Tag: security council

The Responsibility to Protect & Fear of Foreign Policy Failure

Last week I had the opportunity to partake in a workshop on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) at The Hague Institute of Global Justice (the Institute). The Institute is preparing to launch a project on R2P, seeking to bring academics, civil society and government/policy makers together to formulate insightful and policy relevant findings on R2P.   As the workshop was governed by Chatham House rules, I will only here note a few of my insights from the workshop, primarily insights about the connections between political will to uphold R2P and the theoretical and practical realities of foreign policy.

R2P is a very broad agenda with multiple loci of responsibility. The first covers the responsibilities of states to protect their own populations against war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing. A second locus of responsibility is the “international community,” for when states cannot protect their peoples or prevent these crimes, then, it also has an obligation to aid states, through various capacity building and preventive mechanisms. Third and finally, the United Nations Security Council possesses a particular responsibility. When preventive measures fail (or are not forthcoming), then the international community as represented through the United Nations Security Council has the responsibility to use all peaceful means to protect people from the four R2P crimes. If or when those peaceful means fail, then the Security Council has the responsibility to take “timely and decisive” measures, in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to protect populations. Such measures include military options, taken with or without the consent of a target state.

These three loci of responsibility track the three Pillars of the doctrine. Pillar One refers to the domestic state’s responsibility as outlined above. Pillar Two addresses the international community’s obligation and commitment to encourage and assist states (through capacity building) to uphold their Pillar One responsibilities. Pillar Three highlights the range of tools, from peaceful to non-peaceful and less coercive to more coercive, available to the Security Council and regional organizations. The pillars, it is thought, are not sequential, and some cases may only invoke or require Pillars One or Two. Regrettably, much of the debate concerning R2P tends to distill to questions about forcible intervention under Pillar Three.

This brings us to last week’s workshop. The brute fact of the matter is that R2P is a state doctrine, and much of the reality in international affairs is that states will only voluntarily undertake actions. In R2P parlance, this means that there is an ongoing question about the “political will” to uphold R2P. The discussion about political will, however, becomes blurred due to several related aspects. First and more generally, when any discussion of political will raises its head, it seems that almost everyone is working from the assumption of the political will to intervene militarily (the Pillar Three responsibility). Yet R2P proponents are quick to point out that R2P is more than this, as it includes early warning and capacity building.

This leads to a second point. States seem quick to lend rhetorical support for early warning and capacity building, but the discussion ends there. It seems, at least to me, that we ought to press them then to make more explicit commitments on these fronts. Development is linked to prevention, and perhaps we ought to change the background assumptions about political will from intervention to state building.

If this is too strong, as many states are unwilling to engage in prolonged state building enterprises, then there ought to be an open and pressing discussion about peacekeeping. If states are unwilling or unable to open their wallets, then perhaps they would be willing to provide troops. For example, as Perry and Smith note, North America and Europe have the lowest levels of troop contributions compared to Asia and Africa. A keen example is the United Kingdom, which consistently contributes around .5% of peacekeepers worldwide. Some might think that these countries are already fulfilling their obligations through foreign aid, so they are under no other or further obligations to supply peacekeepers, but this logic is unsound for a variety of reasons. Least amongst them, it overlooks the sad fact that we have no way under the current R2P doctrine to say who and who has not fulfilled their obligations or even how those obligations could be fulfilled. (See here, here and here for some discussions about this issue.)

Moreover, the gendered division of peacekeepers is also noteworthy and ought to be pressed upon from an R2P perspective. If one is looking for a way to not only keep the peace, but also to build capacity, then it would seem that including more female peacekeepers could kill two birds with one stone.   The level of gender equality is seen as a factor in conflict emergence, and if one could mitigate at least small levels of gender inequality while simultaneously saving lives, then this seems like an obvious win. However, looking at the data for female troop contributions, Crawford, Lebovic and Macdonald find that between 2009-2011 “86 percent of countries contributed no female personnel to an average mission in all three years, and 99 percent of countries contributed no female personnel to an average mission in at least one of the three years, under consideration.” Capacity building and timely response seem inherently linked on this issue.

Though what is apparent from the discussions last week and the reality of R2P is that states are unwilling to commit themselves or their peoples to anything that may end up looking like foreign policy failure. Even if we can divide R2P along the three pillars, states implicitly understand that if they sign on to more than their own responsibility for R2P crimes, this may end up committing them to foreign policy agendas that they deem too risky or too costly.   As Feaver and Gelpi argue in their work, states are willing to take on costs, particularly costs in lives, if they are seen to be “winning.” Casualty aversion only becomes a key concern for states when they are losing their foreign policy battles. While the cases are different, Feaver and Gelpi’s findings are illustrative here. Whatever foreign policy goals states set for themselves, they must be able to formulate them in such a way that they can ultimately “win.” Given that R2P is so wide ranging, covering everything from developing constitutions, building infrastructure, advocating for open democracy, calling for inclusive education of citizens, as well as (non)coercive measures to force states to abide by their obligations, it is, in a sense, a foreign policy nightmare. No statesperson could adequately formulate a policy framework that could be operationalized in a way where states could show that they upheld their responsibilities, did what they could, as well as succeeded in their efforts, and were not also on the hook for more.

Some might object and say that there are R2P successes. To be sure, there are, but there are also so many “failures” that the variation in foreign policy responses as well as the success rate tell us very little about the conditions for states to act, let alone act and succeed. While states are willing to note that they and the international community have a responsibility to protect, they are unwilling to talk about the finer details, and it is my worry that this is because of the vast expanse of the doctrine itself. If states cannot be seen to win and succeed, then they will either refrain from embarking on an R2P activity, or they will choose to do so from the shadows. Risk of foreign policy failure is, then, inherently linked to the discussion of political will, and it is high time we see that the doctrine itself is breeding its own limitations.

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The Security Council and Norm Creation

It’s easy to think of the Security Council as essentially a reflection of great power interests when we see outcomes such as the failure of a resolution calling for President Assad’s departure.

However I am re-reading Cora True-Frost‘s article on the other side of the Security Council this week, and thought I’d flag this article as an excellent example of scholarship about the power and politics of such international organizations as norm consumers / diffusers. In short, her work reminds us that the UNSC not only sometimes wields (through its members and procedures) institutional and coercive power, but (even when no action is take) it also wields significant productive power in global society.

True-Frost’s argument is really about norms, not institutions, but the paper details the Security Council’s role as a pivot in Marty Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink’s “norm life cycle” argument. F/S argue that for norms to “cascade” they must be accepted by a wide variety of both states and international organizations. The argument dovetails with my work and that of Cliff Bob on the significance of institutional “superpowers” in specific issue areas “adopting” norms as a means of socializing states. For Cliff, these “gatekeepers” can be NGOs; I’ve found that depending on the issue area the most highly central organizations may also be international secretariats. In either case, for new ideas to proliferate through the fabric of global society they must be adopted and carried by a wide variety of international bureaucracies in the issue area associated with the new norm.

Finnemore and Sikkink do not develop a theory of how socialization of “network hubs” by norm-entrepreneurs works, and that’s where my new book picks up. I’ve been building on Cliff Bob’s gatekeeper model which sees hubs as agenda-vetters, but the language of True-Frost’s model is that organizations like the UNSC might be better understood as “norm consumers.” That is, they are inherently receptive to new ideas and have evolved over time to incorporate this agenda-carrying function into their mandate.

The examples she provides are the thematic resolutions on Threats to International Peace and Security (TIPS) resolutions, including those on protection of civilians, women peace and security, children and armed conflict, HIV-AIDS, peacekeeping and the like. These are human-security related resolutions that both set the agenda for specific issue areas and legitimize/reproduce the concept of human security within the Security Council architecture. These resolutions also result from a process that tends to be more open to advocacy networks and epistemic communities – the sorts of actors from which new ideas often percolate to the highest levels of international society.

For my project, what interests me is some of the theoretical distinctions she’s drawing (is she describing norm production or simply issue proliferation? I think there’s a difference) and her ideas about the nature of the relationship between the SC as an institution and other human security-minded entities through which ideas percolate before they take root in the discursive fabric of international society.

For Duck readers, this post is just a rambling reminder that in between thinking of the Security Council as a reflection of power politics and/or a failed and defunct institution in need of reform, we should remember its productive as well as institutional power. This power – including the power to legitimate the concept of human security – accounts for the fact that the UNSC now considered internal human rights violations as a threat to international peace and security worthy of a debate at all.

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UNSC Resolution 1970: Wait, did the UN just kinda do what it was supposed to?

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970 is a pretty amazing document. Over the last few days I’ve found myself trying to decide if this a rare example of the UN Security Council doing what it was originally designed to do – or an example of an international organization working because there is a relatively powerless state with no allies involved. I suspect it’s probably both.

Still, I’ve been following The Multilateralist blog over at Foreign Policy and I think David Bosco has it just about right:

Last night, the UN Security Council passed unanimously a resolution imposing an asset freeze and travel ban on Libya’s ruling elite, and also referring the situation to the International Criminal Court. None of these measures is unprecedented: the Council has used asset freezes and targeted sanctions with increasing frequency in recent years, and it referred the case of Sudan to the ICC in 2005. But the scope, speed and unanimity of the resolution are remarkable.

I think this last line is a very significant point – even if it’s about a relatively straightforward situation in Libya, 1970 is a comprehensive resolution that was passed quickly and unanimously. Even more remarkably, China, Russia and the United States voted for it (no abstentions) even if it has the power to potentially put Gaddafi on trial at the ICC – an institution they’re not all entirely chummy with.

Clearly this will not solve all of the problems in Libya, but I also don’t believe it is merely an impotent angry-worded letter that critics often speak of. And there are a few things in here that I think are interesting and worth highlighting…


First, the ICC referral. On the surface this isn’t unique, but (as I mentioned above) it is still rather interesting that ALL states on the UNSC agreed to it. The operative clause goes that the UNSC….

4. Decides to refer the situation in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya since 15 February 2011 to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court;

But the reasons why China, Russia, the US, India, (etc) probably found this acceptable can be found in the 6th clause of the resolution:

6. Decides that nationals, current or former officials or personnel from a State outside the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya which is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of that State for all alleged acts or omissions arising out of or related to operations in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya established or authorized by the Council, unless such exclusive jurisdiction has been expressly waived by the State;

In other words, if a citizen of the US, Russia, China, India (etc) is somehow involved in crimes against humanity, the ICC will not have jurisdiction over them (or any non-ICC national.) It will be interesting to see if this results in anyone getting away with some nasty stuff.

Additionally, Bosco makes an interesting observation on this point:

But it is notable that the resolution references (although in a non-operative paragraph [ed: this means in the preamble, before ‘Action under Chapter VII]) Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which gives the Council the power to suspend ICC investigations if it believes doing so would advance peace and security. It’s not immediately obvious to me why a resolution referring a situation to the court would emphasize this provision. It’s possible that China, the United States and others particularly skeptical of an untethered ICC simply wanted to emphasize the Council’s power to reel in the court. But it could also be a signal that the Council would consider stopping the ICC process in exchange for the peaceful transfer of power.

This is interesting. There has been some criticism of the ICC that its activities in Africa are actually hindering rather than helping resolve conflicts. So would the threat of a prosecution actually give any incentive for Gaddafi to surrender? And would ICC advocates be satisfied if such a deal was made – transfer power peacefully and we’ll leave you alone? I have my doubts.

Then again, if I was Gaddafi, I’d probably rather have my fate decided in sombre environment of The Hague than at the armed and rather angry mob that is headed his way. (If nothing else, surely this would give him another platform for crazy speeches and more elaborate hats?)

Second, there are references to “The Responsibility to Protect” in the preamble of the resolution, and in the comments of the representatives of those who voted on it, but not in the ‘meat’ of the resolution. This is not a big surprise, given how rather toothless the concept has become since 2005’s World Summit Outcome Document (see articles 138 and 139). However, this kind of does seem the ideal time, if ever there was one, to invoke the principle.

Finally, the voting and accompanying statements. According to the press release, when speaking on the Resolution, the Chinese representative said the following:

LI BAODONG ( China) said that China was very much concerned about the situation in Libya. The greatest urgency was to cease the violence, to end the bloodshed and civilian casualties, and to resolve the crisis through peaceful means, such as dialogue. The safety and interest of the foreign nationals in Libya must be assured. Taking into account the special circumstances in Libya, the Chinese delegation had voted in favour of the resolution.

Three points here: First, it’s clear that China agreed to the resolution because of “special circumstances” rather than suggesting it was something they would normally support.

Second, it’s also clear that he is against an armed humanitarian intervention and is not alone on the Council. The Russian representative, while supporting the 1970, spoke out against “counterproductive interventions” that other states might be tempted to engage in.

Third, when Russia and China are voting for sanctions against you AND supporting an ICC investigation in your country, it goes to show you just how freaking isolated you are. I suppose at this point it might be the result of neither country having substantial material interests in Libya and realizing they had nothing to lose (and potentially something to gain in terms of UN ‘street cred’) if they voted for it. (Certainly a sentiment, along with hypocrisy, expressed in this cartoon in the Economist.)

Ultimately, it’s a very interesting resolution and I’ve been using it in my teaching all week. Is it a rare example of the UN doing what it was designed to do in the first place? Even if not, I suspect that scholars will be interested in the reasons for the content of the resolution, the speed at which it was passed, and the effect it eventually has on the crisis – if any.

PS: Oh and I see that the UN has now thrown Libya off of the UN Human Rights Council. Way to act, guys! 

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Denied-ada. Canada fails to get a UN Security Council Seat. (But how many EU Nations do we need on there anyway?)

It was Canadian Thanksgiving this past weekend but Canukistan has one less thing to be grateful for today – it failed to get a UN Security Council seat for the first time in 50 years of trying.

Alas, (eh?), Canada lost out to Germany and Portugal in the Western group (with India, South Africa and Colombia running uncontested for the other three seats.)

The Harper government, ridiculously, is blaming Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff for the humiliating loss. This makes somewhere between zero and negative sense.

Instead, there are several factors to blame for this – the EU is a united front whereas Canada needs to lobby hard in the UN. Additionally, the electoral process seems to be pretty sketchy – and heavily dependent on gifts by suitor countries. (Apparently we went with vials of maple syrup. Way to go, guys.)And, as the Globe and Mail points out, the government hadn’t exactly had run a gung-ho campaign in order to secure it.

But it’s also a fact that Canada has been engaging the world in a very different fashion over the last few years. Where as it was once associated peacekeeping and Lester B. Pearson, it has been actively building up its airforce, accusing the Russians of invading our airspace, actively worked against climate change (and now on my way to work I have to pass around 20 billboards beside London City Hall that basically accuse Canada of systematically raping the earth with its tar sands.) I’m not saying that I necessarily disagree with all of the above, (no one likes hippies) but our national response/PR could have been much better.

Additionally, as former UN Ambassador Robert Fowler pointed out in a damning critique at the beginning of this year, our African policy is basically non-existent. The days when it could be said that the UN was embedded in Canadian DNA are clearly over. (I wonder if we’ll be taking the peacekeepers off of our $10 bills now?)

So, let’s be clear. I do understand the UN vote, but I find myself unsatisfied for another reason: There are going to be four EU countries represented on the Council. Is this at all fair? Or a good thing for the UN? I have my doubts.

But UN Security Council reform is a topic for another day…year… decade….

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Debates in Canadian Foreign Pol… Wait! Don’t leave!

I’m in Edinburgh, Scotland this week for the Political Studies Association Conference so my attention to all things blogging and internet is a bit short. However, as the Duck’s official Canadian ex-pat guest-poster, I did want to post this video (transcript here) of Robert Fowler, a former senior Canadian diplomat who gave a rather scathing critique of Canadian foreign policy at a conference this past weekend in Montreal.

No wait – don’t leave! Trust me on this one.

In it, he basically blasts both major political parties for their failure to enact any worthwhile international policies beyond that of short-sighted, narrowly defined and selfish national interest. It’s kind of like the equivalent of zombie Adlai Stevenson standing up at the Democratic National Convention and telling all of the politicos that they are full of it. (Although I don’t think that Fowler has ever run for office.)

Okay, I realize that controversies in Canadian foreign policy ain’t exactly an easy sell (or at all interesting) for non-Canadian (or even Canadian) audiences. But there are some really interesting points here for the politics of middle powers and IR theory/policy generally.


  1. Fowler is making a clear case for an idealist-driven foreign policy. He’s an experienced diplomat who helped to bring about the Kimberly Process to help curb trade in blood diamonds. He also spent a good chunk of the last two years being held hostage by radical Islamic groups in Western Africa. He’s not naive. Yet, to his credit, I think he asserts his case in a powerful and pragmatic way.
  2. His argument rests on the idea that Canada does have an international role to play and a duty to the international community. Certainly, Fowler is not the first to put this argument forward, but he’s the first Canadian leader I’ve heard really articulate it in a long time. (Whether or not it’s true, however, is another story.) While the US often speaks of its leadership role, I can’t think of an American politician speaking of duties in this way. Is this just a Canadian thing? (Like when Dean Acheson called us “the stern daughter of the voice of God”?)
  3. Fowler says that Canada and its western allies simply do not have the ability to stomach the losses and resources required to win in Afghanistan and therefore the war is lost. He suggests that basically that we should cut our losses and leave – but turn our attention to Africa and international development, suggesting it is the only way to really stop al-Qaida from spreading. I find this interesting, because in some ways development in Africa is surely as difficult (if not more so) than nation building in Afghanistan. Certainly we’ve been trying to develop states there for years without much to show for it. I’m not sure he made the case that this is any more realistic or a viable alternative.
  4. Fowler is staking his own version of the “Israel Lobby” in the speech – suggesting that the Tories (the current political party in power) are supporting Israeli policies over the traditional “balanced” view that has been taken by Canada in the Middle East. He suggests that this is because the Tories are trying appeal to Jewish voters (and that the Liberals are also guilty to some extent here as well.) To Fowler, this means that Canada cannot play a useful role in the Middle East. I’ve heard this complaint from Canadian diplomatic-types before (that we were undermining our position), but this is the first major statement I’ve heard spoken so prominently. However, I do have to wonder if Canada (other than the Suez crisis) has ever really played a useful role in the Middle East? I must profess some level of ignorance on the subject here.

There is plenty more in the speech, but I’ll leave it on those four points. He has, so far, received praise from both the left and the right in the press. But also some really harsh criticism.

I have a lot of respect for Fowler, even if I feel inclined to disagree with him on Afghanistan (and possibly his arguments on the Middle East). I had the opportunity to meet him once when he was Canada’s representative on the UN Security Council in 1999. One very much had the impression that he was very interested in African issues then as much as now and that he was proud of his work in trying to stop blood diamonds.

But the fact that this speech, coming from someone who was also a senior UN diplomat, is so critical about Canada, Canadian foreign policy – at a time when Canada is seeking a seat on the UN Security Council may actually put a serious damper on any attempt to actually get it. He openly says that Canada does not deserve the seat – and I would think that all Portugal would have to do would be to show this speech around in order to bolster its attempt to get on the Council.

It’s probably the best case I’ve heard put forward for an idealist-driven foreign policy – even if it is in scathing terms (the line about “Own the Podium” – OUCH!). If nothing else, it was a speech that was honest and informed – something that always seems to be lacking nowadays.

So if you’re just dying to know how a middle power debates its foreign policy – you’re welcome.

As for me, I’ll probably be returning to my regularly scheduled program of blowy-uppy-things next week.

But first I am going to have to try and survive the crazy weather up here.

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