Roger Cohen: “An R2P generation is coming”

In February 2008, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote about the responsibility to protect in light of events in Kosovo and Cuba and the launch in New York that month of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies. Cohen’s conclusion – an optimistic view:

“[R2P principles] need bolstering. The Iraq war has revived a 21st century sovereignty fetish exploited by Sudan to stall U.N. efforts to stop genocide in Darfur, where the government has failed utterly in its ‘responsibility to protect’ without provoking ‘timely and decisive’ international action. Interventionism is increasingly seen in the Middle East and Africa as a camouflage for Western interests. But I believe the tide will eventually turn. R2P will be a reference. It is part of what [author] Lawrence Weschler has called ‘the decades-long, at times maddeningly halting, vexed, and compromised effort to expand the territory of law itself.’ The ‘territory of law’ is now also the universal territory on which human life is protected. Westphalian principles meet R2P. An R2P generation is coming. The prizing open of the world is slow work, but from Kosovo to Cuba it continues.”

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  1. Bella thomson

     /  13/02/2012

    Due to the situation in Iraq, Intervention has been tainted since 2003. However, I believe that it may be time for “the tide to turn” and in fact humanitarian intervention from the West may be essential in order for the world not to witness atrocities from Assad. There is reason to be optimistic particularly with Britain’s new initiative against Syrian war crimes. Details can be found at:
    The problem however, is remaining optimistic in the case of Syria. Humanitarian intervention may provoke potential explosive regional sectarian devisions. It is important to remember that Syria is a complex nation — its ethnic, sectarian, tribal and religious composition is fragile.

  2. Magan Haycock

     /  13/02/2012

    With the majority of nation states in the current era still recovering from various versions of colonialism, resisting lingering imperialism, and trying to protect the sovereignty of their nation-state, I can foresee the following problems with the Global Center for Responsibility to Protect’s proposal:

    1. the wording “offer high-level advice to governments”. Nations attempting their own versions of human rights (such as ASEAN’s “Asian Values”) may see this “high-level advice” as looking down on their government’s capacity to retain harmonious societies while simultaneously attempting to catch up to the economies of already developed countries. Powerful countries providing “high-level advice” to developing nations sounds a lot like the IMF’s Strategic Adjustment Programs (which were widely criticized for not taking into consideration specific local cultures). Also, will this policy be reciprocated? Will the US government allow “high-level advice” to be given in regards to its own human rights abuses?

    2. another problem is the fact that the UN will be in charge of this, with it’s current structure. The UN has incredible potential but the Security Council has been outdated for more than 50 years and is a fair representative of nation states. Once again, the attacks of “cultural imperialism” and “hegemony of Western powers” that use human rights as excuses to interfere with the domestic issues of the Global South will be heard. And in my opinion, rightly so.

    • Danny

       /  13/02/2012

      I agree with the above-mentioned problems and difficults and just want to add two other points:
      1. the R2P is closely related to human rights, but there are difficult understanding and interpretation of human rights. For example, China tends to view human rights through the socieconomic lens. They argue that economic development is another form of realization of human rights. In this sense, when the international society refers to R2P, they have to first give a clear and universal definition of what human rights are and to what extent the violation of human rights deserves intervention.
      2. In Middle East, Western powers have long been acused of supporting oppressive regimes. They use the claim to sacrifice democratiation in order to stop the Islamists reaching power to defend themselves. But does this excuse contracts the principle of R2P since most of the oppressive regimes are involved in human rights abuse? If so, whether the R2P can be fully realized is in question.

  3. Danny

     /  13/02/2012

    Just to elaborate more on point 2 above, Al-Qaida’s leader has called for the ouster of Syria’s “pernicious, cancerous regime” yesterday, raising the fear that Islamic extremists will try to exploit the uprising. The threat of terror group taking power gives headache to US and its Weswtern allies and makes the implementation of R2P more complex

  4. Magan Haycock

     /  16/04/2012

    I agree with what Danny said above, which leads me to state my reasons for having a problem with the statement “An R2P generation is coming.”

    Technically, we would be that generation.

    However, we are a generation that criticizes neocolonialism, Western-led hegemony, the existence of universal concepts, and Breton Woods institutions that are outdated and over-represent the US and Europe. More and more, we use discourse and take courses that emphasize diversity of development strategies, the importance of the cultural context of a specific state, and we use terms such as the coercive “the export of democracy”. In postcolonial studies, we can read what authors from the third-world wrote about the intervention and development policies of developed countries enforced on developing countries. And many of these third-world academics argue for non-interference and the agency of the people within the country themselves.

    In contrast to Roger Cohen, I would change the statement to: “A generation that does not blindly follow Human Rights and Interventionist Discourse is coming.”


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