This essay explores the intellectual context and conceptual foundations of R2P. Michael Walzer reinitiated debates about humanitarian intervention by grounding sovereignty and non-intervention in individual human rights and communal autonomy (self-determination). Liberal cosmopolitan critics of Walzer highlighted the tension between these two values, and proposed that sovereignty should rather be grounded in individual rights and democratic self-determination. In the post-Cold War era, international lawyers and international relations scholars came to endorse the idea that state sovereignty is qualified by the most basic human rights. High ranking UN officials further proposed that state sovereignty should be redefined as the sovereignty of the people, which, however, was seen as coextensive with the protection of the fundamental individual rights, and as such could be shared by the ‘international community’. R2P adopted a similar approach, glossing over the potential tensions between sovereignty, self-determination and human rights.
This article conducts a normative evaluation of the American missile strike on a Syrian airbase in April 2017 to assess whether it could be described as a responsible action. Marking a departure from President Trump’s ‘America First’ approach, the missile attack was incessantly justified by administration officials using the terminologies of ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’. The article utilises the theoretical propositions of the English School of International Relations to clarify the three benchmarks of a responsible action: acting legally, legitimately and prudently. A detailed examination of the official statements and the global political developments surrounding the strike suggests that although the action cannot be justified on the grounds of legality, it may still be described as responsible on the grounds of legitimacy and prudence. On its own, the strike can serve as an example of responsible statecraft, although these findings cannot be applied to the rest of President Trump’s foreign policy.
This paper proposes an index to measure the extent to which governments authorise arms transfers to places in which human rights are violated. Levels of democracy in the purchasing country are used as a proxy for that country’s degree of respect for human rights. The paper then applies this index to test whether Robin Cook’s ‘ethical dimension’ in foreign policy was applied to British arms transfers, and concludes that this was indeed the case, although its legacy did not survive to the end of Tony Blair’s government. This index should be useful for academics, civil society groups, government departments and international organisations working with human rights or arms transfers.
Non-State Actors and International Obligations examines the contribution and relevance of non-state actors in the creation and implementation of international obligations. These actors have traditionally been marginalised within international law and ambiguities remain over their precise role. Nonetheless, they have become increasingly important in legal regimes as participants in their implementation and enforcement, and as potential holders of duties themselves. Chapters from academics and practitioners investigate different aspects of this relationship, including the sources of obligations, their implementation, human rights aspects, dispute settlement, responsibility and legal accountability.
This article makes the normative case for safe areas as a strategy of civilian protection in forced displacement crises. We start from the idea that the displaced—especially those who remain within the borders of their home state—are in a particularly precarious situation which can, in some circumstances, activate a remedial responsibility to provide protection on the part of the international community. We then argue that this responsibility extends beyond the provision of asylum to include efforts both to prevent displacement and to facilitate the return of displaced persons, and that safe areas may be an important tool to achieve these goals. However, we also note two major risks associated with safe areas which must be considered and mitigated: that they increase rather than decrease overall displacement, and that they diminish rather than enhance protection. We conclude by suggesting why and how the shared responsibility to protect through safe areas should be fairly distributed within the international community.
The concept of ‘safe areas’ emerged in the early 1990s as a way of responding to increasing displacement triggered by internal conflicts. As a form of protection, their record was mixed—for every success like northern Iraq in 1991, there was a failure like the collapse of the Srebrenica safe area in 1995. But why did the safe area concept itself emerge at this time? Traditionally, safe areas were akin to humanitarian spaces anchored in consent. The shift in the early 1990s was to replace consent with an international military presence, including military forces and peacekeepers. This article argues that this shift was only possible because of two critical changes which occurred within the United Nations: the recognition that civilian protection represented an international problem and the UN Security Council broadening how it interpreted the notion of ‘threats to international peace and security’ to include issues such as forced migrant flows.
Internationally proclaimed safe areas do not aim to end ongoing wars. Instead, their more limited goal is to create islands of temporary refuge where threatened civilians can find shelter. As intuitively compelling as the idea of safe areas may seem, however, it raises numerous practical and ethical questions. The articles in this special issue draw on history, moral philosophy and political science in order to assess whether safe areas are indeed an appropriate response to humanitarian crises.