The Development and Evolution of R2P as International Policy

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This article traces the arc of global public policy development by using the responsibility to protect (R2P) as a case study and the central role and place of the United Nations in that story. The arc has seven way-stations: policy setting (nonintervention as the entrenched norm of the postcolonial order despite an increasingly internationalised human conscience among many western peoples and governments and the episodic practice of humanitarian intervention); policy challenge (the need to respond to mass atrocity crimes against the unacceptability both of inaction and unilateral intervention); policy innovation (R2P); policy development (an iterative process since 2005 engaging multiple actors); policy implementation (in Libya in 2011); policy paralysis (in Syria since 2011); and the emerging policy parameters (how to ensure interventions are done with due responsibility).

Policy Implications

  • For a new global norm like R2P to regulate international behaviour, it must first be translated into national and international policy.
  • Shared values can be formulated as a global norm at the United Nations as a key site of global governance, but national policy must accommodate key interests also, especially of the major actors.
  • The future evolution of R2P as an organising principle of international behaviour will be shaped by a mutually respectful conversation between the leading powers from the global North and South.
  • This requires providing space to the emerging powers for writing the rules and designing and controlling the institutions of global governance.
  • It also requires the emerging powers to accept the growing burdens of global leadership commensurate with their rising profiles.
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