George Mason University
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George Mason University

Protection from Whom? Tensions Contradictions, and Potential in the Responsibility to Protect

by Douglas Irvin-Erickson

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  • Published Date: December 13, 2016
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillian


The chapter presents an over view of the history of the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)—both in terms of the history of the concept in current usage and practice, and the broader roots of the concept in political theory. The chapter argues that R2P has had a significant impact on how the UN supports and intervenes in member states, and on the way people think about the core principles of sovereignty in the international system—not necessarily through engaging the security architecture of states, but rather by shaping the attitudes and behaviors within the institutions of donor states. However, R2P, this chapter argues, is not a normative principle that governs the practice of law and security, while often times the application of R2P principles to humanitarian interventions has contradicted the principles of R2P in theory. The chapter discusses examples of when the R2P language has been co-opted for imperial ends, and used to scapegoat weak states for violence that emerges from structural conflicts. The normative goal of R2P, the chapter concludes, should not be to help create a world where populations are constantly protected by states, but rather to create a world where people do not need protection in the first place.

This edited volume helps bridge the elusive gap between theory and practice in dealing with the issue of "security" broadly conceived. A quarter of a century has passed since the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. Yet our notions of security remain mired in Cold War thinking whose realist ethos is predicated on holding the nation state's power, interests, and survival as the guiding unit of analysis in international relations. Security is ever changing. Confronting new dangers to the individual, the state, and the international order calls for new categories that speak to the new influence of globalization, international institutions, and transnational threats. Composed of original essays by a cosmopolitan mix of leading figures inside and outside the academy, this book proves relevant to any number of classes and courses, and its controversial character makes it all the more necessary and appealing.

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