Friday, August 26, 2011

R2P: Human Rights Bulwark or Protection Racket?

I learned a new term (acronym, I guess) today: R2P ("responsibility to protect") which is the underlying rationale of the NATO intervention in Libya. According to this doctrine, state sovereignty is limited when the state commits atrocities against its people or  fails to protect them from these crimes:

* The primary responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocities lies with the state itself.

* When a state proves either unable or unwilling to protect peoples, that responsibility shifts to the international community.

* This obligation must be exercised preventively; states can not delay action until mass crimes have already occurred.

* The tools of action include diplomatic, legal, and other peaceful measures; coercive measures such as sanctions; and, as a last resort, military force.
So this doctrine justifies military intervention prior to the commission of crimes against humanity.

Sadly, military intervention these days involves dropping bombs on key targets in cities, and dropping bombs on cities produces lots of dead people. We like to think that the corpses so produced belong to actual or potential bad actors, but realistically, they belong to people who had lead all sorts of ordinary lives, people like you and me, doing their versions of drinking coffee, reading the newspaper and blogging just before the bombs fell on their heads, collapsing buildings all around them and setting off infernos.

So while R2P might help to prevent some people from being victimized by bad actors, it does so by killing other people---it doesn't prevent deaths so much as shift the death from one set of people to another.  It is arguable that the death toll is lessened by such action, but that remains to be seen.

Questions for proponents of R2P: who has the responsibility to protect people from bombs? And why shouldn't R2P remind people so protected of colonialism? After all, weren't colonial acquisitions called protectorates?
Meanwhile, in North Africa, even as control of Libyan assets changes hands from the Gadhaffi (does anyone agree on how to spell this name? and is it even worthwhile learning at this late date?) crew, to the next group, one naturally wonders who gets access to the oil.  John Daly, at, has some thoughts on this, and they point to China as the probable winner:

The crystal ball is murky indeed, but when the uprising against Gadhaffi began six months ago, according to the Chinese media, about 36,000 Chinese were in Libya working on 50 projects.
Cautiously accepting the new reality, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement posted Monday on the ministry's website, "The Chinese side respects the choice of the Libyan people. The Chinese side is willing to work with the international community to play a positive role in the reconstruction process of Libya in the future."
The key word here is “reconstruction,” a noun conspicuously absent from any statements by the NATO coalition members.
When the uprising against Gadhaffi began 75 Chinese companies had already invested billions of dollars in Libya in infrastructure projects, including oil, railway and telecoms projects. After the insurrection erupted in February China began a substantial land, sea and air evacuation operation of its nationals.
Benghazi-based Libyan rebel oil firm Arabian Gulf Oil Co. (AGOCO) information manager Abdeljalil Mayouf cautioned however that China’s “softly, softly” approach to the uprising may initially cost it influence in the new Libyan reality, saying, We don't have a problem with Western countries like the Italians, French and UK companies. But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil.”
While many analysts believe that Italy’s ENI and France’s Total could be successful in post-insurrection Libya because of their countries' heavy support for the rebels, it may all devolve down to a question of funding, and given Beijing’s pockets, despite its caution in its foreign policy, that may well give China the edge.

Finally, certainly last but not least, China has no history of colonialism in North Africa, unlike Libya (occupied by Italy, 1911-1947), Tunisia (France, 1883-1956), Algeria (France, 1830-1962), Morocco (France, 1906-1956) and Egypt (Britain, 1882-1922.) While such issues are not fiscally tangible, they may well influence the post-Gadhaffi negotiations.

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