Thursday, September 4, 2008


Gareth Evans (left) has published a must-read op-ed criticizing Russia's invocation of the concept of "responsibility to protect" -- infelicitously dubbed "R2P" -- as justification for warring against Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Evans, President of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group and former Foreign Minister of Australia, chaired the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty that issued the report The Responsibility to Protect (2001). He writes:

For those of us who have worked long and hard to create a consensus that the world should never again turn its back on another Cambodia or Rwanda, this and every misapplication of R2P -- genuine or cynical -- is an occasion for alarm. We are conscious of the fragility of that consensus should the impression gain hold that R2P is just another excuse for the major powers to throw their weight around. It needs to be made clear beyond a doubt that whatever other explanation Russia had for its military action in Georgia, the R2P principle was not among the valid ones.
An accurate critique, well made.
But is it really any surprise that Russia would lay claim to "responsibility to protect"? Seems scarcely more surprising than the fact that Russia has -- as Mary Ellen O'Connell guest-noted last month -- equated its August embrace of breakaway independence in the Caucasus with the West's February embrace of breakaway independence in Kosovo. (IntLawGrrl Elena Baylis' February Kosovo posts are here and here.)
The aims behind the R2P movement are exemplary. Nonetheless, as I've written in this essay and in posts here and here, and as José Alvarez wrote here, skepticism's due any undue focus on rhetorical flourish over actual reform of existing mechanisms.
R2P, like any effort at collective avoidance of atrocity, must operate primarily within the collective security framework established in 1945; that is, within the Security Council (right). Article 27(3) of the U.N. Charter, of course, permits permanent-member Russia -- and permanent-members China, and France, and Britain, and the United States -- to sideline all collective bids to act against them or their ally/client states.
The core problem in the conflict in Georgia, then, is the veto power. Russia's dubious claim that it's shouldering a "responsibility to protect" is but a symptom.

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