If you want to follow the debate sparked by recent writings from the WPF research collaborators on How Mass Atrocities End, Alex de Waal, Jens Meierhenrich and Bridget Conley-Zilkic, in the Fletcher Forum and New York Times/International Herald Tribune, look no further. The New York Times published this response by Gareth Evans, one of the leading proponents of R2P, to de Waal’s op-ed on the topic:

The ‘responsibility to protect’ principle which Alex de Waal lambasts (“How to end mass atrocities,” Views, March 10) — and me and Samantha Power with it — is not and never has been old “humanitarian intervention” wine in a new bottle. Nor is “R2P” about mindless moralizing, or prioritizing democracy or the achievement of longer-term justice, at the expense of effective action to stop mass killing in its tracks.


The whole point of the R2P doctrine is simply to generate a reflex international response that occurring or imminent mass atrocities are everybody’s business, not nobody’s. What the appropriate response can and should be — including diplomatic persuasion, non-military pressure like sanctions or International Criminal Court action, or (in extreme and exceptional cases) military intervention — depends entirely on the circumstances of each individual case.

And the Fletcher Forum published a response by Dr. Phil Orchard to the essay by de Waal, Meierhenrich and Conley-Zilkic. Orchard argued that:

There are two problematic assumptions embedded in their work. The first is that flight is a reaction to violence, rather than a deliberate goal on the part of the perpetrating regime. The second is that the articles misconstrue the ability of affected people to actually receive asylum. I will cover both these points in turn.

Engaging the issues raised by Orchard, the WPF offered a counter-challenge:

First, on the capacity of targeted populations to flee and find asylum, we do not argue that this is always possible, but rather point out that it has at times occurred and enabled people to survive. We agree that in many cases displacement is precisely the goal of perpetrators, not mass killing. Understanding this, we can then reassess response mechanisms and not jump to the conclusion, as Dr. Orchard does, that the “killings [will] continue.” In the case of the Somali Bantu, it should be noted that the primary place of refuge was Kenya, not the United States.

Second, we challenge the proponents of R2P to answer the questions: How is this norm different from humanitarian intervention? And, how is it different from good diplomacy and conflict resolution informed by the principle of “sovereignty as responsibility?” Proponents of each seem to flip flop according to the criticism of the moment. When we say that one is no good, or there’s no added value, the proponents shift to the other option. When we say it’s the other, they shift back. In other words, if R2P is a new norm (a principle guiding policy), why does it not govern cases consistently, even for its non-governmental advocates, let alone policymakers? In the case of Libya, we see it exalted at one moment as proof positive of the success of R2P, and at the next as not an exemplar of R2P at all.

If it is not a norm, does it not threaten to serve as mere amplification of ethical rhetoric that obscures the real policy debates that are, in any case, conducted elsewhere with different vocabularies?

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