Peter Beaumont: The Bits that Don't Fit

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Chomsky and the “fraud” of R2P

Noam Chomsky has given an interview to Al Jazeera which concludes with this rather muddled claim on Responsibility to Protect, first denying it exists except as “a fraud in western intellectual culture” then rowing quickly back.

There’s also no such thing as “responsibility to protect” – that’s a fraud perpetrated in Western intellectual culture. There is a notion, in fact two notions: There’s one passed by the UN General Assembly, which does talk about “responsibility to protect”, but it offers no authorisation for any kind of intervention except under conditions of the United Nations charter. There is another version, which is adopted only by the West, the US and its allies, which is unilateral and says R2P permits “military intervention by regional organisations in the region of their authority without Security Council authorisation”.

Well, translating that into English, this means that it provides authorisation for the US and NATO to use violence wherever they choose without Security Council authorisation. That’s what’s called “responsibility to protect” in Western discourse. If it weren’t so tragic it would be farcical.

Ahmici_massacre

UN peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia Photograph provided courtesy of the ICTY.

I wrote this back in May on the some of the issues surrounding R2P post-Libya on some of the issues swirling around intervention, not least Russia’s determination to block similar interventions having signed up to that one at first. Chomsky tries to have his cake and eat it. He is largely right about the requirement for intervention to meet conditions of  the UN charter but omits to mention that R2P as a doctrine accepted by the UNSC talks about the “UN charter and international law”. Here’s the wording of UN Security Council resolution 1674 from 2006 with the relevant paragraph below. The UNSC:

Reaffirms the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Here’s the paragraphs that resolution 1674  refers to from the World Summit Outcome Document:

138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability.

139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.

Although the emphasis is on peaceful, diplomatic and humanitarian means the paragraphs affirmed by the UNSC accept that when that is inadequate other collective action, approved by the UNSC, might be necessary. Far from being a fraud – as Chomsky claims – R2P is accepted by the UNSC as a principle, including the notion that regional organisations might be involved.

Where the problem lies is in the invocation of “international law” outside of UNSC approval, a highly contentious area where it is not only the west which has invoked it but Russia too  in its intervention in South Ossetia in 2008.

Here is Matthew Waxman of the Council on Foreign Relations back in 2011, discussing the complexity of this issue prior  to the intervention in Libya, not least over the desire to involve regional bodies:

 I think there would be a range of legal issues that would arise if we were talking about actual military intervention, whether we’re talking about, you know, bombing air defense sites or sending in something even stronger, including, you know, special forces or something like that.

But in addition to thinking about the U.N. Security Council resolutions that are in place, there is the general law of the U.N. Charter which prohibits the use of force except in instances where the U.N. Security Council authorizes it, or in self-defense.  Beyond those exceptions to the general prohibition on the use of force, then you’re getting into an area of law that, as I mentioned before, is highly contested.

There are those who argue that there is an exception to the prohibition on the use of force in order, for example, to stop civilian massacres of a certain — of a certain magnitude.  And because that area of law does remain so highly contested, it comes back to my earlier point about wanting to take steps to build as much legitimacy and international support for those actions as possible; that would mean probably wanting to multilateralize them through requests or even simultaneous actions from, let’s say, the Arab League or the African Union and things like that that would endow any military action with additional legitimacy.

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This entry was posted on September 11, 2013 by .
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