R2P Reductivism

In an op-ed in The Guardian, Julia Gronnevet replicates many of the false assumptions lining the debate over the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine. Here’s how Gronnevet misleadingly characterizes the doctrine.

Of course, this being not just UNHQ but also Acronym HQ, the whole discussion has been boiled down to R2P – “responsibility to protect”, the formal name of the doctrine that says borders are nothing and human rights are everything.

Just as R2P does not simply prescribe invasion every time a government fails to protect its citizens, it does not create a simple binary between “borders” and “human rights,” nor does it fall wholly on the latter half of this false dichotomy. If we are to use these two terms to describe R2P, the best way to do so would be to interpret the doctrine as an attempt to reconcile the existing state-based international system (yes, complete with its borders and all the difficulties they bring) with the paramount global need to protect human rights. This does not require the elimination of borders, or even the disregard of them in cases of various states of emergency. Rather, the doctrine provides a carefully considered program of steps to navigate the tricky divide that Gronnevet depicts so starkly with both circumspection and urgency.

Casting R2P in a role of the intrepid human rights defender, severing borders left and right, come what may, is a tempting image, but ultimately inaccurate and unhelpful. This fanciful caricature unnecessarily divides R2P’s audience into two divisive parts: the righteous and the rights-abusing. The entire point of the doctrine — even though some countries may be less comfortable than others with relinquishing the unchecked inviolability of their sovereignty — is that it is a global compact. Addressing it as such — and as a pragmatic schema in an interest-based global political system — is the only way to dispel the fears and misconceptions about it that continue to abound.