Saturday, September 06, 2008

National Sovereignty and the "Responsibility to Protect"

Gareth Evans
President and CEO
International Crisis Group
Brussels, Belgium
(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.

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At 11:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Russia, with its gas and oil reserves has leverage over western Europe, and possibly NATO, plus veto power in the UN.
I wonder if they still have plans to restore the USSR?

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, I don't think that the Russians want to go back to Communism, but they are headed in the direction of an authoritarian republic with imperial possessions.

The glory may be shortlived, however, if they don't reverse their population decline.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darfur anyone?

"...I receive regular updates on international conflicts from the International Crisis Group (ICG). I'm not actually a member of this organization..."

Zimbabwe anyone?

(repeat chorus)

Myanmar anyone?

(repeat chorus)

Sing "Janjuwee" out loud three times and exclaim in the loudest voice, "We protect the oppressed."

(repeat chorus)

Amen, good Christians among us, Amen.

"Rejoice we choose our battles wisely."

The good Christian chooses according to God's Plan. (And of course Bobitt.)

(repeat chorus)

"But" we pray for the dead and the soon to be dead.


At 1:07 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, the ICG would only have a voice, not any actual power, and they do speak out on Darfur, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, and many other places.

But I guess that you mean to ask why the US doesn't intervene. Good question. Why not?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JK, it's good to hear from you again, and to know that you have come out of your root cellar, and hopefully put away your weapons, no longer waiting for the Russian invasion.

At 5:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK was simply trying to get to the root of the problem.

Jeffery Hodges

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