Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


2nd thoughts

R2P">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.