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The Last Rites for Humanitarian Intervention

Darfur, Sri Lanka and R2P

In: Global Responsibility to Protect
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The politics of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) are interwoven with the ghosts of Rwanda and Srebrenica. Although R2P can clearly be seen as an attempt to legitimate intervening in sovereign states to protect human rights, the post-2001 emphasis of advocates on intervention actually reduced the chances of truly humanitarian action by complicating the calculations of sovereigns faced with unpredictable political risks. As the military dimension to R2P wanes, so the possibility of intervention on a truly humanitarian basis might increase. And thus, the real achievement of the last two decades, embedding the idea of civilian protection as an expectation, comes into view. It is harder than it was to publicly murder your own citizens with impunity. R2P has been a success, we might say, to the extent that it has helped establish the civilian protection principle. But the historical record suggests this emerging norm predates R2P. We can even interpret R2P as a decade-long interlude, a diversion, from the underlying trend toward establishing a post-Cold War norm of preventing atrocities against civilians. What we must not expect, in Syria as in Sri Lanka, is armed intervention in an internal conflict when the United States, China and Russia have vital and conflicting interests at stake.

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