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Point of Order: Is China More Westphalian Than the West?
Amitai Etzioni
Foreign Affairs
November/December 2011
Several leading Western progressives have sought to legitimize armed humanitarian intervention, under the rubric of “the responsibility to protect.” Others have gone even further, seeking to legitimize interference in the internal affairs of other countries if they develop nuclear arms, invoking “the duty to prevent.” Both concepts explicitly make sovereignty conditional on states’ conducting themselves in line with new norms that directly conflict with the Westphalian one. The issue, in other words, is not simply whether China will buy into the existing rule-based order but whether it can be persuaded to support the major changes in the rules that the West is seeking.
The past two decades have seen numerous humanitarian crises. The international community intervened with the use of force in some but not others. Many liberals were particularly troubled when the international community did not act to stop mass killings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, and Sudan, and their concerns led to calls for limitations on sovereignty in order to facilitate such action in the future. The Evans-Sahnoun Commission, an international study group on humanitarian intervention that released its report in 2001, and a 2004 UN secretary-general’s high-level panel formulated and promoted the idea that when states do not conduct their internal affairs in ways that meet internationally recognized standards, other states have a right to intervene. This idea has since been referred to in shorthand as “the responsibility to protect.” (…)
Progressive interventionist voices have weakened somewhat recently, not least because, as The Economist noted, “the Bush years . . . damaged the intellectual case for intervention.” Still, Hillary Clinton promised during her presidential campaign to “operationalize” the responsibility-to- protect doctrine and “adopt a policy that recognizes the prevention of mass atrocities as an important national security interest of the United States, not just a humanitarian goal.” And the Obama administration invoked the responsibility to protect in its case for intervention in Libya (although it has been at pains to point out that such intervention will not be a regular occurrence). Before the United States and other Western powers seek to determine whether China can be moved to support changes in the traditional liberal order, therefore, they need to sort out what their own position is.
If the Westphalian nonintervention norm is to be changed, the question arises as to who should decide when violations of national responsibilities have reached the level that justifies an armed intervention and on what criteria the decision will be made. The UN Security Council is often cited as the appropriate forum for such rulings. Thus, when NATO intervened in Kosovo without UN authorization, this action was referred to as legitimate by some but also as illegal. The 2003 invasion of Iraq faced much condemnation because it was not fully authorized by the UN. In contrast, interventions in East Timor and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the rollback of Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait were considered legal because of UN approval.
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