Responsibility to Protect (R2P) creeps into lexicon on Syria

Senate Foreign Relations Committee is captured in the awkward place that “responsibility to protect” occupies in the Obama administration. A 2005 United Nations initiative that calls on countries to intervene to prevent genocide and other mass atrocities, R2P, as it is known, has been endorsed by the United States and many other countries.   The administration has said nothing about R2P during two and a half years of bloody civil war in Syria, in which Mr. Obama has resolutely refused to become entangled. In that case, the strategic complexities of the conflict have outweighed any moral imperative to intervene militarily on behalf of Syria’s embattled rebels.
Now, a new report written by Madeleine K. Albright, the former secretary of state, and Richard S. Williamson, a former special envoy to Sudan and foreign-policy adviser to Mitt Romney, argues that the administration should wholeheartedly embrace “responsibility to protect” and explain its importance to the American public.
“Responsibility to protect,” she said, calls for the use of numerous tools short of military force, from diplomacy to economic sanctions, to try to curb atrocities.

More broadly, she said, building a multilateral coalition to deal with foreign conflicts actually strengthens the hand of the United States. The support of the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League for the NATO mission in Libya was a “force multiplier,” she said.
Under “responsibility to protect,” the main obligation to prevent genocide or mass atrocities lies with the home government. “In many ways,” Dr. Albright said, “R2P is something that strengthens sovereignty because it makes it the duty of the sovereign to protect its people.”
The report – which was issued Tuesday and jointly sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the United States Institute of Peace, and the Brookings Institution – offers a list of recommendations, among them that Mr. Obama “should articulate a clear vision of U.S. support for R2P” and “should not shy away from using the phrase.”
The Security Council is more an alibi than an obstacle for an administration simply unwilling to act. Dr. Albright herself pointed out that when Russia and China blocked an effort in the Security Council to authorize airstrikes in the Kosovo war in 1999, President Bill Clinton went ahead and ordered them anyway.

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