Article Review 24 on “When Duty Calls: A Pragmatic Standard of Humanitarian Intervention.”

International Security coverRobert Pape adds to a growing literature that is trying to develop a more cohesive approach to controlling or mitigating episodes of genocide and mass atrocity violence. His call for a more pragmatic approach is certainly laudable and his claims that the world has not fared well in preventing past genocides is certainly correct. Overall, however, his article is puzzling on a number of analytical points and his prescription for a pragmatic standard of humanitarian intervention appears to fall short of providing a clear and workable framework for alleviating mass atrocity events.

H-Diplo | ISSF Article Review 24
H-Diplo/ISSF Article Review Editors: James McAllister and Diane Labrosse
H-Diplo/ISSF Web and Production Editor: George Fujii
Commissioned for H-Diplo by James McAllister
Robert Pape. “When Duty Calls: A Pragmatic Standard of Humanitarian Intervention.” International Security 37:1 (Summer 2012). DOI: 10.1162/ISEC_a_00088. http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00088
Reviewed by Jon Western, Mount Holyoke College
Published by H-Diplo | ISSF on 28 May 2013
PDF- http://issforum.org/ISSF/PDF/ISSF-AR24.pdf

Robert Pape adds to a growing literature that is trying to develop a more cohesive approach to controlling or mitigating episodes of genocide and mass atrocity violence. His call for a more pragmatic approach is certainly laudable and his claims that the world has not fared well in preventing past genocides is certainly correct. Overall, however, his article is puzzling on a number of analytical points and his prescription for a pragmatic standard of humanitarian intervention appears to fall short of providing a clear and workable framework for alleviating mass atrocity events.

Pape begins his analysis with a relatively straightforward claim – that one need only look at the genocides in Biafra, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Darfur to conclude that the world has not fared well in preventing or eliminating genocide. He suggests that part of the problem is that the international community does not have a workable approach to effective humanitarian intervention. To demonstrate this, he argues that the two main efforts to prevent genocide – the norm against genocide as embodied in the 1948 Genocide Convention and the 2005 doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) are both conceptually and practically flawed guides for intervention, and ultimately, for protection.

In the first case, he suggests that the norm against genocide is problematic because there is rarely agreement within the international community as to whether or not genocide per se is taking place; the norm does not account for a wide range of killings of individuals who are not designated as part of an ethnic, racial, or religious group; it does not offer any guidance on how to deal with the long-term consequences of humanitarian intervention; and it does not address the costs which the international community should accept in order to stop genocide.   As a result, the norm against genocide, while revealing a consensus that genocide is a crime, offers little institutional or practical guidance for states or the broader international community on how to intervene.

Similarly, with respect to R2P, Pape suggests it is unworkable because it lacks a “clear standard” for when intervention is warranted and that it “obligates the international community to intervene in almost any instance of human suffering, including natural disasters, disease, failed states, and collateral violence to civilians during civil war.” (p. 51) He argues that it also does not develop a standard of costs to the intervener and it obligates the international community to very ambitious state building after conflicts.

In light of these weaknesses, he argues for a new standard of “pragmatic humanitarian intervention.” (p. 52) Rather than relying on genocide as the threshold for intervention, the international community should intervene earlier when a threshold of mass homicide is reached – a situation in which a government has killed between 2,000 and 5,000 of its citizens in “a concentrated period of time” and when it is “likely to kill many times that number” in the near future.” (p.53) He adds that pragmatic interventions should only occur when there are low military costs associated with intervention and only when enduring security conditions can be established as a result of the intervention.

To this end, he notes that the interventions in northern Iraq in 1991, Bosnia in 1994-95, Kosovo in 1999, and Libya in 2011 are examples in which this pragmatic approach was applied and proved successful.

Overall the article is puzzling on several fronts. First, Pape’s critiques of both the norm against genocide and R2P are premised on the fact that they have failed to prevent a number of genocides. Yet, if this is the standard by which we judge the validity of any approach to protecting civilians, it is not clear how his prescription of a pragmatic standard for humanitarian intervention would have fared any better in the cases that he suggests demonstrate the failure of these approaches – Biafra, Cambodia, and Rwanda.

For example, in the case of Rwanda, Pape suggests that despite the killing, most international actors could not agree on whether the violence constituted genocide. It was this delay in coming to a consensus that inhibited a timely and effective international response.

However, the problem in Rwanda was not a lack of understanding about the magnitude of the violence or whether it constituted genocide. The 1999 Report of the Independent Inquiry concluded that the problem was that there was a “persistent lack of political will by Member States to act, or to act with enough assertiveness.”[1] The reason the norm against genocide is often too weak to stop or mitigate mass violence and genocide is not because it sets a threshold too high or that it is contested, but because geopolitical and national security priorities and norms of sovereignty and nonintervention, coupled with UN institutional pathologies, are more prevalent. In the aftermath of the disaster in Mogadishu, Somalia six months earlier, the United States or others simply had interest or desire to intervene in Rwanda.

Pape’s critique of R2P is more puzzling. It ignores a decade worth of policy developments and corresponding scholarship on the emergence of the doctrine. For example, in the conclusion of his critique of R2P he states: “Absent clarity on these central issues of degree of harm, acceptable costs, and lasting security, the international community is unlikely to embrace the R2P movement.” (p. 52) This is a very curious statement in light of the fact that the United Nations World Summit in 2005 – the largest gathering of heads of state in history – unanimously endorsed R2P in paragraphs 138 and 139 of its Outcome Document. [2]

The concept was originally developed in the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) Final Report issue of December 2001 and Pape’s critique of R2P focuses exclusively on the language in that report. For example, he claims that a serious problem of R2P is that it obligates states “to intervene in almost any instance of human suffering, including natural disasters, disease, failed states, and collateral violence to civilians during civil wars” (52). Yet this language has long since been dropped from the international deliberations precisely for many of the reasons that Pape criticizes.

Ironically, in the decade prior to R2P, the UN Security Council had gradually expanded the standards of intervention through more frequent invocation of Chapter VII mandates to respond to threats to international peace and security.”[3] The World Summit Outcome Document that endorsed R2P – is a much more restrictive standard for intervention than advocated in the ICISS report in 2001 and is more restrictive than the practice under Chapter VII mandates in the 1990s.[4] Furthermore, the Outcome Document dropped the references to the responsibility to rebuild and all explicit language regarding an obligation or duty to act – only that the international community is “prepared to take collective action….on a case-by-case basis.”[5]   In sum, the Outcome Document weakened the concept so much so that Thomas Weiss later called the compromise a “step-backward…[to]…R2P lite.”[6]

Furthermore, in 2009, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon issued a report, “Implementing the responsibility to protect” which explicitly states that:

“The responsibility to protect applies, until Member States decide otherwise, only to the four specified crimes and violations: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. To try to extend it to cover other calamities, such as HIV/AIDS, climate change, or the response to natural disaster, would undermine the 2005 consensus and stretch the concept beyond recognition or operational utility.”[7]

I’m belaboring this evolution a bit because it is completely ignored in Pape’s analysis. It is further curious that Pape provides a detailed discussion of NATO’s 2011 campaign in Libya as a successful application of his standard of pragmatic intervention.   Yet, Libya is also widely seen as the first major successful application of R2P – the standard that Pape has dismissed as unworkable.   Similarly, Pape suggests that Syria is a case in which his pragmatic standard would suggest that intervention is not workable. But again, the prudential elements built into the logic of R2P suggest that intervention in Syria would entail significant costs and likely make matters worse. In short, Syria demonstrates that R2P is not a very effective case of addressing complex cases of mass atrocity violence. But, by his own argument, neither is Pape’s standard of pragmatic humanitarian intervention.

Pape’s recommendations for a pragmatic standard for humanitarian intervention share a number of common elements with the continuing discussions on R2P about improving international response for civilian protection.[8] They both agree that in the face of an imminent threat to a large number of civilians, the international community must have both the capacity and the political will to respond with force if necessary. And, the use of force should be the last resort and should only be used if it can effectively save lives, i.e., that it will do no harm. They also agree that interventions should be sanctioned by major international institutions – although R2P tends to be more explicit that interventions should have the backing of the United Nations Security Council.

On one level, Syria demonstrates that we have a long way to go to develop more effective mechanisms for civilian protection. In this sense, Pape’s analysis is part of an important and significant step forward. On a broader level, however, the empirical record does suggest that, despite the limitations of the norm against genocide and R2P, things have changed. Armed conflict and violence against civilians has declined overall. Genocide, politicide, and mass atrocity violence has declined. The international community has a much broader range of instruments ranging from better and stronger early warning signals, preventive diplomacy, enhanced peacekeeping, intervention strategies, post-conflict security, transitional justice, to stronger post-conflict development strategies.   All of these tools seem to be contributing, in part, to these overall trends in declining armed conflict and violence.   Scholarship that helps provide insights on these trends and can help us better understand the mechanisms to facilitate these trends is to be welcomed.

 

Jon Western is Five College Professor of International Relations at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges, Inc. and Chair of the Five College International Relations Program. He is the author of Selling Intervention and War: The Presidency, the Media, and the American Public (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005). His most recent manuscript titled Why Bother? The Rise and Fall of Liberal Statebuilding from Sarajevo to Kabul will be published in early 2014.

 

© Copyright 2013-2015 The Authors.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

 

Notes

[1] “Report of the Independent Inquiry into the actions of the United Nations during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda,” Report to the United Nations Security Council, December 16, 1999.

[2] “2005 World Summit Outcome,” United Nations General Assembly, New York, September 15, 2005.

[3] “Mandates and the legal basis for peacekeeping,” United Nations Peacekeeping at http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/operations/pkmandates.shtml

[4] Aidan Hehir, The Responsibility to Protect: Rhetoric, Reality, and the Future of Humanitarian Intervention (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) p. 49.

[5] 2005 World Summit Outcome, United Nations General Assembly, September 15, 2005, paragraph 139 accessed at: http://responsibilitytoprotect.org/world%20summit%20outcome%20doc%202005%281%29.pdf

[6] Thomas Weiss, Humanitarian Intervention: Ideas in Action, (New York: Polity, 2007), p. 177.

[7] “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: Report to the Secretary General,” (New York: United Nations, January 12, 2009) p. 8b.

[8] For an overview of these discussions see Alex Bellamy, Global Politics and the Responsibility to Protect: From words to deeds, (London: Routledge, 2011)