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The Responsibility to Protect: Evolution and Implementation

Keynote Address by Gareth Evans, President of International Crisis Group and Co-Chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, to London School of Economics/Kings College London Conference on Ethical Dimensions of European Foreign Policy, London, 1 July 2005

European foreign policy makers have been struggling since the end of the Cold War with the problem of when, if ever, it is right for states to take coercive action, in particular military action, against another state for the purpose of protecting people at risk within it. So have the policy makers of a great many other states, but the issue has been a particularly resonant one for Europeans – partly because some of the starkest examples of the problem arose in the 90s on European soil, in Bosnia and Kosovo, and partly because Europeans have for a long time liked to think that there is a somewhat more moral or selfless dimension to their foreign policy than that of others: soft v. hard power, Venus v. Mars and all that. It’s perhaps not by chance that it was in Europe that the issue was first characterised as ‘humanitarian intervention’.

Before the end of the Cold War the issue was not a particularly resonant one, not because no such issues arose before then – think just of the Cambodian genocide in the mid-1970s – but because until then the possibility of cohesive Security Council action was no more than theoretically possible. And even if it had been, the whole culture of international law and politics seemed heavily resistant to action: for all the markers laid down by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the Covenants of 1966, and even the Genocide Convention itself in 1948, non-interference in domestic affairs still led the list of God-given commandments so far as practical international discourse was concerned. Vietnam was condemned for its intervention in Cambodia in 1978, not praised for overturning the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

With the end of the Cold War the theoretical possibility of Permanent Five cooperation became real, and a stream of catastrophic internal rights violation situations arose putting the Security Council to the test. For the most part, as we can all remember, it lamentably failed: there was the pathetically inadequate response to the genocidal killing of 800,000 men women and children in Rwanda, the utter inability of the UN presence to prevent murderous ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica, and the Security Council’s inability to agree on the legitimacy of NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999. Confusion and argument continues as to whether there was any kind of human rights justification – in the absence of any other credible rationale – for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

And now, for all that we repeatedly chant the post-Holocaust, post-Cambodia, post-Rwanda mantra of ‘never again’, we are asking ourselves yet again, in the face of more mass killing and dying in Darfur, whether we really are capable, as a European community or a wider international community, of stopping nation-states murdering and killing by neglect their own people. How can we go on tolerating a situation where, on conservative estimates more than 200,000 have died already over the last two years; the Janjaweed militia are still either out of control, or being controlled all too destructively by Khartoum; over 2 million are displaced; and disease and malnutrition are killing thousands more each month? How many more times will we look back wondering, with varying degrees of incomprehension, horror, anger and shame, how we could have let it all happen?

For all the bad news, there is still, nonetheless, a good news story to be told. And that is the emergence in recent years of a whole new way of looking at the humanitarian intervention issue – in terms of ‘the responsibility to protect’ – which is showing signs of bridging the conceptual and political divide, which has constantly inhibited effective action in the past and continues to do so today, between those who want to defend, at almost any cost, traditional principles of state sovereignty, and those who assert, almost without limitation ‘the right to intervene’. We cannot yet be said to have reached, as an international community, anything like complete consensus as to how and when any intervention should be undertaken, and under whose authority. And while the disagreement continues, people keep dying. But we are at least now on our way. It’s my purpose today to describe both how far we have come, and the distance that remains to be travelled.

Birth of a Doctrine

There are several reasons why the problem of humanitarian intervention – or ‘intervention for human protection purposes’ as many humanitarian organisations, for understandable reasons, prefer to describe it – has proved so hard to resolve. The first is simply that there are no clear existing international law rules. The UN Charter is at best neutral on the subject, and at worst negative. The founders of the UN in 1945 were preoccupied, understandably enough, with countering aggressive war by states against each other. They expressly outlawed the threat or use of military force (Art 2.4), except for self-defence strictly defined (Art 51) and as authorised by the new Security Council ‘to maintain or restore international peace and security’ (Art 42); then reinforced all this by enshrining as the basic norms of international relations the principle of the equality of sovereign states (Art 2.1) and their non-intervention in each other’s domestic affairs (Art 2.7).

At the same time the UN founders were conscious of the catastrophic human rights violations of the preceding years – above all the Nazi genocide – and this did generate a new momentum for the better protection by international law of individual human rights. At least a toehold of recognition was gained for human rights in the terms of the Charter itself, and standards were spelled out more comprehensively in the big human rights instruments of 1948 and 1966 already mentioned. Unfortunately the limits on state sovereignty implied by human rights standards were not set out in the Charter nearly as clearly as the principle of sovereignty itself.

And so the tension at the heart of the Charter – between state security and human security, between state rights and human rights – remained essentially unresolved. The criminality involved in the government of a state attacking and invading another was amply recognised, and mechanisms to deal with it amply provided. However, in relation to the criminality of a government perpetrating or acquiescing in large-scale killings of its own people, those who wrote the Charter gave no guidance at all. The Security Council can, if it chooses, characterise these essentially internal situations as amounting to a ‘threat to international peace and security’, and as such use its authority under the Charter to authorise enforcement measures, but there is an obvious element of artificiality and discomfort involved in doing this which makes the achievement of consensus extremely difficult.

The second reason for the issue of humanitarian intervention being so difficult to resolve is the emotional attachment to state sovereignty by so many countries. All states hate the idea they might be the target of a coercive external intervention, and the memory is strong in the developing world as to how such intervention has been used and misused in the past. Africans remember all too well what French missions civilisatrices meant for them. Latin American states are particularly sensitive given the history of their region: they understandably think of the Monroe Doctrine as not so much designed to keep the Europeans off their backs as the Americans on them. Asian states, with their own history (although in many cases for other less elevated reasons), retain an almost visceral discomfort with the whole idea of intervening in what goes on inside other countries.

The principle of non-intervention has proved wonderfully attractive to the legions of new states who have joined the UN in the decades since 1945 – increasing its numbers from 51 to the present 191 as the tide of decolonisation and post-Cold War state fragmentation proceeded. Sovereignty hard won is sovereignty not lightly conceded, and it is not surprising that for many of the new states an extreme interpretation of Article 2, seen as immunising them from almost any external scrutiny at all, has become something of an article of faith. But there are regional differences within the developing world: sovereignty sentiment continues to run much more strongly in Asia at one end of the spectrum than it does in sub-Saharan Africa at the other, where the despair in recent years has been as much about the lack of intervention as its happening.

There is a third, more contemporary, reason why consensus on any new approach to humanitarian continues to be elusive. Suspicions have been reinforced once more by the use of this rationale – i.e. action to depose a tyrant, to protect the country’s people - to justify the 2003 war in Iraq: not from the outset, but as other rationales fell away. As weapons of mass destruction failed to turn up, and the evidence of Saddam Hussein’s links with terrorists failed to get any stronger, Tony Blair and other defenders of the war were forced back to supporting it on straightforward so-called humanitarian intervention grounds: Saddam’s gross mistreatment of his own people, which reached genocidal levels in his use of chemical weapons against Kurds in the late 80s and his massacre of southern Shiites in the early 90s.

There are a number of problems with this rationale. It certainly did not appear to be the real motive for intervention, or anything like it, at the time. It sits uneasily with the West’s blind-eyed acquiescence in Saddam’s genocidal behaviour at the times in question. It suggests that the rationale for humanitarian intervention, or intervention for human protection purposes, is as much punishment as it is to avert here and now threats which are actually occurring or imminently about to occur. It suggests that any regime guilty of extreme human rights violations in the past, however muted its behaviour since, can be militarily attacked by others at a time of their choosing. And it doesn’t acknowledge that even if a prima facie can be made for going to war on this ground, the case for actually doing so depends on multiple other criteria being satisfied, not least that the results of military action will not be worse than taking no action.

So what are the principles that should govern our responses if and when these kind of situations come along? The most substantial effort so far to identify them, and to lay the foundations for an international consensus around them, has been the work of the Canadian government-sponsored International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), which I had the privilege of co-chairing, with Mohamed Sahnoun, and which presented its report to the UN Secretary General at the end of 2001. The Commission made, I think it is fair to say, four main contributions to the international policy debate.

The first, and perhaps ultimately the politically most useful, was to invent a new way of talking about the whole issue of humanitarian intervention. We sought to turn the whole weary debate about the ‘right to intervene’ on its head, and to recharacterise it not as an argument about any ‘right’ at all, but rather about a ‘responsibility’ – one to protect people at grave risk – with the relevant perspective being not that of the prospective interveners but, more appropriately, those needing support. This new language has been helpful already in taking some of the heat and emotion out of the policy debate, requiring the actors to change their lines, and think afresh about what are the real issues are. Our hope - and so far our experience - is that entrenched opponents will find new ground on which to more constructively engage, just as proved to be the case between developers and environmentalists after the Brundtland Commission introduced the concept of ‘sustainable development’.

The second contribution of the Commission, perhaps most conceptually significant, was to come up with a new way of talking about sovereignty: we argued that its essence should now be seen not as control but as responsibility. The UN Charter’s explicit language emphasises the respect owed to state sovereignty in its traditional Westphalian sense, but actual state practice has evolved in the nearly 60 years since the Charter was signed: the new focus on human rights and, more recently, on human security, emphasises the limits of sovereignty.

We spelt out the implications of that change by arguing that sovereignty implies responsibilities as well as rights: to be sovereign means both to be responsible to one’s own citizens and to the wider international community through the UN. The starting point is that any state has the primary responsibility to protect the individuals within it. But that’s not the finishing point: where the state fails in that responsibility, a secondary responsibility to protect falls on the international community acting through the U.N.

The third contribution of the Commission was to make it clear that the ‘responsibility to protect’ was about much more than intervention, and in particular military intervention. It extends to a whole continuum of obligations:

the responsibility to prevent: to address both the root causes and direct causes of internal conflict and other man-made crises putting populations at risk;

the responsibility to react: to respond to situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures, which may include coercive measures like sanctions and international prosecution, and in extreme cases military intervention; and

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.

Of these three dimensions to the responsibility to protect, the Commission made very clear its view that prevention was the single most important. But that said, the question of military action remains, for better or worse, the most prominent and controversial one in the debate. Whatever else it encompasses, the responsibility to protect implies above all else a responsibility to react - where necessary coercively, and in extreme cases with military coercion - to situations of compelling need for human protection. So the fourth contribution of the Commission was to come up with guidelines – going both to legality and legitimacy - for when military action is appropriate.

Legitimacy. The effectiveness of the global collective security system, as with any other legal order, depends ultimately not only on the legality of decisions, but the common perception of their legitimacy – their being made on solid evidentiary grounds, for the right reasons, morally as well as legally. The Commission identified five criteria of legitimacy which we argued should be applied by the Security Council - and be used by the world at large to test - the validity of any case made for a coercive humanitarian intervention.

Adopting and applying these five criteria of legitimacy may not guarantee that the objectively best outcome will always prevail, but it would maximise the possibility of achieving Security Council consensus around when it is appropriate or not to go to war; maximise international support for whatever the Security Council decides; and minimise the possibility of individual member states bypassing or ignoring the Security Council.

(1) Just Cause: is the harm threatened sufficiently clear and serious to justify going to war? We set the bar for military intervention deliberately high, and tight, excluding many kinds of unconscionable behaviour (e.g. imprisonment and torture of political opponents, overthrow of a democratically elected government) that would certainly other forms of coercive response, (e.g. targeted sanctions):

There must be serious and irreparable harm occurring to human beings, or imminently likely to occur, of the following kind:

A. large scale loss of life, actual or apprehended, with genocidal intent or not, which is the product either of deliberate state action, or state neglect or inability to act, or a failed state situation; or

B. large scale ‘ethnic cleansing’, actual or apprehended, whether carried out by killing, forced expulsion, acts of terror or rape.

(2) Right Intention: is the primary purpose of the proposed military action to halt or avert the threat in question, whatever other motives may be in play?

(3) Last Resort: has every non-military option for the prevention or peaceful resolution of the crisis been explored, with reasonable grounds for believing lesser measures will not succeed?

(4) Proportional Means: is the scale, duration and intensity of the planned military action the minimum necessary to secure the defined human protection objective?

(5) Reasonable Prospects: is there a reasonable chance of the military action being successful in meeting the threat in question, with the consequences of action not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction?

The ‘balance of consequences’ test is, and should be, a particularly important constraint. Apart from anything else, it effectively rules out military action against any one of the five permanent members of the Security Council – e.g. against Russia over Chechnya, or against China over some imaginable course of events in Xinjiang - even if all other conditions for intervention were to be met.

The same is true for other major powers – which is why Indonesia’s permission was required for the East Timor intervention: that permission was reluctantly given, and under much international pressure, but it was given, and the case was, accordingly, not one of coercive ‘humanitarian intervention’ at all. This is why a military intervention to respond to the situations in Indonesia’s Aceh or Papua provinces, however much it deteriorated, can be effectively ruled out. Coercive external intervention would simply trigger a much larger conflict, multiplying the human catastrophe involved.

All this raises the familiar question of double standards, to which the only answer can be this: the reality that interventions may not be able to be mounted in every case where there is justification for doing so, is no reason for them not to be mounted in any case.

Legality. What if, taking into account all these five criteria of legitimacy, a very clear case can be made for coercive intervention, but the Security Council – under the UN Charter the only source of authority for the use of military force, except in cases of legitimate self-defence - simply won’t vote to authorise it? This was essentially the issue that had to be confronted with Kosovo in 1999, when all the elements of a horrific new ethnic cleansing operation were falling into place but Russia made clear it would veto any military intervention.

In these cases a very real dilemma arises as to which of two evils is the worse: the damage to international order if the Security Council is bypassed, or in the damage to that order if human beings are slaughtered while the Security Council stands by.

The ICISS Commission’s response to this dilemma was not to try and establish some alternative basis for the legality of interventions in these situations - we saw our role as not to find alternatives to the Security Council as a source of authority, but to make it work better. We opted instead for a clear political message: if an individual state or ad hoc coalition steps in, fully observes and respects all the necessary criteria of legitimacy, intervenes successfully, and is seen to have done so by world public opinion, then this is likely to have enduringly serious consequences for the stature and credibility of the UN itself. That is pretty much what happened with the U.S. and NATO intervention in Kosovo, and the UN cannot afford to drop the ball too many times on that scale.

There is another side to this credibility argument which arose in the context of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, where world opinion was manifestly not in favour of the intervention: here the French and others were - and still are - able to claim, with some effectiveness, that the credibility of the UN would have been put more at risk if the Security Council had gone along for the ride rather than resisting, as it did, the US pressure.

The Evolution of a Doctrine

It is one thing to develop a concept of this kind, but quite another to get any policy maker to take any notice of it. Everyone’s bookshelves are full of barely opened reports by blue ribbon commissions and panels. The most interesting thing about the Responsibility to Protect report is the way its central theme has continued to gain traction internationally, even though it was almost suffocated at birth by being published in December 2001, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and by the massive international preoccupation with terrorism, rather than internal human rights catastrophe, which then began.

For a start the ‘responsibility to protect’ concept was embraced enthusiastically by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who acknowledged, very graciously, that it had rather more potential to bridge the sovereignty v. intervention divide than his own earlier attempt to find consensus around the idea of ‘state sovereignty’ needing to be balanced by a recognition of the competing claims of ‘individual sovereignty’. It began to be embraced, importantly, in the doctrine of the newly emerging African Union. And over the next two to three years it won quite a constituency among academic commentators and international lawyers, a number of whom were prepared to accept, to a greater or lesser extent, the ICISS Commission’s own rather heroic assessment of the ‘responsibility to protect’ as already an emerging international norm which might in due course become accepted as customary international law.

International law being the rather odd beast that it is – capable of evolving through practice and commentary as well as through formal treaty instruments - these embraces and acknowledgments are to some extent self-fulfilling. But that is only the case if the momentum is maintained: if the responsibility to protect concept is to really catch hold, and become the primary frame of reference within which catastrophic human rights violations are assessed and responded to in the future, its acceptance has to become considerably more visible and universal.

A lot of effort has been going into maintaining that momentum. Two big milestones have now been passed in that respect, and a third lies ahead. First, the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, whose report A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility was submitted to the Secretary-General in December 2004, squarely adopted the whole concept in these words (para 203):

We endorse the emerging norm that there is a collective international responsibility to protect, exercisable by the Security Council authorizing military intervention as a last resort, in the event of genocide or other large-scale killing, ethnic cleansing or serious violations of international humanitarian law which sovereign Governments have proved powerless or unwilling to prevent.

The High Level Panel also effectively endorsed the criteria of legitimacy on which the ICISS Commission had insisted be a basis for any resort to military action: the only difference was that the Panel recommended that these criteria be applied by the Security Council not only when considering the use of military force in internal ‘humanitarian intervention’ situations, but indeed to all decisions to use military force in any context whatever.

The second big milestone that has been passed is the embrace of these recommendations by the Secretary-General himself in his own proposals for reform published in March 2005 as In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All, which are going forward to the September Milennium Plus Five Summit, in the context of the UN’s 60th Anniversary. After repeating, in effect, the language of the High Level Panel, he went on to say (para 135):

While I am well aware of the sensitivities involved in this issue, I strongly agree with this approach. I believe we must embrace the responsibility to protect, and, when necessary, we must act on it.

There are indeed sensitivities still involved in this issue, and they are on full display as the third milestone approaches – the adoption of the Secretary-General’s recommendations by the heads of state and government assembled at the Millennium Plus Five Summit itself. The concept of the responsibility to protect and all it entails is, like the rest of the package that will go forward, being vigorously discussed within a declaration-drafting process that is being conducted at two levels – on the one hand, the working General Assembly level, with its familiar cast of New York diplomats (what might be described as ‘down in the weeds’); and on the other, at the level of political figures and senior officials in capitals and those in the UN Secretariat liaising with them (perhaps describable as ‘up in the tower’).

An ever-present characteristic of UN diplomacy is that the view from up in the tower tends to be more encouraging than that from down in the weeds, where for a great many delegates the frisson involved in the strident repetition of entrenched positions – often with complete indifference to more flexible signals coming from a representative’s own capital – is rivalled for pleasure only by pulling off a labyrinthine procedural blocking manoeuvre.

Capitals, by and large, have been supportive, certainly in Europe, with reasonably strong commitments from African leaders, and some emerging support from Latin America (traditionally a region nervous about any suggestion of limitations on sovereignty), neutralising less enthusiasm elsewhere within G-77 ranks. The US has also been usefully supportive, with a particularly strong endorsement of the responsibility to protect concept – contained in the influential report, American Interests and UN Reform, of the USIP Task Force on the United Nations, chaired by Newt Gingrich and George Mitchell.

A useful feature of European statements has been an insistence that the debate is not just about language. The European Commission, for example, in its recent communication to the Council and Parliament, for example, said:

The EU should support the concept of the responsibility to protect and make sure that this concept is translated into meaningful commitments and action on the part of States, including making full use of the International Criminal Court…If the Summit decides to invite the General Assembly to continue the debate on the issue, such an invitation should be accompanied with a clear objective and timeframe (not beyond the 60th General Assembly.)

The present state of the debate in the lead-up to the September Summit is more or less captured in the ‘Draft Outcome Document’ presented to member States by General Assembly President Jean Ping last month, reflecting primarily the outcome of weeks of preliminary consultations down in the weeds, but also informed by Ping’s sense of what the tower might be prepared to embrace. There is not much enthusiasm for embracing any specific criteria of legitimacy for the use of force, with the document saying only:

We recognize the need to continue discussing principles for the use of force, as identified by the Secretary-General, and that such principles should be among the factors considered by the Security Council in deciding to authorise the use of force as provided under the Charter.

But on the core ‘responsibility to protect’ issue itself, the President’s draft basic language is quite encouragingly explicit:

We agree that the responsibility to protect civilian populations lies first and foremost within each individual State. The international community should, as necessary, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility. The international community has also the responsibility to use diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means under Chapter VI and VIII of the UN Charter to help protect civilian populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. If such peaceful means appear insufficient, we recognize our shared responsibility to take collective action through the Security Council and, as appropriate, in cooperation with relevant regional organizations, under Chapter VII of the Charter.

There is a little sting in the tail of the President’s draft, however, with the further line: We stress the need to continue consideration of the concept of the responsibility to protect within the General Assembly. That way perhaps lies, as it has often enough in the past, the Sargasso Sea…

So while the story of the evolution of the’ responsibility to protect’ in a few short years, from a gleam in a commission’s eye to a broadly accepted international norm, is an extremely encouraging one, the issue does still hang in the balance. For those who see this concept as creating the conditions for a far more effective response to conscience-shocking situations than the international community has managed in the past, the challenge is to pull out all stops to ensure that the momentum of its evolution doesn’t grind to a halt in September. If we can achieve unequivocal acceptance of the approach first mapped by the ICISS Commission and subsequently embraced by both the High Level Panel and the Secretary General, I believe we really will be well on the way to building an international legal order that, despite all the challenges which continue to buffet it, will give us some grounds for optimism that we are not forever condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past, not only the mistake of going to war when we should not be, but what can be the even bigger mistake of not going to war – to protect our fellow human beings from catastrophe – when we should be.

The Implementation of a Doctrine

Of course even an unequivocal endorsement of the responsibility to protect concept by the Millennium Plus Five Summit will not constitute any kind of guarantee that when the next conscience shocking situation comes along, as we must fear and expect that it will, a state’s people will be protected. We can’t assume that preventive measures will succeed; nor can we assume that in every case, even with maximum external support or pressure as the case may be, a state’s incapacity or ill-will will be overcome. And so the issue will come down, as it has so often, as to whether others in the international community will have the will, and the capacity to act.

The whole argument of this address has been that there will be a better chance of mobilising that will, state by state, and in the Security Council itself, if a genuine consensus can be reached around the responsibility to protect as the basic norm of international discourse. But the question of operational capacity demands a separate final word. Even with complete agreement, in some last resort situation, about the legality and legitimacy of military intervention, and the every will to deploy military force, there may just not be the capacity to do so, or at least a capacity to deploy force of the kind required.

The problems here are all very familiar ones. Those countries with apparently massive capacity – in terms of both personnel numbers and equipment - are often preoccupied with battles and deployments elsewhere, or have the wrong kind of troop configurations and equipment to do the fast and flexible jobs most often required. Throughout Europe in particular, in country after country, the number of troops operationally deployable at any given time is a tiny percentage of the men and women in uniform. Elsewhere in the world, there may be no apparent shortage of boots able to go on the ground – but there will be issues of training, command, control and communications capability, transportability and general logistic support. And for any proposed multinational deployment there will be issues of planning, mission control, and field command – who is responsible for what, and interoperability

The issue of capacity is one with which Europe, in particular, must continue to grapple. There is a gradually increasing capability to do small peace enforcement jobs quite well. Operation Artemis, the emergency deployment of 1400 troops at UN request to stabilise a rapidly deteriorating situation in the Ituri region of the Congo, was the first of its kind under wholly EU auspices, made possible because for all practical purposes, though a number of other countries contributed, it was a one-country French operation. We are now seeing the gradual commitment of similar sized ‘battlegroups’ – each comprising some 1,500 troops from single nations, or groups of up to four – thirteen of which are intended to be up to full operational capability by 2007-08.

For any larger sized deployment, however, conducted on a multinational basis as will usually need to be the case, Europe as Europe for now simply lacks operational capability. The EU Military Committee and its Military Staff, established in 2001, have some planning and advisory, but not mission control capability. Small cells for operational planning of EU-led missions exist within NATO headquarters at SHAPE, and the EU in Brussels, but only for so called ‘Berlin Plus’ operations in which NATO assets are used (e.g. ALTHEA in Bosnia, and CONCORDIA in Macedonia). A civil-military planning cell within the Council Secretariat for autonomous EU operations was supposed to be operational by the beginning of 2005 but is still being recruited. An operations centre able to plan and actually conduct operations at least on the scale of Artemis was supposed to be ready for activation by January 2006 but little or no progress seems to have been made on this.

The present situation in Darfur is a classic demonstration of the problem of military implementation (leaving aside for present purposes the political implementation) of the international responsibility to protect. At least 12,000 fully mandated troops – probably many more, but this number at a minimum – are, in the International Crisis Group’s judgement, needed on the ground right now to protect villages against further attack or destruction, protect IDPs against forced repatriation and intimidation, protect women from systematic rape outside IDP camps, provide security for humanitarian operations, and neutralise the government supported militias who continue to prey on civilians.

At the moment, under the current African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) there are only some 3000 inadequately mandated personnel on the ground, with plans to increase this number (with UN, NATO and EU training, logistic and financial support – but no non-African troops) to over 7000 by September. The extra 5,000 needed, at a minimum, are presently nowhere to be seen: no individual African country has that number available, and any multinational operation is hindered by the interoperability and other problems I have already mentioned. From the outside Africa – if the Africans could be persuaded to accept it – the reality presently is that the only credible multinational force of this size that could be put together in the necessary time frame would be one put in the field by NATO (with a NATO force having the further advantage of being able to draw on countries like Canada, Norway – and, particularly usefully in this context, Muslim but non-Arab Turkey). A handful of individual EU countries might be able to provide a force of the right size and capability, but not, at the moment, the EU as such.

All this means that if we are going to take the responsibility to protect seriously, we have a lot more work to do – not only to bed down global acceptance of the critical underlying norm, not only to mobilise the political will to act in individual cases as the circumstances demand, but also, in really critical cases, to put military resources of the necessary capability on the ground when and where they are required. I for one never again want to be standing before an audience such as this saying “never again”, but I fear that it is all too likely that I will.