Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


2nd thoughts

Charbonneau on United Nations R2P

What’s more important — the right of a sovereign state to manage its affairs free of outside interference or the duty of the international community to intervene when massive human rights violations are being committed in a country?

Louis CharbonneauReuters Global News Blog

R2P (Responsibility to Protect) is the UN’s most recent attempt to answer this question and it sides fairly clearly (from all reports – I haven’t read it myself) on the side of intervention, but no one can really agree what that means or even whether or not the UN ought to have the right to intervene.

Lou’s post offers a pretty clear explanation of the pushes and pulls on this, including referencing Chomsky’s view on R2P – “R2P-type arguments had been used to justify Japan’s 1931 invasion of Manchuria and Nazi Germany’s pre-World War Two move into Czechoslovakia.”

The flip side of Chomsky’s historically founded fear of imperial designs masquerading as protection, is the war in Darfur where nothing good has been going on the last few years and plenty have been rallying around the cause of intervention to little or no avail with those that could intervene in that hornet’s nest excusing themselves on the grounds of Sudan’s sovereignty.

I think, too, of Burma/Myanmar where things aren’t too good for the any person with any kind of opinion that might be perceived as opposed to the current regime. The recent Tsunami there and the refusal of aid from the developed world, I think, is a case of subjugation and elimination of undesirables by active neglect and denial of support on the part of the current regime.

There is no siding with someone on one side or the other of some historical or perceived historical conflict when offering aid after a natural disaster as in Burma. This is about the perception of power in giving or receiving a gift or some act of charity. As a sovereign state, if I take your aid, I admit my weakness and risk making myself subject to your further good or ill will. Sovereign states, particularly totalitarian ones, aren’t designed for the sharing or relinquishing of power of any kind.

I remember the skepticism with which Castro’s offer of medical aid during hurricane Katrina was viewed at the time. Military intervention “in the name of humanity” isn’t likely to be welcomed any more easily than the kinds of aid we typically categorize as ‘humanitarian’ as long as the motives are questionable and loss of power is a possible result. And can you blame a small state for being skeptical, much less a totalitarian one?

All that said, I’ve never liked the UN’s reasons for not doing something during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.

So, after that muddled bit of back and forth, my view – in answer to Lou’s closing question – begins with remembering what someone once told me: law codifies the rights of the powerful over the weak. International law is no exception to that. If we agree that the UN actually has sovereignty over the member states of the General Assembly (however tenuous that power may be), then the resolution holds as a law would and intervention is required because, in this case, the rights of the powerful would  include intervention on behalf those whom they decide to protect.

If, on the other hand, the UN retains no such power, then the resolution serves simply as a statement of good intentions. Good intentions may seem like a good start, but strictly applying moral good intentions to statecraft has a funny way in resulting in a lot more dead people.