Fall 2016

The Responsibility to Protect after Libya & Syria

Jennifer M. Welsh

Despite the commitment made by all heads of state attending the 2005 World Summit to uphold the principle of the responsibility to protect (R2P), atrocity crimes continue to be committed by states and nonstate actors. This essay argues that assessments of R2P's effectiveness too often overlook the political nature of the principle – with the strengths and weaknesses that this status entails – and apply rigid standards of success that both underestimate its contribution to building capacity to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes and overemphasize the role of military intervention. It also suggests that R2P is best understood as a “duty of conduct” to identify when atrocity crimes are being committed and to deliberate on the best form of collective response. The cases of Libya and Syria have nonetheless raised fundamental questions about the prospect of catalyzing international efforts to protect populations, particularly when there is disagreement over the costs and benefits of a coercive response.

JENNIFER M. WELSH is Professor and Chair in International Relations at the European University Institute and Senior Research Fellow at Somerville College, University of Oxford. In 2013, she was appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect. She is the author of At Home in the World: Canada's Global Vision for the 21st Century (2004) and Edmund Burke and International Relations (1995), and editor of the recent volumes The Responsibility to Prevent: Overcoming the Challenges of Atrocity Prevention (with Serena K. Sharma, 2015) and Just and Unjust Military Intervention: European Political Thought from Vitoria to Mill (with Stefano Recchia, 2013).

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