John Boonstra on R2P and Burma

by Kevin Jon Heller

I had contemplated weighing in on commentators’ unfortunate tendency to equate the Responsibility to Protect doctrine with humanitarian invasion, but John Boonstra at UN Dispatch beat me to it. Here’s a snippet:

First, by and large, the R2P doctrine has been misunderstood or misrepresented in calls to “invade” Burma. R2P is often implied to boil down to a simple equation: if a government is unable or unwilling to adequately protect its citizens, then the international community has a right to forcibly intervene to protect these people. The first part of this conditional is accurate, but the second is a gross oversimplification. R2P does not prescribe invasion any more than the Constitution of the United States mandates impeachment. Military intervention is only one component of the R2P framework, and one of last resort, at that; it is only to be undertaken when a series of specific conditions are met, ensuring that intervention is justified, well-intentioned, practical, authorized by the proper authority (i.e., the UN Security Council), and will not cause more harm than good.

Wielding R2P as a Trojan horse for invasion and regime change, as Robert Kaplan seems to desire, is harmful to the integrity and future viability of the concept, as well as to the more pressing concern of alleviating the Burmese people’s suffering.

The whole post is well worth a read. It’s here.

One Response

  1. It is important to expose Trojan horse justifications.

    A declared policy of ‘regime change’ is straddling, if not outside, the bounds of international law and the UN Charter. With such a policy a state threatens that it will act on any stretched legal justification it can in order to accomplish its true and aggressive goal of toppling a foreign power. There are plenty of ways to urge policy and legal changes on a foreign government in very strong terms without crossing the line.

    Unfortunately, despite the lessons of Iraq, the cheerleaders of empire continue to advocate policies of ‘regime change’ toward every government they disdain (and I fully grant that these are often terribly oppressive, even evil, systems such as Burma). Beyond the finite numbers of troops available, the pursuit of ‘regime change’ as an end in itself is of dubious legality. The inviolability of borders has been mis-used in some cases, but by ignoring it through policies of ‘regime change’ a state undermines all states (hearkening to the post on ‘W(h)ither America?’).

    These endless suggested interventions result in real, no-kidding empire (not the ‘cultural imperialism’ so often whined about) and real empire is ugly and costly. Look at Iraq, look at the British Empire, look at Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire. Paul Kennedy’s Great Powers thesis is starting to look directly relevant. Though I share Prof. Spiro’s nostalgia.

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