The Responsibility to Protect in the context of the continuing War on Terror. A study of liberal interventionism and the Syrian crisis.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Politics and International Studies

Abstract

The insistence in some quarters that states live up to an international responsibility to protect foreign populations from mass atrocity has historically had a complex relationship with the 'realist' insistence that states have a primary responsibility to promote the interests of their citizens. This was exposed in contemporary history by the failure in the 1990s to prevent the crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Rwanda. UN reports indicated these failures stemmed from a lack of political will rather than an insistence that states did not have a responsibility to protect humanity.

In response, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS, 2001) sought to clarify state responsibility and create a new norm (or expectation) that international society would intervene to protect civilian populations from mass atrocity if states 'manifestly failed' to do so. This became known as the Responsibility to Protect or R2P.

Even then, however, a realist discourse that prioritises the security concerns of the state clashed with a humanitarian discourse, including attempts to widen state responsibility and build political capacity to prevent mass atrocity. Not only did the events of 9/11 divert attention from the ICISS report, the US War on Terror, which included interventions against 'rogue' states such as Iraq, revived a long-standing concern among non-western and post-colonial states. The concern that R2P would be used instrumentally to support unwarranted security interventions appeared justified when the US invaded Iraq in 2003.

In the post-Iraq era the US and its allies remained committed to R2P and combating the al Qaeda threat. The violence in Syria, however, set these priorities on a collision course. The humanitarian situation clearly triggered R2P because the Assad regime was 'manifestly failing' the Syrian population. Yet the realist insistence that western states should not intervene against Assad's regime because there was a risk that would assist groups affiliated to al Qaeda again complicated the humanitarian response. A counter-proliferation narrative that emphasised the need to protect the chemical weapons taboo and to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, especially to Iran, also complicated the response.

In this context the specific aim of the research is to understand and assess how liberal governments navigated this ethical dilemma by studying the foreign policy discourse of liberal states.

It has three objectives:

1) to interpret the foreign policy discourse in the US, the UK and France as it related to the events in Syria from January 2011 to December 2013. The research will provide an understanding of how the security-based discourses of counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation influenced the implementation of R2P.

2) to address the difficulties of establishing a normative framework that can assess liberal foreign policy. The project will draw on contemporary moral and political philosophy to ask whether theory can deliver solutions to the ethical dilemmas states confront, or even a stable set of normative criteria like 'good international citizenship' to assess foreign policy actions. In the absence of a single normative framework this aspect of the project will identify a plurality of frameworks that can be used to assess state practice during the Syrian crisis.

3) to put the emprical findings of objective 1 together with the theoretical findings of objective 2 to make a normative assessment of liberal state behaviour during the Syrian crisis and to set these findings in historical context to examine how this may have changed over time.

Finally, the project will disseminate its findings through academic journals, engage non-academic users, primarily parliamentarians, through workshops and policy seminars and seek to generate policy impact with reports published by a well-placed Westminster-based think-tank.

Planned Impact

The research will create knowledge that will have an impact on the following non-academic beneficiaries:

- Whitehall policymakers. The project will be of particular interest to the UK government given its commitment to 'promote a shared understanding of R2P' (FCO: 2011, 4-5). The knowledge produced will, in this respect, complement the P-I's ESRC funded seminar series project which indentified this policy need in the context of the normative challenge posed by the emerging powers (or BRICS) Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) researchers were involved in the drafting of that funded proposal and have been consulted about this proposal. They have already been invited to participate in the events funded by the seminar series grant, which will run alongside this research project. The FCO's researchers will be sent the working papers that will be produced as part of this current proposal (see planned outputs). Specifically, Paul Bentall of the Multilateral Research Group at the UK FCO has helped to focus the research questions to be addressed by this project. Further discussions with the Multilateral Research Group have taken place concerning the possibility of co-hosting an event as part of the seminar series. This opens up pathways to impact for the findings of this project. Subsequent publications will be of interest to various UK government departments including the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence.

- Parliamentarians. In August 2013, the House of Commons voted against the government's proposal that the UK should support the use of American military force in response to the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, Syria. The debate demonstrated how Parliament was responding to a deep public interest in how governments conceived of the UK's global role and the responsibilities that went with that. Parliamentary inquiries have been established to learn the lessons of the August crisis (Foreign Affairs Select Committee, 2013; Defence Select Committee 2013) and the PI has contributed written evidence, which was published by the first of these in October 2013 (Ralph 2013b). Further evidence of Parliament's interest is the citation of the PI's Foreign Policy Centre reports by the Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander (Alexander and Kearns 2013, loc.1319). The proposal will build on these insights and networks, which talk directly to Parliament's interests and enable the P-I and his team to provide further policy relevant evidence based on rigorous interdisciplinary inquiry.

-Think-Tanks and NGOs. The research will be of interest to the following think-tanks: the Foreign Policy Centre (where the PI is Senior Research Associate), the Henry Jackson Society and the United Nations Association (UNA). These are already collaborating with the PI as part of the ESRC seminar series and the PI has been commissioned by UNA-UK to write an interview-based report for mid-2014 on R2P and British foreign policy. Other interested groups include the International Coalition for the R2P, Chatham House, Royal United Services Institute and human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

-Media. Questions concerning mass atrocity and international intervention, including the Syria crisis, attract a lot of media attention. The research will be of interest to journalists and the PI has a track record of providing comment in this area. He has written for The Guardian's Comment is Free, BBC News, MSN News, the Yorkshire Post. The team regularly contributes to blogs such as LSE Blog and Leeds Security and Justice blog. The research will coincide with the 10th anniversary of the 2005 United Nations World Summit, which is commonly seen as the moment international society adopted R2P. This will generate a demand for retrospective commentary, which this research team will be able to meet by building on its network of media contacts.

Publications


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Ralph J (2016) A Responsibility to Protect', in ESRC Magazine Britain in 2016. Essential Research on the Issues that Matter.
Ralph J (2017) Before the Vote. UK foreign policy discourse on Syria 2011-2013 in Review of International Studies
Ralph J (2015) Is R2P a Fully-Fledged International Norm? in Politics and Governance
Souter J (2016) Good international citizenship and special responsibilities to protect refugees in The British Journal of Politics and International Relations
 
Title NVivo database of sources supporting analysis of UK official and non-official discourse on Syria crisis 2011-2013 
Description Source material of "all UK newspapers", official documents (speeches, Hansard) organised in monthly format and thematic nodes. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Supported analysis for "Before the Vote. UK foreign policy discourse on Syria 2011-2013" to be published in Review of International Studies 2017. 
 
Description Memorandum of Understanding between University of Leeds (European Centre of Responsibility to Protect), The Hague Institute for Global Justice, Budapest Centre for Atrocity prevention 
Organisation Budapest Centre for Atrocity Prevention
Country Hungary, Republic of 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Supported founding conference of the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Collaborator Contribution Impact partnerships. Use of premises and networks to organize activities in The Hague, a centre of international diplomacy and justice.
Impact TBC
Start Year 2016
 
Description Memorandum of Understanding between University of Leeds (European Centre of Responsibility to Protect), The Hague Institute for Global Justice, Budapest Centre for Atrocity prevention 
Organisation The Hague Institute for Global Justice
Country Netherlands, Kingdom of the 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Supported founding conference of the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Collaborator Contribution Impact partnerships. Use of premises and networks to organize activities in The Hague, a centre of international diplomacy and justice.
Impact TBC
Start Year 2016
 
Description (2016) 'What Should Be Done? Pragmatic Constructivism and the Responsibility to Protect'. RCUK Workshop, London. November 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Rights and Ethics in a Security Context Workshop
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description (2016) ) UK foreign policy discourse on Syria 2011-13. International Studies Association, Atlanta, February. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact International Studies Association conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description (2016) European External Action Service Seminar on Atrocity Prevention 27 October 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation and facilitator of one-day workshop on R2P and Atrocity Prevention at the European External Action Service, Brussels
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description (2016) France and the Responsibility to Protect in Syria. International Studies Association, Atlanta, February 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact International Studies Association Annual Conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description (2016) Good International Citizenship or Dirty Hands. RCUK Workshop, London. June 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact RCUK Rights and Ethics and Security Context programme Workshop
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description (2016) Pragmatic constructivist ethics and R2P in an increasingly pluralist international society. University of Southern Denmark, April. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 2 Presentations to staff and students at USD
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description (2016) R2P in an increasingly pluralist international society' Center of Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) (an Indian Army Think Tank), New Delhi, 25-27 February 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation on R2P
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description (2016) Responsibility to Protect and Prosecute (with Daniel Wand) University of Leeds Centre for Criminal Justice, 2 December 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Interdisciplinary academic workshop, including postgraduate students. First time joint-presentation alongside current PhD researcher Daniel Wand.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description (2016) Television - BBC Breakfast 'Humanitarian Access in Syria' 09/01/16 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Media interview on BBC Breakfast discussing the channel of getting aid to besieged areas of Syria.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description (2016) UK foreign policy discourse on Syria 2011-13. BISA, Edinburgh. June 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation at British International Studies Association annual conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Academic research on R2P, Joint seminar on Human Rights, Atrocity Prevention and R2P hosted by Waging Peace, Protection Approaches, Survivors Tribune, Human Rights team at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 5 December 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This was a Foreign Office event to mark the UN day of commemoration for Victims of Genocide. Professor Ralph was invited to discuss R2P and academic research in that area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Outreach activity - Batley Girls School 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Talk to 50 pupils, teachers and parents on the Syrian conflict
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Putting Responsibility to Protect at the Centre of Europe. Two-day conference at the University of Leeds, 13-14 October. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Details at http://r2pconf.leeds.ac.uk/. Participants included The Global Centre for R2P, the Asia-Pacific Centre for R2P The Hague Institute for Global Justice, the Budapest Centre for Atrocity Prevention, Protection Approaches, Save the Children, the United Nations Office for R2P; the former Special Adviser to the Secretary General for R2P, academics from the UK, France, Slovenia, Denmark, Sweden.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://ecr2p.leeds.ac.uk