The Responsibility to Protect: Four Challenges on the Road Ahead

Dr. Adrian Gallagher, University of Leeds, Convenor BISA Working Group on Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect

I would like to say congratulations to the R2P Student Coalition here at the University of Leeds. Three years ago, Professor Jason Ralph and I designed a third year module PIED3502 The Responsibility to Protect and Prosecute and it is fantastic to see this has galvanised such interest amongst students. Since then the teaching team has expanded to include Dr. Cristina Stefan (formerly Badescu) and Dr. James Souter which reflects an increasing number of staff including Professors Edward Newman and Graeme Davies that focus on the R2P and related issues. Juxtaposed with this has been somewhat of a ‘bottom up’ R2P movement that has arisen with a dedicated team of intelligent, professional students establishing the Student Coalition. The latest instalment of their efforts is this exciting journal, co-founded with Dominique Fraser, and I would like to take this opportunity to also thank Professor Alex Bellamy for writing the introduction to the first issue. Hopefully, both the Coalition and the Journal can grow from strength to strength and as its founder, Georgiana Epure, departs for pastures new, we are fortunate that two of our current undergraduate cohort – Blake Lawrinson and Luke Bullock – who are to start MA programmes here at Leeds in September 2016.

The second issue provides an apt moment to consider the key issues, questions, and challenges that will face the Responsibility to Protect in the second decade since the World Summit Outcome in 2005. The purpose here is not to provide answers as such but instead to raise questions, issues and concerns facing the R2P in the 21st century. The reason for this is that because this is a student-led journal, I thought I would take this opportunity to identify four research agendas where future MA and Ph.D. students can contribute something significant, timely, and rigorous on the discourse.

  1. Climate Change and Mass Violence

The relationship between climate change, environmental factors, and mass violence remains overlooked and undertheorised. At first, it may seem somewhat odd to suggest that there could in fact be a relationship between climate and violence, yet further consideration begins to reveal existing relationships in historical examples as well as the potential for an increasing level of such violence in the 21st century. In 2009, former President of the International Network of Genocide Scholars, Juergen Zimmerer, held an inter-disciplinary conference at the University of Sheffield to discuss this topic. Six years on, Zimmerer published an edited volume Climate Change and Genocide Environmental Violence in the 21st Century in which it is claimed ‘environmental violence, including resource crises such as peak fossil fuel, will lie at the heart of future conflicts’.

With this in mind, it underpins a broader call for action in order to pre-empt the exacerbation of such violence in the 21st century. Within the context of International Relations, scholars such as Ken Booth[1] have placed the threat posed by climate change within ‘the great reckoning’ of the 21st century. Meanwhile, prominent analysts such as Naomi Klein[2] put forward a somewhat apocalyptic vision which, if accurate, provides a fertile foundation for mass violence. As it stands, the problem facing the R2P is that for all the talk of encouraging and helping states to fulfil their R2P there is quite simply no blue print for how international society can and should respond to the potentially civilization changing relationship between climate change and violence.

  1. A New United Nations Secretary General (UNSG)

The power of the UNSG has been well documented over the years. In relation to mass violence, it is clear that Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon have played pivotal roles in both establishing and facilitating the R2P. Evidently shaped by his personal experiences in relation to the Rwandan genocide, Annan facilitated the R2P through his UN High Level Panel and established the first Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide in 2004.[3] Putting the efforts of Annan in context, Roméo Dallaire stated that Annan is ‘genuine to the core’ and ‘dedicated to the founding principles of the UN and tireless in his efforts to save the organisation from itself.’[4] A part of which was making sure the R2P initiative did not die out in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War. The R2P-baton, if you will, was then passed onto Ban Ki-moon who has become a leading advocate of the R2P at the international level. Since 2009, he has released an annual R2P report which facilitated an informal interactive dialogue at the UN General Assembly as well as establishing a joint Office of the Special Advisors on the Prevention of Genocide and the R2P. All this effort begs the question, what next? Of course, only time will tell but whatever happens, the prominence of the R2P at the international level will undoubtedly be shaped by the new UNSG’s view of it. Furthermore, this calls for more research not just into how the UN facilitates ideas (as Thomas Weiss has written on[5]), but also the specific relationship between UNSGs and particular ideas and norms.

  1. Changing Power Balances

The R2P was born in an era of liberal imperialism. The key issue then is the extent to which changing power balances at the international level will shape the acceptance and resistance toward the R2P. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) have been identified as key players but critically they do not speak with a unified voice as is often portrayed in the discourse. South Africa has been more comfortable with the R2P, yet criticised for flip flopping on Libya. India and Brazil continue to hold reservations about the use of force, with Brazil expressing concerns over pillar II actions – when the host state requests military assistance. China and Russia, of course, hold veto membership and continue to heavily influence the implementation of the R2P at the UN Security Council as witnessed by the division over Syria. Unable to go into all these issues here, I would point future researchers toward three special issues. To explain, in November 2013, the ESRC funded a 9 part-seminar series addressing this issue. The organisers Jason Ralph (University of Leeds), Aidan Hehir (University of Westminster), James Pattison (University of Manchester) and Adrian Gallagher (University of Leeds) went onto to publish three special issues related to this theme in 2015: Cooperation and Conflict, Criminal Law Forum and Global Responsibility to Protect.

  1. The Rise of Non-State Armed Groups

The 20th century was plagued by mass violence committed by governments. Sadly, they were very good at it and the perpetrators often got away with it. In his seminal study, Death by Government, R. J. Rummell calculated that 169,198,000 million were killed by their own government between 1900 and 1987, which he labelled as ‘democide’. Historically then, we have tended to theorise and conceptualise mass violence as a state crime precisely because states have the power to conduct mass killing. Yet, the rise of non-state actors and, in particular, more powerful non-state actors in the 21st century is changing the nature of mass violence. Although it is highly doubtful that groups such as DAESH, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and the Haqqani Network, will manage to destroy millions of people (unless they acquire weapons of mass destruction capability at some point in the future), they often display a clear intent to destroy groups. For example, earlier this year, in May 2016, the UK House of Commons, The US Congress, and The European Parliament have all declared that the DAESH are conducting genocide against the Yazidi community. Such actions would correlate with what Leo Kuper labelled as ‘genocidal massacres’ in his pioneering text Genocide: Its Political Use in the 20th Century.[6] As I have argued elsewhere, within the R2P framework, pillar II holds the most promise as states can assist other states to address the threat posed by non-state armed groups.[7] Yet, clearly more research is needed as we investigate the strengths and limitations of pillar II as well as its relationship with other norms such as the anti-terror norm in the future.

Overall, it would seem that mass violence will be a feature of the 21st century. In response, researchers have a responsibility to conduct significant, original, and rigorous studies that can help explain both its causes and responses. Good luck.

[1] See Booth, K. 2007. Theory of World Security, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[2] See Klein, N. 2014. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, London: Allen Lane

[3] See UNSC RES. S/2004/567

[4] See Dallaire, R. 2003. Shake Hands with the DevilThe Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Toronto: Random House Canada

[5] Weiss, T.  ‘How United Nations Ideas Changed History’, Review of International Studies36, Supplement S1, (October) pp. 3-23

[6] See Kuper, L. 1982. Genocide: Its Politics Use in the Twentieth Century, London: Yale University Press

[7] See Gallagher, A. 2015. ‘The Promise of Pillar II: Analysing International Assistance Under The Responsibility to Protect’, International Affairs, 91(6), pp.1259–1275