Expert Commentary

New politics of protection? Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and the responsibility to protect

2011 report in International Affairs Journal on changes to global and regional conflict intervention policies.

For the first time in history, the U.N. Security Council approved the use of military force against attacks on a civilian population. Resolution 1973 (UNSCR 1973) allowed NATO to provide aerial support for Libyan rebels against the wishes of the country’s government and a few months later, the Council passed a similar resolution approving interventionist actions in Cote d’Ivoire.  In light of the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, the resolution has prompted a debate over the appropriateness of intervening in the affairs of sovereign governments without permission.

A 2011 study in International Affairs Journal, “The New Politics of Protection? Cote d’Ivoire, Libya and the Responsibility to Protect” (PDF), explores the potential long-term impact of these two resolutions on international politics and policies. The authors’ conclusions are based on an analysis of Security Council proposals, resolutions and debates calling for similar humanitarian interventions introduced in the months following the adoption of Resolution 1973 in March 2011.

Key study findings include:

  • The Security Council, in contrast to its past position, is now showing a willingness “to authorize the use of military force for human protection purposes.”
  • The international community has become more responsive to Security Council decisions: “both activist and more cautious states have agreed to respond to crises through the Security Council.”
  • Regional governing bodies and organizations have started to assume roles as “gatekeepers”; this influences which issues get debated in the Council. But this raises the future prospect that such regional bodies might disagree on the necessity of intervention, and creates two additional problems: “In the future, Council members might be tempted to go ‘forum shopping’ to find regional organizations that better reflect their own positions in order to legitimize those views. Second, while regional gatekeepers can facilitate robust international responses to protection crises, they can also block decisive action.”
  • The “international society is now explicitly focused on civilian protection,” as demonstrated by a consensus supporting the “responsibility to protect” philosophy after the Libya and Cote d’Ivoire decisions.  However, “differences remain over how to interpret Security Council mandates,” which will likely prevent ongoing consensus on the forms of  future interventions.

The authors conclude that while humanitarian intervention has become more accepted by the international community, it “requires external actors to engage in local wars and politics, and this will blur the lines between protection and other agendas such as regime change.”

Tags: violence, human rights

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