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Correspondence: Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect
Academic discussion between: Gareth Evans & Ramesh Thakur and Robert A. Pape
Project Muse, made available by Australian National University
April 2013
To the editors (Gareth Evans and Ramesh Thakur write):
As cochair (Evans) and member (Thakur) of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), and principal authors of its 2001 report The Responsibility to Protect (R2P), we read Robert Pape’s article with great interest—but also with growing surprise and ultimately considerable disappointment. Intervention can be studied as an analytical concept or as a political project, and Pape’s article clearly falls into the latter category. His purpose is to advance his so-called pragmatic standard of humanitarian intervention against the standard of the genocide convention (which, in his view, sets the bar much too high) and R2P (which he thinks is loose and permissive, setting the bar much too low). For an article proposing to advance humanitarian intervention as a political project, however, it is remarkably disconnected from political reality.
Pape completely overlooks the emergence of R2P over the last decade as the normative instrument of choice for converting shocked international conscience about mass atrocity crimes into decisive collective action. His forty-page article devotes just two pages to R2P, focusing entirely on its original articulation in the ICISS report and totally ignoring its subsequent intellectual and political evolution. (…) The 2005 World Summit Outcome Document and its subsequent translation into shared understandings in intergovernmental circles have simply been airbrushed from history in Pape’s account. (…)
First, Pape resurrects the language and discourse of “humanitarian intervention.” ICISS was successful in repositioning the international consensus because we made the core, sustaining idea not the “right to intervene” but the “responsibility to protect.” (…)
Second, not only does Pape take his readers back to the rightly rejected and discarded world of humanitarian intervention, but he would also take us back to the unsustainable world of unilateral interventions. (…)
Third, going backward on humanitarian intervention means a reluctance to embrace the responsibilities to prevent and rebuild, which are core to R2P but not normally part of humanitarian intervention discourse, as Pape’s contribution makes clear. (…)
Fourth, Pape would take the normative architecture back to the pre-R2P status quo on a false premise. The charge against R2P—that it is too permissive and would embroil the United States and the West in interventions without end all over the world— is wrong in theory and demonstrably false in practice. (…)
Fifth, we can only regard as an egregious straw man, built for the sole purpose of knocking down, Pape’s assertion that R2P “would effectively obligate” states “to commit vast resources to provide for the welfare of foreigners even if this came at the expense of obligations to their own citizens” (p. 52). To our knowledge, no advocate, supporter, or sympathizer of R2P—and, before this, no critic of R2P—had made this claim. (…)
Robert A. Pape replies:
In my article “When Duty Calls,” I advance a new, pragmatic standard for humanitarian intervention that speciªes when the United States and other members of the international community should intervene militarily to stop a government from harming its own citizens.1 The pragmatic standard has three requirements for the use of force: (1) an ongoing campaign of mass homicide sponsored by the government; (2) a viable plan for international intervention with reasonable estimates of low casualties for the intervening forces; and (3) a workable strategy for creating lasting local security for the threatened population. In addition, I explain why adopting the pragmatic standard would save more lives than the two prevailing alternatives: the so-called genocide standard (i.e., the moral imperative to intervene to prevent genocide), which sets the bar for intervention too high, and the “responsibility to protect” (R2P), which sets the bar so low that virtually every instance of anarchy or tyranny would create unbounded obligations beyond the capacity of states to fulfill.
Gareth Evans and Ramesh Thakur, both long-standing proponents of the responsibility to protect standard, argue that my article pays insufªcient attention to R2P, ignores the evolution of R2P after its founding document in 2001, and fails to appreciate that R2P is now the “normative instrument of choice” guiding “collective action” by the international community to stop governments from harming their citizens. They see no need for a new standard because, in their words, there is already “rapid acceptance of R2P in international political settings.”
Evans, Thakur, and I agree that the international community has a broad responsibility to protect innocents threatened by their governments. We disagree, however, that such a broadly framed responsibility entails an obligation or a duty to intervene militarily. (…)
Read the full article, including Evans and Thakur’s full assessment of Pape’s article and analysis of the Responsibility to Protect within the international community today as well as Pape’s complete response including specific answers to his critics’ five points.


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