Susan Rice and R2P

In another graf of note from the NYT article announcing Obama’s selection for UN ambassador, nominee Susan Rice reflects on the lessons she drew from the traumatizing experience of working in the State Department during the (ineffectual response to) the Rwandan genocide:

“I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required,” she told The Atlantic Monthly in 2001. She eventually became a sharp critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the Darfur killings and last year testified before Congress on behalf of an American-led bombing campaign or naval blockade to force a recalcitrant Sudanese government to stop the slaughter.

Rice has certainly espoused some hawkish instincts when it comes to Darfur and other humanitarian emergencies, but I think the phrase “going down in flames” was used hyperbolically. The fact that she is willing to stick her neck out and advocate for the muscular policies that it will take to bring mass atrocities to an end — instead of merely issuing vapid expressions of horror, words of condolence, or the all-too-common pronouncements of “never again” — suggests that Rice is not delusional about the kinds of hard measures that the United States and its allies will have to leverage. And as Mark has articulated, Rice’s experience with Africa and her “sharp elbows” make her particularly well-suited to staring down Security Council challenges.The perception of Rice’s bellicosity, though, should be situated within the context of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine that she strongly supports. Many see R2P in only its most aggressive light — when states fail or are unable to protect their own civilians, the international community can, if certain conditions and a high burden of proof are met, intervene through various means, including, as a last resort, the use of force. The multiple caveats and tests required should clarify that R2P is not a simple carte blanche for military invasions.

Rice, as a champion of the doctrine, is fully aware of the intentional constraints that R2P places on the use of military force. Perhaps even more importantly for an incoming UN ambassador, she is also fully aware that R2P has officially been adopted by the UN and explicitly applied to the case of Darfur — an awareness that should guide her actions in New York and help the causes of both strengthening R2P and mounting a more effective Darfur policy.