The International Responsibility to Protect: The Tasks Ahead
Address by Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group and Co-Chair of International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, to Seminar Africa’s Responsibility to Protect, The Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town, 23 April 2007
The Problem from Hell
It is hard to believe how long it has taken the world’s policymakers to come to grips with the idea that there is something insanely, indefensibly wrong about states killing or forcibly displacing large numbers of their own citizens, or standing by when others do so, and that it is unacceptable for the rest of the world to stand by allowing this to happen.
The view has prevailed for centuries – all the way back to the emergence of the modern system of sovereign states with the 17th century Treaty of Westphalia – that what happens within state borders, however grotesque and morally indefensible, is basically nobody else’s business.
Even after World War II, and Hitler’s Holocaust, the overwhelming preoccupation of those who founded the UN was the problem of states waging war against each other. Some progress was certainly made, with individual and group human rights were recognized in the UN Charter and, more grandly and explicitly, in the Universal Declaration. And with the drafting of the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1945 came the recognition in international law of the concept of ‘crimes against humanity’, which could be committed by a government against its own people, and not necessarily just during wartime. But what captured the mood of the time more than any of these provisions was Article 2(7) of the UN Charter: “Nothing should authorise intervention in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State”.
Not even the signing of the Genocide Convention of 1948 made much difference, despite its apparently explicit override of the non-intervention principle for the most extreme of all crimes against humanity. The state of mind that even massive atrocity crimes like those of the Cambodian killing fields were not the rest of the world’s business prevailed throughout the UN’s first half-century of existence: Vietnam’s invasion, which stopped the Khmer Rouge in its tracks, was universally attacked, not applauded.
With the arrival of the 1990s, and the end of the Cold War, the prevailing complacent assumptions about non-intervention did at last come under challenge, as never before. The quintessential peace and security problem became not interstate war, but civil war and internal violence perpetrated on a massive scale. With the break-up of various Cold War state structures, most obviously in Yugoslavia, and the removal of some superpower constraints, conscience-shocking situations repeatedly arose. But old habits of non-intervention died very hard. Even when situations cried out for some kind of response, and the international community did react through the UN, it was too often erratically, incompletely or counter-productively, as in the debacle of Somalia in 1993, the catastrophe of Rwandan genocide in 1994, and the almost unbelievable default in Srebrenica just a year later, in 1995.
Then the killing and ethnic cleansing started all over again in Kosovo in 1999, with it becoming rapidly apparent that external military intervention was the only way to stop it. But again the Security Council failed to act in the face of a threatened veto by Russia. The action that needed to be taken was eventually taken, by a coalition of the willing, but in a way that raised anxious questions about the integrity of the whole international security system.
And now we are confronted with the catastrophic situation in Darfur, still dragging on after four years with no end in sight, with more than 200,000 dead and two and a half million displaced. This is not a simple situation to characterise – with neither ‘Arab v. African’ or ‘genocide’ labels easy to apply, and the government able to point to the role of the rebel groups both in initiating and continuing conflict – but it is one that has unquestionably involved a grotesque over-reaction by the Bashir regime, large scale killing, village burning, rape and pillage, immense continuing suffering for millions of people, and continuing impotence to stop it on the part of both the African Union and the wider international community. Since early 2004, over the period that 200,000 people were dying, the EU foreign ministers have issued 19 statements on Darfur using such phrases as ‘serious concern’ or ‘profound concern’ a total of 53 times. As Crisis Group Co-Chair Chris Patten put it last month, instead of expressing concern a 54th time, EU ministers should at the very least agree to apply to Khartoum some of the very strong economic sanctions measures that could have been applied at any time over the last three or four years but have still not been.
What has been going on here? Why have we said ‘Never Again’ so many times, only to have to say it again, and again, each time wondering, with varying degrees of degrees of incomprehension, horror, anger and shame, how we could have let it all happen again? There are no easy answers to this, but at least five factors seem to be relevant:
The tenacity of the core idea, going all the way back to the Treaty of Westphalia, that sovereignty means, above all else, control of a state’s territory, unfettered by external constraints: that sovereignty is, to put it crudely, a license to kill.
The prevalence and reinforcement of that ‘unfettered control’ mindset among the large number of new states which emerged during the decolonisation era to numerically dominate the UN chamber: all newly proud of their identity, conscious in many cases of their fragility, and generally seeing the non-intervention norm as one of their few defences against threats and pressures from more powerful international actors seeking to promote their own economic and political interests.
The profound suspicion on the part of many countries in e global South – much reinforced now, of course, by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 – that for all their high-minded talk of human rights and civilian protection, the big players in the global North will always be only too keen to ride roughshod over the weaker ones in pursuit of their own national interests, and should not be given any kind of excuse to do so.
The inability, at least until very recently, to conceptualise the issue of internal civilian protection against genocide and other crimes against humanity in other than military terms: the notion of ‘humanitarian intervention’, which dominated debate during the 1990s and continues to confuse it today, was conceived entirely in terms of non-consensual military force, and not as a graduated series of lesser measures with military action only as an absolute last resort.
Something more profound, and in many ways more troubling: the emerging evidence, in experiments documented in the New Scientist earlier this month, that Stalin was not far off the mark when he reputedly said ‘One man’s death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.’ The capacity to experience ‘affect’ – the emotional rather than rational component of decision-making, that which enables us to feel an issue and want to do something about it – is dulled rather than enhanced by large numbers. One recent U.S. study went so far as to demonstrate that donations to aid a starving 7 year-old child in Africa actually declined sharply when her image was accompanied by a statistical summary of millions like her elsewhere on the continent. If we are looking for spontaneous compassion to light the policymakers flame when it comes to mass atrocities, this may not be as easy as we sometimes assume.
It seemed by the end of the 1990s that the ‘never again’ problem was going to be with us forever – the ‘problem from hell’ as Samantha Power described it in her brilliant book on the world’s, and not least America’s, inability or unwillingness to respond effectively to genocide and mass atrocity.
Neither of the big efforts that had been made during that decade to set international thinking on a new path succeeded in generating any kind of consensus. The concept that dominated discourse most of that period was the ‘right to intervene’, or, more fully, the ‘right of humanitarian intervention’ coined by the founder of Médecins Sans Frontières Bernard Kouchner, as ‘droit d’ingérence’. But the trouble with this language is that, while it was from many perspectives a noble and effective rallying cry, around the world it enraged as many as it inspired.
And then, towards the end of the decade, there was the attempt made by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to resolve the conceptual impasse at the heart of this debate by arguing that national sovereignty had to be weighed and balanced in these cases against individual sovereignty, as recognised in the international human rights instruments. But this fell on deaf ears, being seen not so much as resolving the dilemma of intervention but restating it.
The Birth of a Solution
But out of all this despondency it does seem that a way forward has emerged, with the emergence and embrace, at least formally – and in a remarkably short time when measured against the decades or more it usually takes for new ideas to catch hold – of the concept of ‘the responsibility to protect’ .
The breakthrough came with the publication of the report of that name by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), sponsored by the Canadian Government, which I had the privilege of co-chairing along with the distinguished Algerian diplomat and veteran UN Africa adviser Mohamed Sahnoun. We had an outstanding group of commissioners, including Cyril Ramaphosa from South Africa, drawn more or less evenly from North and South, and we took care to hold a whole series of regional consultative meetings – not only in North America and Europe, but in Maputo, Cairo, New Delhi, Beijing and Santiago – before finalising our report and recommendations. In the event, we made, I think it is fair to say, four main contributions to the international policy debate which seem to have been resonating ever since.
The first, and perhaps ultimately the politically most useful, was to invent a new way of talking about ‘humanitarian intervention’. We sought to turn the whole weary debate about the ‘right to intervene’ on its head, and to re-characterise it not as an argument about the ‘right’ of states to anything, but rather about their ‘responsibility’ – one to protect people at grave risk: the relevant perspective, we argued, was not that of prospective interveners but those needing support. The searchlight was swung back where it should always be: on the need to protect communities from mass killing and ethnic cleansing, women from systematic rape and children from starvation.
The Commission’s hope was – and so far, broadly, our experience has been – that using ‘responsibility to protect’ rather than ‘right to intervene’ language would enable entrenched opponents to find new ground on which to more constructively engage. We very much had in mind the power of new ideas, or old ideas newly expressed, to actually change the behaviour of key policy actors. And a model we very much had in mind in this respect was the Brundtland Commission, which a few years earlier had introduced the concept of ‘sustainable development’ to bridge the huge gap which then existed between developers and environmentalists. With a new script, the actors have to change their lines, and think afresh about what the real issues in the play actually are.
The second contribution of the Commission, linked with the first and again conceptually significant, was to insist upon a new way of talking about sovereignty: we argued, building on an earlier formulation by Francis Deng, that its essence should now be seen not as ‘control’, as in the centuries old Westphalian tradition, but, again, as ‘responsibility’. The starting point is that any state has the primary responsibility to protect the individuals within it. But that is not the finishing point: where the state fails in that responsibility, through either incapacity or ill-will, a secondary responsibility to protect falls on the wider international community. That, in a nutshell, is the core of the responsibility to protect idea, or ‘R2P’as we are all now calling it for short.
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 these situations arising (most obvious and important of all in an ideal world, but most consistently neglected in the real one); the responsibility to react to them when they did, with a whole graduated menu of responses, from the persuasive to the coercive; and the responsibility to rebuild after any intrusive intervention.
The remaining contribution of the Commission was to come up with guidelines for when the most extreme form of coercive reaction, military action, would be appropriate. The first criterion was obviously legality, and here we saw our task as not to try and find alternatives to the clear legal authority of the Security Council, but rather to make it work better, so there was less chance of it being bypassed. That was followed by five criteria of legitimacy, designed as a set of benchmarks which, while they might not guarantee consensus in any particular case, would hopefully make its achievement much more likely.
It is one thing to develop a concept like the responsibility to protect, but quite another to get any policy maker to take any notice of it. 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 catastrophes, which then began.
There was some early enthusiasm for the R2P concept from academic commentators and international lawyers – and that’s not an not unimportant constituency, given that international law is the rather odd beast that it is, capable of evolving through practice and commentary as well as through formal treaty instruments.
But the first serious political embrace of it was in the doctrine of the newly emerging African Union, upon its creation in 2002 and with the establishment in particular of the Peace and Security Council in 2004. It is difficult to over-emphasise the importance of the shift, away from the preoccupation of the OAU with ‘non-interference’ to that of the AU, at least in theory, with ‘non-indifference’. Others at this seminar will be exploring in detail the extent to which R2P has in fact been taken up in Africa in theory and practice, and how much distance there remains to travel: my point for present purposes, from a wider international perspective, is that without a visible sub-Saharan commitment to the concept, it would most likely have died a very early death.
The really big step forward in terms of formal acceptance of R2P came with the UN 60th Anniversary World Summit in September 2005, which followed a major preparatory effort involving the report of the 2004 High Level Panel on new security threats (of which I was, rather conveniently, a member) which fed in turn into a major report by the Secretary-General himself. Both these reports emphatically embraced the responsibility to protect concept, and the Summit Outcome Document, unanimously agreed by the more than 150 heads of state and government present and meeting as the UN General Assembly, unambiguously picked up their core recommendations. Its language, though a little wordier and woollier than it needed to be, was quite clear-cut in picking up the core theme of the Commission report. The key words were these:
Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity… We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it…
The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to help to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII…, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
That this endorsement happened was anything but inevitable. Not much else of any significance was agreed by the Summit, despite all the preparatory build-up and high expectations. A fierce rearguard action was fought almost to the last by a small group of developing countries, joined by Russia, who basically refused to concede any kind of limitation on the full and untrammelled exercise of state sovereignty, however irresponsible that exercise might be.
What carried the day in the end was not so much consistent support from the EU and U.S. – support which after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not particularly helpful, it has to be acknowledged, when it came to meeting these familiar sovereignty concerns. Much more important – and I cannot emphasise this too much – was persistent advocacy by sub-Saharan African countries, led by South Africa, supplemented by a clear – and historically quite significant – embrace of limited-sovereignty principles by the key Latin American countries. There was also some very effective last minute personal diplomacy leaders of major wavering countries, including in Asia, by the Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin demonstrating the importance of seriously committed follow through, which doesn’t always happen, by countries commissioning reports of this kind.
A further important conceptual development has occurred since the September 2005 Summit: the adoption by the Security Council in April last year of a thematic resolution on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict which contains, in an operative paragraph, an express reaffirmation of the World Summit conclusions relating to the responsibility to protect. And we have now begun to see that resolution in turn now being invoked in subsequent specific situations, as with Resolution 1706 of 31 August 2006 on Darfur. A General Assembly resolution may be helpful, as the World Summit’s unquestionably was, in identifying relevant principles, but the Security Council is the institution that matters when it comes to executive action. And at least a toehold there has now been carved.
What is just as intriguing, and heartening, as these formal developments is the evidence that is now emerging that people around the world seem to think that we have it right in formulating the principle that there are limits to state sovereignty when it comes to the protection of people from genocide and similarly severe human rights violations. A major new opinion poll was released earlier this month by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org which found that, in each of the eleven countries surveyed, many more people favoured than were opposed to the proposition that ‘the UN Security Council has the responsibility to authorise the use of military force to protect people from severe human rights violations such as genocide, even against the will of their own government’. An extraordinary 76 per cent of Chinese approved, as did 74 per cent of Americans, and for example 69 per cent of Palestinians, 64 per cent of Israelis, 54 per cent of French and Poles, and 51 per cent of Indians.
So when it comes to ensuring that never again do we have another Rwanda, I think the reality is clear that we are not going to any better, for the indefinitely foreseeable future, than the R2P principle. It touches the right bases, and the right chords, and has shown that it is capable of winning very broad international acceptance indeed. In just over five years R2P has evolved from a gleam in a rather obscure international commission’s eye, to what now has the pedigree to be described as a broadly accepted international norm, and one with the potential to evolve further into a rule of customary international law. But the starting point is not the finishing point, and for all that has been achieved we still have a long way to go in bedding down complete international acceptance of the R2P principle and giving it practical effect as new cases arise.
Consolidating the Solution
There are, as I see it, five main tasks ahead of us if the R2P is to be genuinely consolidated, and become the real watershed I think we all want it to be.
First, hold the line against backsliding. For all the acceptance that R2P has won, those gains are still at some risk of drifting away, on the one hand in the face of continued hostility by enemies of the concept, and on the other hand as a result of misguided support for it by some of those who call themselves its friends.
The first class of enemies is obvious enough: the cynically self-interested. There are a number of countries who continue have something to hide or be ashamed about in terms of their own internal behaviour and are deeply reluctant to acknowledge, as a result, any limitations on their sovereignty: while they felt unable to hold out against the final consensus at the World Summit they will remain alert to any opportunity to puncture or undermine the concept.
The second class of enemy is less crudely self-interested, and more high-minded and ideological: those who retain a strong aversion to imperialism, or perceived neo-imperialism or neo-colonialism, in any shape or form, and who remain instinctively unwilling to concede in principle that external intervention – and in particular military intervention - could ever wholly avoid having that character.
This is a recurring theme in a lot of academic literature which continues to have some influence – for example recent articles by Alex de Waal in the Harvard International Review and Mahmood Mamdani in the London Review of Books – although what I find interesting about such pieces is that they continue to hammer away at ‘humanitarian intervention’ as the target, and only incidentally mention R2P, flailing away at the old straw man without acknowledging that the debate has moved on and the extent to which their concerns have already been conceptually accommodated.
Trouble from those who say they are friends of R2P comes in three other ways. First, from those who play into the hands of the ideological critics I have just mentioned by being far too ready to think of R2P situations only in military terms. This has been a recurring problem with much of the campaigning over Darfur, where the debate has tended to polarise into a choice between, as Lee Feinstein puts it in his recent Council on Foreign Relation paper, ‘the stark options of Doing Nothing and Sending in the Marines’, without acknowledging the many way stations in between. The International Crisis Group, by contrast, has argued that in the present circumstances a non-consensual military intervention would almost certainly be disastrously counterproductive, in terms of its impact on current humanitarian relief operations and the very fragile north-south peace process; the situation is still, we have said, very much an R2P one, where there has been an abdication of its responsibility by the Khartoum government, but here R2P objectives are better pursued in other ways, including economic and legal pressures. If the concept of R2P is not to be eroded it is important that its friends apply it in an appropriately nuanced way.
A second class of unhelpful friends of R2P are those who view the concept not too narrowly, just in military terms, but far too broadly, as a way of referring to most of the world’s ills. We find people saying isn’t there a responsibility to protect people against HIV/AIDS, or against the security impact of climate change, or the consequences of civil conflict in Nepal, or the proliferation of nuclear weapons at one end of the scale to small arms at the other. Of course linguistically one can argue that there is indeed a responsibility to protect of some kind in all these situations, and many more besides. But ‘human security’ is much more appropriate umbrella language to use in these cases than ‘R2P’. To use the R2P concept in any of these ways is to dilute to the point of uselessness its role as a mobiliser of instinctive, universal action in cases of conscience shocking killing, ethnic cleansing and other such crimes against humanity: the whole point of embracing R2P language is that it is capable of generating an effective, consensual response in extreme, conscience shocking cases, in a way that ‘right to intervene’ language was not.
The third, and most troubling, class of false friends of R2P are those who have misapplied it to justify military intervention in circumstances where this was plainly wrong. Nothing has done R2P more harm than its invocation by some of the defenders of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, notably the UK government, to paint it as justified by R2P principles, as other defences in terms of possession of weapons of mass destruction or support for international terrorism crumbled away. This has not been in the slightest bit analytically persuasive for a whole variety of reasons, including on the threshold question of whether Saddam Hussein’s current behaviour – as distinct from a decade earlier – could be characterised as either large scale killing or ethnic cleansing. But all the talk about overthrowing tyranny, and responding to Saddam’s human rights abuses, succeeded admirably in reinforcing the arguments of R2P opponents that any concession as to the limits of state sovereignty would create an excuse that would be exploited all too willingly by neo-colonialists and neo-imperialists keen to return to their bad old interventionist habits of decades past. This almost sank R2P at the World Summit, and has the capacity to continually undermine it in the future if not met with robust counter arguments about what R2P is really about.
The terrible irony of the Iraq situation is that what began as not an R2P situation which some policymakers nonetheless sought to portray as such, now has every prospect of deteriorating into a real R2P situation – with genocidal killing and ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity being committed by ethnic groups against each other while a government stands by unable or unwilling, or both, to stop it. The voices now calling for the full and immediate withdrawal of American forces – recognizing, in some cases quite openly, that the consequences of doing so may be to remove the last constraints on a terrible bloodbath orders of magnitude greater than the present one – are eerily reminiscent of those saying of Rwanda in 1994 that this wasn’t America’s business. In Rwanda those voices were at least able to say that the U.S. had nothing to do with creating the problem, but that excuse is anything but available in Iraq. Following the logic of R2P where it leads is not always going to be comfortable for many players, but if we really are serious about ‘never again’ we have to be prepared to do just that.
Second, make absolutely clear the limits of military action. There is a need to spell out with absolute precision what are the circumstances in which non-consensual military force can, and cannot, be used in a way that is consistent with R2P principles. The ICISS Commission, while of course making the point over and again that R2P was about much more than military intervention – and in fact more than anything else about the responsibility to prevent these situations arising in the first place – recognised that to the extent this was acknowledged as an option, albeit only in the most extreme cases, in reaction to major harm actually occurring or about to occur, then one simply had to spell out in detail when it was actually right to fight, and when it was not.
We accordingly identified, as I have already mentioned, a set of prudential criteria in this respect which we argued should be adopted by the Security Council. These were the seriousness of the harm being threatened (which would need to involve large scale loss of life or ethnic cleansing to prima facie justify something as extreme as military action); the motivation or primary purpose of the proposed military action (whether it was primarily to halt or avert the threat in question, or had some other main objective); whether there were reasonably available peaceful alternatives; the proportionality of the response; and, not least, the balance of consequences – whether overall more good than harm would be done by a military invasion.
These recommendations were subsequently embraced both by the High Level Panel and the Secretary-General in his own report – but not adopted by the World Summit, and they remain in limbo. The reason they were not adopted at the world summit is essentially because of a pincer movement between the U.S. who, for familiar reasons, wanted no constraints at all which might limit the kind of military action they thought appropriate, and on the other hand the G77, who argued – I think both incomprehensibly and indefensibly – that to set limiting criteria for military action was somehow, by acknowledging its possible legitimacy in certain extreme cases, to encourage its misuse. Of course no criteria of the kind the Commission argued for, even if agreed as guidelines by the Security Council, will ever end argument on how they should be applied in particular instances, for example Darfur right now. But it is hard to believe these criteria would not be more helpful than the present totally ad hoc system in focusing attention on the relevant issues, revealing weaknesses in argument, and generally encouraging consensus.
Third, solve the problem of capacity. If R2P is not to remain more theoretical than real, we must somehow ensure that the right civilian and, as necessary, military resources are always there in the right amounts and with the appropriate capability. And that means having readily available a set of responses that are somewhere between Doing Nothing and Sending in the Marines.
We need stronger early warning coordination and response machinery at the centre – with the UN Secretary General having a Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and other Mass Atrocities reporting to him – a person, like the retiring incumbent Juan Mendez, of real international stature, but working full time, with a staff of appropriate size and quality, and supported by a standing Advisory Committee able to make waves as occasion demands and ensure that we never again have early warnings fall into the black hole of indifference that confronted General Dallaire in 1994.
We need effective diplomatic capacity ready and available to negotiate and mediate those situations which are capable of being stopped by effective early intervention of this kind. We need a repertoire of carefully thought–through sanctions measures, with an effective, professionally resourced, mechanism ready to be put in place immediately to monitor the application and effectiveness of those sanctions.
We need a full range of civilian capabilities, especially effective policing, on permanent standby, with the capacity to be immediately deployed
And we do also need effective preparedness to mount military operations for civilian protection purposes – with the consent if at all possible of the government in question (as was the case in East Timor, for example, and has been the case with the limited forces so far sent to Darfur), but in really extreme cases, if there is no other way of protecting the people in question from slaughter and ethnic cleansing, without that consent.
The experience of the current AU mission in Darfur is a classic demonstration of the problem of military capacity in a consensual intervention situation – too few troops, too poorly equipped, and too immobile to perform effectively even the limited civilian protection task required by their present mandate. The UN is currently feeling desperately overstretched, with over 80,000 military and 15,000 civilian personnel deployed worldwide, but with the world’s armed services currently absorbing some 20 million men and women in uniform (with another 50 million reservists, and 11 million paramilitaries), it hardly seems beyond the wit of man to work out a way of making some of that capacity available when and where it’s needed to prevent and react to man-made catastrophe.
Another crucial practical operational issue is to address the question, up until now almost completely neglected by the world’s militaries, of developing detailed concepts of these R2P/ civilian protection operations, which involve neither traditional war-fighting (where the object is not to stop violence as such, but to defeat an enemy) and peacekeeping operations (which although these days usually involving much more than the traditional passive monitoring, have still not come to grips with the kind of responses needed to cope with the threat or reality of atrocity crimes). It’s not just a matter of force configuration, but of developing new doctrine, and new kinds of rules of engagement, and new kinds of training. Victoria Holt has shown us the way on all these topics in her excellent recent book for the Stimson Center, and it’s more than time for the relevant militaries and their governments around the world to respond.
Fourth, be geared up to campaign worldwide for effective action as new R2P situations arise. As always, generating the political will to act – not only over the longer haul in putting in place the necessary capacity-building measure, but in responding, urgently and effectively, to particular new crisis situations as they arise – is the biggest and hardest piece of unfinished business.
But we have to recognise that finding the necessary political will to do anything hard, or expensive, or politically sensitive, or seen for better or worse as not directly relevant to national interests, is just a given in public affairs, domestically or internationally: its absence should not be a matter for lamentation, but mobilization. Political will is not hiding in a cupboard or under a stone somewhere waiting to be discovered: it has to be painstakingly built.
All of us have a role in this respect. It is a matter of not just top-down effort – with key officials in key governments, and those who can influence them directly (as hopefully we in Crisis Group can) making the effort to persuade and mobilise their peers in the international community to take the necessary action in the UN Security Council and elsewhere. It’s also a matter of bottom-up mobilisation: making the voices of ordinary concerned citizens heard in the corridors of power, using all the resources and physical and moral energy of civil society organizations all round the world. No single organization, international or national can do that: it requires effective, concerted action, from multiple players acting together.
Fifth, build a new international campaign structure to advance politically the whole R2P unfinished-business agenda. That means an organization whose members’ full-time day jobs is to work on consolidating the norm internationally and stopping backsliding; filling in detailed rules governing the use of force; building appropriate civilian and military capacity; and ensuring that no new R2P situation goes unnoticed or, until it’s too late, unredressed.
What I believe is needed is a structure – perhaps we could call it the ‘Global Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect’ (GCR2P for short) – which, supported by foundations and governments and private sector donations, draws together civil society organizations to work with like-minded governments and international organizations to recommend strategy, coordinate efforts, identify gaps, build political will, and serve as an information clearing house on R2P. It should be structured, as was the Canadian commission, on an evenly balanced North-South basis, with distinguished patrons from around the world, and with an effective working secretariat – probably most effectively based in New York, but visibly more broadly connected, especially in Africa and Asia, not trying to tightly control campaign and related activity, both top-down and bottom-up, but helping to guide and coordinate it. The idea has been discussed in outline at recent conferences in Chicago and Berkeley, I floated it publicly in New York a few days ago at a meeting in the UN commemorating the Rwandan genocide, and it would be helpful if we could use this meeting to take the discussion a stage further forward.
There is goodwill out there, in the wider community, and among government policymakers and decision-makers around the world. There is a basic willingness to accept and embrace the R2P concept, and to ensure – not just as a matter of national self-interest but as a function of our common humanity – that we don’t ever again have to confront failures of will and action on the scale of Rwanda or Srebrenica. But we know from long, hard, depressing experience that mobilizing that goodwill, and actually producing the necessary action, are not things that just happen. They have to be made to happen, and hopefully all of us gathered here at this conference can be significant players in ensuring just that.