coverage of the ennoblement of Glenys Kinnock to permit her to become Europe Minister in the UK government has focused on the court politics. Glenys Kinnock was a Labour MEP and is the wife of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, himself a former European Commissioner. Thanks to longstanding general public skepticism about the European Union and the perception that many of its employees are ineffective and expensive, plus recent (and justified) outrage at UK politicians’ nepotism and use of expenses allowances, the story has been that Ms Kinnock has glided regally from one undemocratic seat on the gravy train to another. The Kinnocks’ collection of “six state pensions” has been a target of particular anger.

I have only contempt for the freshly exposed behaviour of a large minority of MPs (and for their subsequent excuse-making); the manipulation of candidate lists and the appointment of unelected insiders to Cabinet posts disgusts me. But, behind what appeared to be yet more establishment fixing, there was another story to tell: Kinnock’s maiden speech in the House of Lords addressed the Responsibility To Protect (“R2P”). She questioned the widely-held idea that R2P was solely about questions of military intervention in the affairs of sovereign states and emphasised that it should be about responsible international co-operation to protect threatened populations. I think there is truth in this, even if history suggests such a view is optimistic. Sadly (according to Google News at least), no one is interested in discussing global matters of life and death when there’s a bit of parochial political gossip to cover. Thanks to the shoddy parliament.uk Website—there’s a link to an “advanced search”, but it’s not clickable in Firefox—it’s difficult to find the speech, if it is even available to read. If I track it down, I will post it here.