National Sovereignty and the "Responsibility to Protect"
President and CEO
International Crisis Group
(Image from ICG)
I receive regular updates on international conflicts from the International Crisis Group (ICG). I'm not actually a member of this organization, but I think that its former Northeast Asia Director Peter Beck put me on the emailing list a couple of years ago after I had met him at a dinner in an Uzbek restaurant in downtown Seoul.
Anyway, I'm on the list, and I received an update this morning that illuminates the issue of national sovereignty and its limitations, a point that I've been looking into since reading Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent. The light shed on this issue comes from ICG president Gareth Evans, writing for the Los Angeles Times. His article, "Russia and the 'Responsibility to Protect'" (August 31, 2008), analyzes Russia's appeal to its responsibility to protect Ossetians against 'genocide'.
Evans does not find this appeal credible, nor do I, but what caught my interest was the limited national sovereignty implied by this principle, "the responsibility to protect":
The Russian government has argued that its recent military operations in Georgia were justified by the principle of "responsibility to protect" (colloquially known as R2P). This is the approach to dealing with mass-atrocity crimes that was embraced by 150 member states at the 2005 U.N. World Summit.Evans examines Russia's appeal to the R2P in the light of five criteria -- seriousness of the threat, primary purpose of the response, military action only as a last resort, proportionality of response, and more good than harm from the intervention -- and finds the appeal does not clearly satisfy any of the criteria. Presumably, Evans knows the principle's proper application since he "co-chaired the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which introduced the 'R2P' concept," which he identifies as an "approach to dealing with mass-atrocity crimes that was embraced by 150 member states at the 2005 U.N. World Summit."
To turn now to my interest, I concede that this R2P principle doesn't directly meet Gopal Balakrishnan's argument in "Algorithms of War" (New Left Review 23, September-October 2003), in which he critiques Philip Bobbitt's Shield of Achilles, for the R2P principle was some 15 years after the "Peace of Paris" that Bobbitt discusses, and it concerns only "mass atrocity crimes," which makes the principle less restrictive of national sovereignty than the sort of limitations that Bobbitt discusses.
The principle does, however, lend credence to one of Bobbitt's basic points, namely, that our understanding of national sovereignty is shifting as we concede limitations on the right of a state to do whatever it pleases concerning its internal affairs -- the older conception that Bobbitt calls "opaque sovereignty."
But daylight is approaching, so I'll have to return to this issue another time.