Speaker: Michael Doyle, Columbia Global Initiative


MICHAEL DOYLE: The idea that there is a responsibility to protect—that is, that governments have a duty to protect their own citizens; and then, if they fail, the international community has a residuary responsibility to step in—has become much more normalized.

At the Global Summit of the General Assembly in 2005, a unanimous resolution established this responsibility to protect in just that kind of a concept.

But they limited it in two ways that would reflect, let's call it, a normalization of this concept of responsibility. One is they limited it to a series of specific harms—war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide—so only those crimes were sufficient to constitute a good reason to, if necessary, override domestic sovereignty. And then, they also limited it to the equivalent of the Security Council, so that, again, this norm couldn't be exploited for national narrow self-advantage.

So the concept was striking and shocking when Kofi Annan addressed it at that meeting, but over time it has become more specific, made clearer, but at the same time garnered a great deal of support. That resolution of 2005 was unanimous. Over this past summer, when the issue was looked at again by the General Assembly, support was very wide indeed for the principle of R2P.

The principle is great. Now, we might want to ask: Will they ever deliver on it? That's another question.

JOHN TESSITORE: That of course is the follow-up question, yes. Principles are wonderful, but how does one translate and will there be the political will to make that transition from principle to actuality?

MICHAEL DOYLE: The answer is mixed on that. On the one hand, the phraseology is "responsibility to protect." That's important. That is, it's not just a permission to do it, but a responsibility.

So that was a rhetorical step, I think, in the right direction.

But there's a big gap between rhetoric and action in these kinds of events. If, for example, Rwanda, the horrible genocide of April of 1994, were to occur right now, it's not clear to me that we would have the necessary rapid action by states volunteering, Security Council quickly approving, an effective action being taken, to stop it.

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