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).
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.
For a new global norm like R2P to regulate international behaviour, it must first be translated into national and international policy.