Responsibility to Protect

By Taylor Seybolt, Kathyrn Collins, Owen Foley, Rebecca Johnson - “Does the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ Encourage Third-party Intervention?”.Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Political Science Association, Toronto, September 2009.

 Abstract: The concept that a state’s right to non-intervention is predicated on its responsibility to protect its population from harm has gained currency during the past decade. The corollary, as stated in the 2005 UN world Summit Outcome Document, is when a state manifestly is failing to uphold its responsibility, other actors in the international system have a responsibility to take action in a timely and decisive manner. According to the leaders of small states and academic critics, this challenge to the Westphalian notion of state sovereignty paves the way for more intervention by strong states in the internal affairs of weaker states. This paper tests this critique against a realist alternative hypothesis that the decision to intervene depends on perceived threats to national interests, not on a feeling of responsibility for the population of another state. The initial findings support the realist argument that the responsibility to protect (R2P) concept does not lead to more third-party military intervention. The constructivist argument that R2P dangerously encourages intervention is not supported. The data also show it is not true that most interventions are initiated by powerful countries against weak ones. It is more common for weak countries to initiate military action against other weak countries. Intervention was justified on the grounds of protecting civilians on a number of occasions in the post-cold war period. On most such occasions, the intervention was led by an international organization, not a selfish state. Overall, these findings refute the arguments that R2P encourages military intervention and that interventions are undertaken mostly by powerful states that try to hide their political motives behind humanitarian rhetoric.

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