Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Individual Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

Executive Summary

In this essay, I make the argument for privatised mercenary peacekeeping organisations. The traditional R2P argument mismatches the subject and the object because it is incompatible to argue that State A should be responsible for the citizens of State B. If we are to argue that it is a human responsibility to protect others, then the responsibility and decisions should be taken by other humans, and not by their governments on their behalf.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

R2P offers a new perspective to an old debate between the right of the international community to conduct humanitarian intervention, versus the right of states to maintain sovereignty over their people. Taking up the challenge proffered by Kofi Annan to prevent the recurrence of another Rwanda, the ICISS took the words of Pope Benedict XVI and reframed the debate on humanitarian intervention to shift the referent object from the state to the individual. The discourse is now on the individual’s right to security, and the proposal that while the state has primary responsibility to provide this protection, this responsibility will pass to the international community should the state demonstrate that it is unable to do so.
The academic debate (especially in the English language) has been largely one-sided in favour of R2P, but it has made little headway in the reality of international politics. In the international arena, the global South still see R2P as a machination of the North to interfere in their sovereignty, and it has largely failed to alleviate these concerns. This inability to translate words into action was highlighted by events in Darfur. The language of R2P was invoked in arguing for intervention in Darfur, while the Sudanese accused the West of using humanitarian objectives as a “Trojan horse” in order to achieve other hidden agenda. Ultimately, although a UN resolution was passed condemning the Sudanese government’s handling of the crisis and calling for intervention, practical response was muted. Although there was general agreement that the people in Darfur should be protected, there was no consensus on who this responsibility should fall, and a clear reluctance on the part of the West to assume it. In the crucial first two years, only members of the African Union were willing to commit their soldiers; ultimately the actual number of soldiers was far fewer than require and were handicapped by the lack of resources. Peacekeepers were forced to operate under stringent Sudanese terms that prevented actions of any consequence. Some were kidnapped and killed by rebels. Thus, while the debate carries on, R2P has yet to make a significant impact.

The Incentive to Act (I2A)

Even if states were to accept the logic of R2P, perhaps a greater hurdle is in structuring the correct incentives to encourage action. The agreement that a wrong should be righted does not equate to a commitment to help; it is a necessary but not a sufficient condition, as highlighted by the case of Darfur. A Jan 2005 survey of Americans found that while 74% felt the UN should stop the genocide in Darfur, only 60% thought the U.S. should contribute troops to a coalition effort. This illustrates the gap between moral support and action, and highlights the need for the right I2A. Today, there are two main problems that lead to the lack of I2A.
The first problem is that the states with the biggest incentive to help are often the ones with the least resources. The economic costs of failed and failing states generate large negative externalities, but these spill over mainly to their neighbours, hence it is the immediate region that has the greatest I2A. As in the case of Darfur, however, these neighbouring states are likely to have similar problems and limited resources which prevent effective action. Out of an envisaged African Union force of 3000 for Darfur, initially only 150 were deployed. While the North are often criticised for tardiness in action when there are no tangible benefits such as oil or minerals to be had, the fact remains that such operations are highly costly and not all stakeholders are swayed by the moral argument of ending suffering. Ultimately, states must balance any perceived international responsibility with their first responsibility to their own people.
R2P has also lost the competition for military resources to the global war on terror. Most of the high-profile humanitarian interventions in recent history took place in the interregnum between the end of the Cold War and the Global War on Terror. Successful or not, these include Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and  East Timor, all in the 1990’s – there have been no similar interventions since (the most notable omission being Darfur).  In the absence of the Soviet threat, the vast military resources accumulated by the U.S. and its allies were turned to more noble purposes, alleviating the suffering in the developing world. However, three recent trends have now greatly reduced global appetite for such application of military force. The first is the extensive commitment of Western forces to the on-going operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the simultaneous rise of China and other major powers threatening to challenge American military hegemony. The second is the global financial crisis, with continued high levels of unemployment, public debt and home foreclosures in the West, which dampen the appetite for additional expense. The third is disillusionment with the perceived high cost and lack of success in recent military operations, Iraq and Afghanistan included, which cast doubt on whether such operations are worthwhile. Without tangible incentives to act, and instead faced with so much competition for resources, it is no wonder that R2P has become the stillborn step-child of the interregnum.

Morality vs Responsibility

Proponents of R2P invoke moral arguments to inspire and legitimise intervention, but morality should not be confused with responsibility. The oft cited exhortation is to prevent the recurrence of another Rwanda while the international community sits idly by. The human race is capable of terrible acts of cruelty, but we are also distinguished by our capacity for compassion and morality. It is a wonderful thing that we can look upon the suffering of a stranger, and desire in our hearts to help. But again, this morality does not equate to responsibility, which in turn is intended to convey obligation.
One day walking down the street, you see a little girl about to be hit by a car. Your instinctive thought is for the girl’s safety. If your reflexes are fast enough, you may be able to intervene to save her. There are both costs and benefits to this action – you might enjoy the accolades of a hero, but you could also leave your own daughter an orphan. And you might not succeed either way. On the contrary, there is no cost to inaction, except perhaps a pang of regret. Even if you do nothing but stand rooted to the spot as she is run over, you would not be found negligent and convicted in a court of law. This is because you did not have responsibility for her.
The problem with using a moral argument as the foundation for R2P is that responsibility for strangers must be voluntarily assumed, it cannot be imposed. This is particularly true in the absence of hierarchy. Like in the example above, there are costs in blood and treasure to intervention that are borne unequally across society, especially those in the military. The fact that some people derive moral utility from alleviating the suffering of others does not equate to a collective responsibility and obligation to protect them.

The Referent Subject

In the old Westphalian order, both the subject and object of international politics were states. In the R2P conceptualisation, the referent object moves down to the individual, but the referent subject moves up to the international community. The reliance on the international community was a natural choice during an era that bore the UN and multiple other NGOs, but it has failed to solve the collective action problem. While the UN lends legitimacy to any expedition, it relies on the willingness of individual states to act, because it lacks authority over any executive force. And with the end of the interregnum and the relative decline of U.S. unipolarity, the traditional lead has proven increasingly unwilling to play a role. The UN fails because it has legitimacy but no authority; without an executive arm it is all norms and no action.
Why not make the individual the referent subject as well? After all, the primary I2A depends on personal morality. The same concern for the well-being of others has led countless individuals to act in support of varied causes from fighting poverty and hunger to AIDS and diarrhoea. All of these are also matters of human security, and some are have much higher mortality rates, so why should genocide be securitised when these others are not?
As an individual, I would also like to testify on behalf of my dual identities, both of which are primary stakeholders in such a debate. As a soldier, I am strongly against such military intervention. I joined the military to provide security for my family, friends and country. I would also happily assist with noble causes such as humanitarian aid or disaster relief, but interference in the internal conflicts of other states is fraught with moral and legal dilemmas. The chances of being killed or convicted may be higher than that of helping others, and I may end up with front row seats to genocide with my hands tied by the rules of engagement. As a tax-paying citizen, I would be hesitant to support a military intervention because this compromises my own security, and the use of the military for such a task is unlikely to be cost-effective. Even if I wholeheartedly support intervention, I would not want it done by the military. These are no unique views; the suicide rate among American troops reaches new record highs with each additional year in Afghanistan, and 39% of Americans opposed intervention in Darfur in Jun 2005. While many people may support a military intervention, the government must also take into account the objections of others like me, with inaction as the likely outcome.
Thus, it should be the choice of every individual to assume the responsibility for the protection of others. The incentives for such action appeal more to the individual morality than the impersonal collective action of governments. The individual support of 54% of Americans would have a much more powerful impact than the inaction of America.

An Individual Solution to the Collective Action Problem

The most effective way to protect individuals from gross violations of human rights is to set up an International Protection Force (IPF), under the executive direction of the UN. Individuals who accept the responsibility to protect can support this force with their time and money, either by joining the force and serving in the field or through financial donations. Responsible donors around the world can now add the IPF to the existing menu of aid providers such as The Red Cross, World Vision and many others. In this regard, it is little different from other NGOs, except that volunteers in the IPF will be armed and trained for peacekeeping operations. Whereas high-end capabilities such as regime-busting air power are readily available from the developed nations, it is precisely the types of protracted operations that their militaries are loathe to get bogged down in; so these are the types of operations that the IPF will prepare for, and they would be more disciplined and better trained than the semi-literate soldiers from the developing world that the UN has traditionally been forced to rely on.
This solution allows the individual – any individual – to assume the R2P and receive the I2A. It provides the UN with an executive agency instead of relying on the goodwill of nation states with their own divided constituents. This also shields the agency from accusations of national or neo-colonial agendas by offended sovereign governments. And it allows the creation of an organisation that is specifically trained for the task at hand, minimising the likelihood of disastrous mistakes through the misuse of force.


There is a good philosophical case for the responsibility to protect, but its implementation has faltered because of the inability to provide the necessary incentives to act. While the UN provides legitimacy for humanitarian intervention, it does not have the authority to deploy actual forces, and its member states are paralysed by competing interests and perceived ulterior motives. Since the imperative for R2P is based on moral arguments, and the incentive to fulfil moral obligations is inherently personal, it makes sense to consider not only the referent object as the individual but the referent subject as well. Individuals are responsible for the protection of other individuals.
To translate this into action, an International Protection Force will be created directly under the command of the UN, but supported by the money and energies of any individual around the world. It will have a similar operating model to humanitarian NGOs such as the Red Cross, but with a military component in order to conduct human security operations. By putting all the utilitarian, moral and operational pieces in place this way, the responsibility to protect individuals can effectively be fulfilled.
These excerpts are taken from an essay written as part of the Master of Strategic Studies at the University of New South Wales in 2010. I believe the ideas are worth exploring, but have procrastinated too long and am too lazy to get it published now. So I shall post it here and see who finds it on the internet.


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