Between Realpolitik and Humanitarianism: Why Is the Application of the R2P Inconsistent? A Closer Look at Libya and Venezuela

Valentina Uccioli, University College London, UK

Valentina Uccioli is a final-year student at University College London, graduating in European Social and Political Studies. Originally from Italy, her interest for international development, human rights and the Hispanic culture has brought her to Madrid (Spain), Santiago (Chile), and Granada (Spain) as visiting student. She has interned at the Organization of American States in the Dominican Republic.

Abstract 

This paper critically examines the inconsistent application of the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), focusing on the case studies of Libya in 2011 and Venezuela today. The application of R2P requires a ‘manifest failure’ of the state to protect its citizens. However, it is unclear what threshold ‘manifestly failing’ entails. I use Gallagher’s (2014) criteria to show how in both crises, the Libyan and the Venezuelan governments respectively, were ‘manifestly failing’ their responsibility. In light of this, the paper examines the geopolitical interests of the 5 permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council (US, UK, France, Russia, China) involved in each crisis. The result shows how the lack of particular interests from China and Russia in Libya prevented them from vetoing Resolution 1973 that allowed a NATO coalition to intervene to protect Libyans. However, in Venezuela, the interests of the P5 diverge, preventing the UN Security Council from providing the country with proper relief, despite the evidence of severe human suffering. Further, this paper finds that the intervention in Libya has led to a discrediting of R2P, since, given the controversial outcome of such intervention, R2P has been linked to regime change. This increased political weight has severely reduced the chances that the UNSC will apply R2P in relation to Venezuela.

Introduction

Humanitarian interventions have been increasingly common since the end of WWII – owing to the emerging idea that mass atrocities should no longer be protected behind the shield of “national sovereignty”, and that states should act ‘in defence of common humanity’ (Annan, 1999). These notions culminated in 2001 with the formulation of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), articulated by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). The project was aimed at creating a moral imperative for the international community to intervene when a state was failing its responsibility to protect its population from war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and ethnic cleansing (“the four crimes”, as agreed at the 2005 World Summit).

The relevance of the doctrine relies on three main elements. First, it has managed to solve the controversies around the concept of humanitarian intervention, the result of a history of colonial powers invading and conquering countries of the global South on supposed humanitarian grounds. Second, it has achieved a balance between the notion of sovereignty and intervention for humanitarian purposes. It has done so by drawing inspiration from Francis Deng’s idea of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’ (1996), shifting the concept from sovereignty as a right of the state over the population to sovereignty as a duty of the state toward the population in terms of protection. Third, it has created a moral duty for the international community to intervene when faced with mass atrocities.

However, inconsistency seems to be the main trend since the global adoption of the doctrine (Hehir, 2013), formalised through the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (WSOD). The concept has been invoked several times, but it was never used to allow a military intervention until the crisis in Libya broke out in 2011, when a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution invoking R2P authorised a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) coalition to protect civilians. However, in the same year heinous crimes were being committed in Syria, but the UNSC did not vote in favour of a similar resolution despite greater atrocities being perpetrated.

In light of this, the aim of this paper is to understand why the application of R2P has been so uneven and what the contributing factors are. In order to understand how these factors interplay, I will use the Libyan and Venezuelan crises as case studies. Libya, considered ‘a textbook example of the doctrine working as it was supposed to’ (Evans, 2012), was the first time the UNSC authorised the intervention in a functioning state against its will. Venezuela is one of the gravest humanitarian crises in Latin American history and serves as a case study to show how crimes against humanity can be perpetrated even in absence of an armed conflict.

One would expect that once it has been determined that a state is failing its responsibility, the international community should feel compelled to act. Nonetheless, as we have seen in multiple cases – Syria in 2012, for instance – there are several other factors that determine whether states will intervene to stop mass atrocities. My hypothesis is that, given the current structure of the UNSC and the veto power, geopolitical interests play a determinant role in the application of R2P, and alongside with the discrediting of the doctrine, they help explain the inconsistent application of R2P.

Doctrine

The doctrine of R2P is composed of three pillars. The first one relies on the assumption that the state has a responsibility for the population’s protection. The second pillar is concerned with the international community’s responsibility to assist and engage with those states that are unable to uphold their responsibility. Finally, the third and most controversial pillar claims that ‘The international community, through the United Nations, [is] prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, […] on a case-by-case basis [when] national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations’ (WSOD, 2005). However, there is no specific definition for what “manifestly failing” entails, and this is why Gallagher, in his paper “Syria and the indicators for ’manifest failing’” (2014), sets out a series of criteria to determine what is the boundary a state has to cross to show a manifest failure of its responsibility. According to Gallagher, these are: government’s intentions to neglect its responsibility, death toll, displacement of people, weapons of choice, and targeting of children, women and elderly.

I will use these criteria as variables in the comparison between the Libyan and Venezuelan crises to determine whether they meet the criteria and will argue that they do. Secondly, I will analyse the P5’s (permanent five members of the UNSC) geopolitical interests and claim that they did play a role in determining the intervention in Libya and the inaction in Venezuela. Finally, I will evaluate whether the criticism and discrediting suffered by the doctrine of R2P since the intervention in Libya is hindering states’ willingness to use the doctrine to authorise another intervention.

Context 

Libya

The Libyan crisis started on the 17th of February 2011 when protests broke out following uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as part of the Arab Spring. Libya’s President and Revolutionary Leader Muammar Qaddafi responded with violent suppression of the demonstrations. In just six days, according to the International Federation of Human Rights, the death toll was estimated at 300 to 400 (Meikle and Black, 2011). Facing this widespread violence, regional organisations, traditionally anti-Western and sympathetic to the Middle Eastern and North African governments, ‘joined the chorus of international protest’ (Zifcak, 2012, p.5). The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the League of Arab States (LAS) and the African Union (AU), all condemned the violence and called for immediate talks.

The statements issued by these regional organisations ‘signalled the international community’s heightened concern with respect to events in Libya and provided the necessary backing for decisive action’ (Zifcak, 2012, p.5). In fact, on February 26th, the Security Council issued Resolution 1970, which condemned the Qaddafi regime and demanded an immediate end to violence (S/RES/1970, 2011). However, the Libyan regime refused the allegation, and the further escalation of violence consequently pushed the Arab and African states to become even more vehement in their insistence for action to be taken. The League of Arab States after declaring that the Libyan authorities had lost all their legitimacy, demanded the Security Council to enforce a no-fly zone (LAS, 2011, p. 2).

Nevertheless, Qaddafi started bombing rebel-held areas and, on March 17th, the UNSC adopted the ground-breaking Resolution 1973, authorising coercive military measures to prevent a mass atrocity. This resolution allowed Member States to take ‘all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack’ (S/RES/1973, 2011), imposing a no-fly zone and authorising a coalition of states under the NATO’s umbrella to enforce a ban on flights. Two days after the resolution was adopted, the coalition started bombing the regime’s military positions. However, NATO’s strategy quickly ‘stretch[ed] the terms of Resolution 1973 to their absolute limits’ (Zifcak, 2012, p.8) and soon morphed into regime change.

Venezuela

In contrast with the Libyan crisis, Venezuela’s situation does not have a specific starting date, and does not involve an armed conflict – rather, it is the result of two decades of mismanagement, corruption and authoritarianism. President Nicolás Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, implemented a series of populist economic policies to eradicate poverty and inequality, providing the population with access to public services. Thanks to the popularity acquired through these social programmes, the government developed into ‘semi-authoritarian and hyper-populist’ (Corrales, 2015) in order to secure control over the country’s highly profitable oil resources. However, in 2014, one year after Chávez’s death and Maduro’s election, the drop in oil prices led to Venezuela’s economic collapse, caused also by the nature of the regime that disincentivised the government from managing the oil boom efficiently (Corrales, 2015). However, instead of restoring the foundations of a thriving economy and a democratic society, Nicolás Maduro ‘chose the road to overt authoritarianism’ (Venezuelan and Ausman, 2019), leading to one of the worst socio-economic and humanitarian crises in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

In May 2019, the High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), Michelle Bachelet, visited Venezuela and published a report concluding that ‘there are reasonable grounds to believe that grave violations of economic and social rights, including the rights to food and health, have been committed in Venezuela’ (2019, p.14). In terms of political rights, the regime has been undermining the rule of law and the democratic institutions in order to neutralise the opposition and repress any political opponents. The OHCHR (2019, p. 6) has ‘documented a number of cases of arbitrary detention of people for expressing opinions on social media’ and according to the NGO Foro Penal Venezolano, between 2014 and 2019, 15,045 people were detained for political reasons. In several cases, people detained are subject to various forms of torture and degrading treatments such as beating, electric shock, sexual violence and water boarding (OHCHR, 2019).

Moreover, armed ”colectivos” (paramilitary groups that support the regime) have been contributing to the maintenance of the regime’s social control through repression of demonstrations and dissent. As a consequence, the number of extrajudicial executions has risen dramatically. The NGO Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia (2018) has reported 7,523 extrajudicial killings only in 2018. As a result of the extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, and tortures carried out by Maduro’s forces, in September 2018, the situation in Venezuela has been referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity (ICC, 2018). In February 2020, Maduro responded to such allegations by making its own referral to the ICC, arguing that such crimes were the consequence of ‘the application of unlawful coercive measures adopted unilaterally by the government of the United States of America against Venezuela’ (Maduro, 2020, author’s translation).

Criteria and their application 

Criteria

Firstly, Gallagher (2014, p. 6) argues that the government’s intentions to neglect its responsibility should be the starting point of the analysis as the state is the key actor of interest in the doctrine of R2P. Gallagher argues that the best way to assess governments’ intentions is to analyse the policies implemented and whether these are ”deliberately facilitating and/or perpetrating” mass atrocities. Secondly, Gallagher (2014, p. 8) claims that the death toll is the second-best indicator for ’manifest failing’, since the higher the number of people being killed the more the state is clearly unable or unwilling to stop the atrocities. As definition of death toll, Gallagher favours Robert Pape’s (2012, p. 43): ‘thousands have died and thousands more likely to die’, as it demonstrates that a systematic ongoing process is taking place, and there is no need for thousands of people more to die before action is undertaken.

Thirdly, the displacement of people indicator is meant to highlight how a massive flow of refugees is a sign of a state’s failure to fulfil both its internal and external responsibility to protect. Gallagher (2014, p.9) explains that R2P’s shift in the concept of responsibility implies that the state is responsible of the safety and welfare of its citizens and therefore, massive flows of refugees ‘help demonstrate that the government is failing its internal responsibility to protect the safety of its citizens as well as its external responsibility as refugees destabilise regional order’.

Fourthly, the weapons of choice is probably the most controversial indicator because, on one hand if government weaponry is being used systematically to carry out the violence, then it is a clear indicator that the government is involved. However, historically, mass atrocities have been carried out without the use of government’s heavy weaponry, therefore making this criterion less indicative to determine a state’s failure to protect its citizens. (Gallagher, 2014, p. 10). Finally, the targeting of children, women and elderly is another controversial indicator, but Gallagher (2014, p.12) argues that ‘the systematic targeting of civilians implies that a policy has been forged’, which means that ‘the government is either responsible for the plan being implemented or is incapable of preventing non-state actors from implementing this strategy’. In the next section, I turn onto the application of these criteria on both Libyan and Venezuelan crises.

Libya

The peculiarity of the situation in Libya in 2011 was that Colonel Qaddafi explicitly said what his intentions were. On a televised speech, he explicitly encouraged his supporters ‘to go out and attack the “cockroaches” (protesters) demonstrating against his rule’ (BBC, 2011) and then assured that he ‘would “cleanse Libya house by house”’ (The Economist, 2011). Since the very outbreak of the protests, Qaddafi showed no hesitation in using his security apparatus to violently suppress the demonstrations. Despite the adoption of Resolution 1970 condemning Qaddafi’s actions, the brutal leader had no intentions of stopping until ‘the country [was] purified from the unclean (protesters)’ (Foreign Affairs, 2011). Given the straightforwardness of Qaddafi’s purposes, there is no doubt on his intentions to neglect his responsibility to protect his population.

In terms of death toll, it is hard to establish a number of people killed before the NATO’s coalition intervened. However, within four months from the outbreak of the protests, it is estimated that the death toll has reached between 10,000 and 15,000 (Reuters, 2011). In conclusion, ‘there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Government forces used excessive force against demonstrators, […] leading to significant deaths and injuries’ (Human Rights Council, 2011, p.4).

Gallagher argues that a mass displacement proves that the State is failing its responsibility internally and externally, as refugees destabilise regional order. According to the UN High Commissioner Refugees (UNHCR), in the first half of 2011, 834,207 Libyans crossed the border into Tunisia (2011), a figure that in 2014 was estimated to have reached almost 1,5 million (Bradley, Fraihat and Mzioudet, 2016). Massive flows of migrants, by putting such a burden on the host country and its economy, carry the risk of creating instability, increasing the chances of dangerous instability in an already volatile region.

For what concerns the kinds of weapons used to repress dissidents, there have been reports and witnesses accounts of Qaddafi’s forces using fighter jets (Al Jazeera, 2011) on anti-government marches: ‘deafening sound of military aircraft targeting demonstrators in what opposition groups warned was a “massacre”. For the second night running, [Qaddafi] appeared to have deployed a shoot-to-kill policy to disperse the protests’ (Chrisafis, 2011). The report by the Human Rights Council (HRC, 2011, p.6) also mentions ‘mortars […] and expanding bullets, cluster, munitions and phosphorus weapons in highly populated areas’. Again, there is little doubt concerning the involvement of the Government in the violence that has been inflicted upon the Libyan populations.

Finally, in terms of intentional targeting of women, children, and elderly, various reports, including the one published by the ICC and one by the HRC (2011), have highlighted how rape had been used as a weapon to instil fear in the population and force it to flee. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)’s 2011 report shows that at least one school was used by Qaddafi forces as detention places where women as young as 14 years old were repeatedly raped. Moreover, the report also mentions eyewitnesses recounting Qaddafi’s security forces forcibly detaining 107 civilians and using them as human shields; other eyewitnesses reporting that the Government forces had ‘demolished a home for the elderly and abducted its 36 resident disabled, elderly, and homeless civilians’.

In conclusion, the Qaddafi regime was manifestly failing to protect its populations from mass atrocities, and it has triggered international action. In the next section I will assess whether the same can be said for Venezuela. However different the nature of the crisis may seem, ‘the conditions Venezuelans face daily are not much different than those in active war zone’ (Bahar and Dooley, 2019).

Venezuela

While Qaddafi was more explicit regarding his intentions of repressing dissidents and using violence, Maduro has nonetheless caused a similar extent of human suffering. Firstly, in order to falsely demonstrate that there is no humanitarian crisis, the government has begun censoring data regarding the conditions under which Venezuelans live and a Human Rights Watch/Johns Hopkins 2019 report explained that, by doing so, the authorities have exacerbated the crisis and that they are ‘responsible for needless loss of life that their denial and destruction have inflicted on Venezuelan people’. Moreover, the OHCHR also provided an account concerning violence, repression and extrajudicial executions. First of all, it details the excessive use of force from security forces during some of the anti-government protests, with the deliberate aim of infusing fear and to discourage demonstrators. Secondly, the HCHR has reported that the security forces in charge of combating drug trafficking and crime, the FAES (in the Spanish acronym, Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales) are responsible for thousands of killings that might amount to extrajudicial executions. The OHCHR (2019, p.10) is concerned that the regime ‘may be using FAES and other security forces to instil fear in the population and to maintain social control’. As a result, the extrajudicial executions and the arbitrary detentions are clear indicators of the intentionality of Maduro’s policies.

Regarding the death toll, as we have seen, the repression in Venezuela has been systematic since at least 2014, when the Maduro regime started evolving into an authoritarian regime and started repressing dissidents. However, probably the most relevant data for the death toll is that regarding FAES’ raids in poor neighbourhoods which are considered to represent almost 8,000 extrajudicial executions (OHCHR, 2019). According to Roberto Briceno-León, director of the NGO Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia, the total impunity with the FAES shows that the Government is proud of what is being done, and he believes that this represents a state policy of extermination (Olmo, 2019). The deliberateness of FAES’ violent killings and the impunity from the Government prove that a systematic process of unlawful and inhumane killing has been taking place.

In terms of displacement of people, as a result of the regime violating basic rights such as that of health, food, life and safety, according to the UNHCR (2019) currently there are more than 4.7 million Venezuelan refugees. The burden of the crisis has fallen on neighbouring countries, particularly Colombia, Ecuador, Peru ́, and Brazil, creating a considerable risk of instability. In conclusion, by provoking such an outflow of Venezuelans, Maduro is putting his citizens in further danger, while placing the burden on neighbouring countries, pressuring their weak economies, and consequently increasing the risk of instability throughout the whole region.

As already said, in contrast with Libya, the conflict in Venezuela is of a non-armed nature. This does not mean that the extent of human suffering is smaller, but it makes it more problematic to analyse whether the crisis meets the criterion regarding the kind of weapons used. In Venezuela, the Maduro regime is starving its people to death, it is not providing them with the basic needs like healthcare, which has led to a massive spread of once-eradicated diseases that are increasing the death toll exponentially (OHCHR, 2019). In contrast with armed crises like Libya, the Maduro regime is ultimately achieving atrocity crimes as well, but without resorting to weapons. However, given the lack of heavy weaponry involved in the conflict, it is hard to argue whether this crisis meets the criterion regarding the kinds of weapons involved.

The intentional targeting of vulnerable populations is another problematic criterion. The extrajudicial killings carried out by the FAES are indiscriminate in terms of who the targets are, since it seems that the common factor is political opinion. However, the interesting element concerning this criterion is the mention that Gallagher makes to a “third dimension”, drawing from a Save the Children report of March 2013. The report exposes how children are particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease in conflict zones, where it is juxtaposed with the collapse of the healthcare system. This is particularly true for the case of Venezuela, where children are subject to an unprecedented spread of diseases. Alongside with malnutrition, diseases have produced an increase by 65% in infant mortality rate, only in 2016 (PROVEA, 2016). Similarly, in 2016, the maternal mortality rate has increased by 30% (PROVEA, 2016) because of the lack of prenatal and maternal care, and contraceptives, which leads to homemade abortions that put women’s lives in great danger. Furthermore, the vulnerability of women goes beyond Venezuelan borders since, when forced to flee, women undertake dangerous journeys that subject them to risks such as sexual exploitation and trafficking, abuse and violence (Human Rights Watch and Johns Hopkins, 2019). In conclusion, a state is not targeting vulnerable populations only when heavy weaponry is involved, but also when it is failing to provide access to basic medical care, violating the right to health.

Geopolitical interests

After analysing the crisis in Venezuela through Gallagher’s criteria, one could argue that R2P should be applied and the international community take action. However, these criteria are fundamental but not sufficient to determine a multilateral action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. This is because any international coercive action must be approved by the UNSC. This requirement represents a double-edged sword since, on one hand, it is pivotal in it prevents powerful states from undertaking illegitimate unilateral actions. On the other hand, however, given the current structure of the UNSC, it makes the decision to halt mass atrocities susceptible to the interests of the P5 and their veto power. While it worked in Libya, where there were no major clashing interests, regarding Venezuela the opposite is true.

On general terms, the P5 have differing ideological positions and are to be understood along with their geopolitical interests. While, on one hand, the US, UK, and France have historically always placed great emphasis on humanitarianism, human rights, and democracy, China and Russia have had different approaches. It is argued that the origins of the modern international humanitarian system lie in the Western/European experiences of war (Davey, et al., 2013, p. 1). Indeed, it has even been criticised that human rights are a Western concept and there is a ‘false universalism’ that ‘obscure[s] Western civilizational hegemony’ (Falk, 1997, p. 8). However, the West’s position on human rights and humanitarianism has generally been consistent in terms of support for these regimes. In terms of national sovereignty, while defending such concept, Western states have increasingly defended the idea that, in case of gross violations of human rights, an intervention can be legitimate because the protection of civilians is prioritised – as it was the case with the NATO intervention in Kosovo, 1999.

On the other hand, China and Russia maintain a ‘restrictionist view of the Charter, which sees sovereignty as ranking higher than human rights’ (Kuhrt, 2014, p. 99). In fact, these concepts of “humanitarian intervention” and “limited sovereignty” were considered “unacceptable” by Russia (Kuhrt, 2014, p. 98). Kuhrt (2014, p. 98) relates Russia’s reticence to these concepts to the fall of the Soviet Union, which made Russia ‘far more sensitive to the idea that the sovereignty norm might be eroded’. Similarly to Russia, China has ‘regularly spoken out against interference on human rights grounds in its internal affairs’ (Sceats and Breslin, 2012, p. 1). Moreover, after the widespread condemnation of the Tiananmen Square events in 1989, ‘it became a central plank of [China’s] general agenda within the UN to promote ultra-statist conceptions of sovereignty and the principle of non-interference’ (Sceats and Breslin, 2012, p. 6). China’s strong position on national sovereignty is evident also in its frequent invocation of the principles of non-intervention or non-interference in domestic affairs (Sceats and Breslin, 2012). More generally, ‘for both Beijing and Moscow, safeguarding domestic political security is a predominant concern. They strongly opposed external interventions that could lead to regime change and state fragmentation’ (Chen and Yin, 2020, p. 18).

Libya

Russia’s neutral position in the decision to adopt Resolution 1973 in Libya was strategic. North Africa had been of secondary relevance in Russia’s foreign policy, limited to arms and energy issues. Kaczmarski (2011) explains the reasons behind Russia’s position as twofold. Firstly, with no crucial interests in Libya, Russia was more focused on maintaining good relations with the Arab countries who all condemned Qaddafi. Hehir (2013), similarly, argues that the endorsement of a no-fly zone by the LAS was key to the decision of Russia to abstain in Resolution 1973. Secondly, Kaczmarski interprets Russia’s decision as aimed at preserving the growing relations with the West and by not vetoing the resolution, Russia ‘gave very clear political support to France’ (2011). While agreeing with Kaczmarski, Gutterman (2011) also argues that vetoing the resolution would have harmed its prospects of preserving an economic foothold in the country. Thus, Russia’s decision was a low-cost action that would improve its position and involvement in the multilateral system, while not harming any national interests.

China’s relations with Libya were already problematic from before the Arab Spring, since Libyan Foreign Minister in 2009 ‘accused China of exploiting Africa’s resources and people, and condemned its behaviour [. . . ] as neo-colonialism’ (Evron, 2013, p.81). Moreover, similarly to Russia, China attached great importance to the Arab States’ positions in the conflict since maintaining good relations with them was more crucial in China’s national interest (Evron, 2013; Paal, 2011; Hehir, 2013). This is even more so given that China had limited investments in the country. Libya was the fifth country in Africa for Chinese investments, and ‘most Chinese enterprises in Libya had no direct investment in the country’ (Junbo and Méndez, 2015, pp.4-5). In conclusion, similarly to Russia, it was more strategic for China to abstain rather than vetoing Resolution 1973, so as to maintain good relationships with the Arab countries without affecting national interests.

For the United States, the crisis in Libya represented a particular opportunity where its national interests converged with its humanitarian values. Firstly, President Obama claimed US’s responsibility to prevent mass atrocities (Blomdahl, 2018). Second, there was a considerable risk that escalating violence between the Government and the rebels might sow the seeds of a favourable environment for fundamentalist and extremist militancy. In conclusion, the US had little to lose in getting involved while having the chance of promoting ‘a new form of humanitarian intervention, […] they had been sketching out for nearly a decade’ (Blomdahl, 2018, p.4).

France’s interests in Libya were twofold. First, in terms of economic resources, France imported from Libya 15% of its oil (Davidson, 2013). Second, security issues were of crucial importance given the proximity of Libyan shores to France and Europe, thus threatening France with a massive flow of refugees that could heighten security and terroristic risks in the continent. In conclusion, ‘maintaining access to Libyan oil and minimizing the terrorist threat from Libya were important contributing factors in the Sarkozy government’s decision’ (Davidson, 2013, p.319)

For the United Kingdom, the interests involved in the Libyan crisis were similar to France’s, but they assumed a more “humanitarian” stance. In fact, several journalists reported that UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision was influenced by the regret of the West’s failure to protect civilians in Srebrenica in 1995 (Blitz, 2011; Stephens, 2011). Moreover, Cameron feared that if Qaddafi was not ousted he would ‘go back to being the recruiting sergeant for terror he was in the 1980s’ (Blitz, 2011). To conclude, the UK Government was determined to stop the mass slaughter and violations of human rights in Libya both for humanitarian reasons and for security reasons, given the fear that was violence to increase in Libya, a new wave of terrorism might have threatened Europe.

Venezuela

The crisis in Venezuela, given its geographical location and its oil reserves, has attracted a variety of actors. According to John E. Herbst and Jason Marczak (2019, p.1) ‘[e]xternal actors are using Venezuela as a battleground for their own selfish national interests, bolstering the corrupt and faltering Maduro regime’.

While pursuing advantageous economic and military deals, Russia’s interest in Venezuela is mainly political. Putin sees Venezuela as a partner in ‘constructing a new multipolar, anti-US world’, a point of leverage in the US’s backyard (Rouvinski, 2019, p.1). In fact, the primary value for Russia is Venezuela’s geographical proximity to the US. Moreover, Putin is exploiting the Venezuelan crisis to show that Russia’s influence goes beyond its natural area of interest, namely, Asia or the Middle East, and to ‘portray Russia’s return as a global power’ (Rouvinski, 2019, p.1). In order to strengthen its position, at the beginning of 2019, Moscow provided Maduro with S-300 systems with two geostrategic goals. First, it was supposed to deter any US military intervention in Venezuela. Second, the equipment ‘came with Russian “experts” (soldiers), who, along with the thousands of Cuban intelligence personnel in the country, could provide security for Maduro’ (Herbst and Marczak, 2019, p. 5). Moreover, were Putin to lose this bet, Venezuela would become ‘a symbol of one of Putin’s greatest failures in the international arena’ (Rouvinski, 2019, p.17). These reasons help understand why ‘there is no doubt that Russia will use its veto power to block any resolution [in the Security Council] that would harm Maduro’ (Jeifets, 2018).

Venezuela’s relations with China date back to two decades ago when Ch ́avez decided to diversify away from the country’s export dependence on the US, with the aim of ‘counterbalance[ing] US influence in Latin America’ (Kaplan and Penfold, 2019, p.15), and saw China as a crucial partner. As Pina (2019) explains, China views ‘the oil-rich socialist country as a significant trading partner and geopolitical ally in its main political and economic rival US’ backyard’. Moreover, “south-south” cooperation is one of China’s foreign policy’s central pillars and Beijing ‘does not want to risk its reputation as a leading partner and trustworthy investor in the global south by siding with a US-backed opposition group and supporting its attempt to unlawfully topple the legitimate government of a sovereign country’ (Pina, 2019). Given the deep financial investments in the country and the geopolitical value it places on the country, China is standing with Russia in the Security Council and vetoing any attempt to adopt resolutions that may alter the situation in Venezuela.

The United States is deeply involved in the crisis and the Trump administration has been repeatedly pushing for international involvement in the crisis – still considering military intervention ‘an option’ (CBS News, 2019). While the US’s desire to restore democracy and protect human rights might be part of the equation, it would be na ̈ıve to ignore its interests in the Latin American country. First of all, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and both Chavez and Maduro have tried to diversify Venezuela’s oil exports to limit the country’s dependence on the US, therefore threatening key US’ economic interests. Secondly, Chávez and Maduro have always openly attacked the US, with the aim of fostering political integration and anti-imperialism (Kozloff, 2007). In conclusion, the US has considerable interests in pushing for new elections in Venezuela since the current situation represents a threat to its core economic and ideological interests.

In contrast with Russia, China and the US, the UK and France, have no major interests in Venezuela. In addition, given the long history of support for humanitarian values and human rights, they have participated, as part of the European Union bloc, in efforts to promote a political transition in Venezuela and insist on the need to call free and fair elections to restore democracy in the country (Doward, 2019).

R2P discrediting

Resolution 1973 that authorised the NATO coalition in Libya had authorised Member States ‘to take all necessary measures [. . . ] to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack’ (S/RES/1973, 2011). While it could be said that Qaddafi was the main perpetrator of the mass atrocities in Libya, it has been widely argued that his death represented an attempt at regime change that exceeded the mandate of the Resolution. A considerable number of UN ambassadors argued that the NATO-led coalition was no longer acting in defence of the population at risk but pursuing the overthrow of Qaddafi. This idea was further encouraged by the op-ed jointly written by the then leaders of the US, the UK, and France – Barack Obama, David Cameron, and Nicholas Sarkozy, in which they argued that NATO was not pursuing regime change, but that it was ‘impossible to imagine a future Libyan government with Qaddafi in power’ (Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron, 2011). Shortly after, various states began questioning the legitimacy of the action and vocally arguing that such actions were exceeding the mandate given by Resolution 1973.

Considering that Russia and China were not supportive of the intervention in Libya, rather, they were focused on preserving their own interests, once the intervention morphed into regime change, they became extremely vocal against it. They insisted on the idea that ‘there was no way in which the relevant resolution could have permitted the extension of the conflict beyond the protection of civilians and towards the objective of regime change’ (Zifcak, 2012, p. 11). This “mission creep” has severely undermined the global consensus around R2P. As Nuruzzman (2013, p.66), ‘[t]he hidden policy of regime change in Libya has, in fact, killed the R2P doctrine’.

In other words, the failure of the NATO-coalition to remain within the Resolution’s boundaries has severely undermined the global support of the doctrine. As a result, it is argued that ‘the campaign in Libya has done grave, possibly even irreparable, damage to R2P’ (Rieff, 2011). Rieff further argues that it is highly unlikely that interventions under R2P will ‘get sanction from the U.N. in the foreseeable future’ (Rieff, 2011). For instance, scholars have argued that ‘If Libya happened again today, China would not abstain’ (quoted in Sceats and Breslin, 2012, p. 49). The intervention in Libya inevitably linked R2P to regime change, increasing the political risk of employing such a principle. Consequently, the result has been that even if the members of the UNSC had agreed on the need to protect civilians in Venezuela, it became highly unlikely they would apply R2P, given its considerable political weight. It could be argued that Venezuelans are not safe unless Maduro is ousted – and wary of the outcome of the intervention in Libya, the UNSC would be extremely reticent to apply the principle of R2P.

Conclusion

The aim of this paper was to understand why the doctrine of R2P, particularly Pillar III, has been applied inconsistently. After analysing the contexts of the Libyan and Venezuelan crises, this paper examined whether these crises met Gallagher’s criteria for ‘manifestly failing’. In the second section, the paper first described the differing positions of the P5 on issues such as sovereignty and human rights. Secondly, reflecting these positions, I analysed what role the geopolitical interests of the P5 have played in each crisis and whether they have determined the outcome. I find that the crisis in Libya represented no threat to Russian nor Chinese interests and therefore they were both refrained from vetoing UNSC resolutions; while the US’s, UK’s, and France’s interests converged with the need to protect Libyans. In this way, the UNSC was able to authorise military intervention to protect civilians. However, the same cannot be said for Venezuela, which has become a playground for East-West geostrategic interests and rivalries. The great relevance both Russia and China put on Venezuela in economic and political terms has prevented the international community from intervening to provide Venezuelans with proper relief. I thus find that geostrategic considerations do have influence on R2P’s application, affecting its consistency. Finally, another element that further explains such inconsistency is the backlash that NATO intervention in Libya had on the consensus around R2P, associating it to the concept of regime change, therefore fostering countries’ reticence to apply it. This paper argues that, as a consequence of this political weight, even if the P5 had converging interests in Venezuela as they did in Libya, it would be highly unlikely they would apply R2P. In conclusion, there are various factors that interact to determine the irregular application of R2P and, while the geopolitical interests are probably the key factor, one cannot overlook how the association of the doctrine to regime change has influenced this inconsistency.

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