Reviewing ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 20 Aug , 2017

Today, the concept of international warfare has received a paradigm shift, moving away from its traditional concept, it has adapted the “globalization” extending the warfare to socio-economic and political domains. Today, the international arena is not only threatened from rogue/military states, but largely from terrorist organizations, whose activities grow rampant every day. Founded on radical ideology, these terrorist organizations pose a grave threat to the peace and security of the global order. It is important for policy makers to understand the “roots” of terrorism, evaluate their tactics, operational mechanism, in an effort to formulate a ‘decisive’ multi-purpose response to effectively address the issue.

It is important to note that, the international community has been unable to define terrorism. The continuous fluidity in “terror tactics” have heated the argument between academicians, security experts and policymakers failing which, none have come up with an appropriate definition, nor reached an agreement on a universal definition. The initial efforts in defining acts of terror is credited to the UN general Assembly. The then United Nations General Assembly adopted the Resolution 49/60 December 9, 1994, with the title “Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism,” containing numerous provisions on terrorism, states terrorism as:

“Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”

The description further highlights the importance of international community to not only ratify on a universal definition but also effectively and efficiently counter it, with any means necessary. In order to counter acts of terrorism, the key question policy makers face is, what structure should be created in an effort to decisively respond the terror acts? What should be the rules of engagement in eliminating the terror threat? Most importantly, how should we intervene?

In order to resolve similar queries from international community, the United Nations, at the 2005 World Summit drafted a white paper on “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine which addressed the social, political, and economic challenges and their consequences in the wake of terrorist strike, while giving adequate “technical step by step” rule of engagements in the wake of terrorist incident.

Furthermore, the doctrine states that:

•  The State is not only responsible to protect its citizens masses from acts such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, but also take adequate measures in safeguarding human lives.

•  The international community is responsible to assist states in fulfilling this responsibility.

•  The international community would extensively assist the state, using any means necessary, be it through diplomacy, humanitarian engage mentor any other peaceful ways to protect the masses of the state from further violence. If a state fails in its duty to protect its civilians or collaborate with the perpetrators of such crimes, the international community would prepare to take harsh measures against the state, including deploying peacekeeping troops under the guidance and supervision of the UN Security Council.

It would not be incorrect to state that, the role of Responsibility to Protect has changed the future of “mediation and resolution” tactics particularly in the light of recent conflict, rather a “breakthrough” in the field of conflict resolution. It further asserts the role of multiple actors responsible during times of conflict, inviting them on the table for deliberation, which has never been possible in the past, which then resulted in escalated conflicts, crimes against humanity and violations of human rights. It further calls responsible actors during conflict to deploy assets in those states which are unable to defend or unwilling to defend themselves. Experts argue on the legality of the doctrine, some strategic experts state the “nature” of the doctrine as obligatory, while some give legal definition of the doctrine. It is important for policy makers to analyse the extent of “Responsibility to Protect” and its application on eliminating terrorism and violent factions before making it the “foundation” of a policy for human security.

In an effort to understand the growing terrorism in the global order followed by the ramifications of “R2P” doctrine on these militant factions, policy makers must refer the doctrine’s application to two exclusive cases: Afghanistan and Iraq. The conflicts which continues to escalate in these two countries are implications of humanitarian intervention in conflict zones. Civilians have a disastrous effect from the conflict, as they become vulnerable to unspeakable violence and horror, shortage of necessary resources, acute repetitive exposure towards violence, on most occasions, even death. Hence it is important for policy makers to create a structure for humanitarian intervention within the backdrop of Responsibility to Protect doctrine, in an effort to identify solutions through peaceful means.

Afghanistan – The ring of fire

Taliban continues to spread “violence and terror” in many parts of Afghanistan. After grapping power in 1994, the Taliban was seen by the public as a symbol of “socio-economic prosperity and security”. The public’s expectations were soon shattered when Taliban began imposing religious policies, extending their policies by limiting women rights in the society and chopping hands in cases of disobeying religious laws. As Taliban began its rule of fear, the international community refrained using military intervention. International community began using isolating Afghanistan diplomatically, a classic technique of “non-dialogue”, imposed harsh restrictions through UN Security Council resolutions and tuff “political” stand against the Taliban. These “tactics” were used in the background of “soft power diplomacy”, as UN deployed health care workers with food aid, medicines and vaccinations.

It was not before Central Intelligence Agency received intel reports of Taliban hosting Osama Bin Laden and other “high-ranking” officials of Al Qaeda members, which changed the “rules of the game”. Quickly reacting to the Taliban’s intentions, White House formulated a strategy with State Department to topple the Taliban regime and install “democratic” regime in Afghanistan. The United Nations, initially hesitant in supporting the regime, decided to stand with it because of “humanitarian” fall-out during Taliban control.

Determined to take the battle forward, Taliban regrouped at the border of Pakistan, where with the help of radical groups operating in Khyber Pashtunwali provinces along with the backing of Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence, Mullah Mohammed Omar, lead numerous skirmishes against the West.

It is important for policy makers to carefully understand the case of Afghanistan as it not only highlights post effects of humanitarian intervention in a conflict but also questions the policy of humanitarian intervention.

Iraq – Undefined complexities

After the fall of Saddam Hussain’s forces in October 2003, the vacuum of leadership so created, was filled by local fighters engaging in series of violent clashes under the banner of AQIM. Al Qaeda once hoped to establish an Islamic caliphate and arming “religious fanatics”, recruited fighters to defeat the US and its allies; it created a series of “humanitarian violations”, forcing the US and its allies to take stringent measures. The “once dreaded” terror faction not only targeted Shia Muslims, but also assassinated public officials, and targeted police patrols in an effort to spread de-stabilize the government. Taking a step too far, Al Qaeda members did not limit themselves from beheading propaganda tactics.

In an effort to prevent Al Qaeda’s expansion in Asia, the international community ratified the United Nations Security Resolution 1267, which banned Osama Bin Laden and his associates from entering into any country which ratified the document and designated him as terrorist. In addition to this, the resolution comprised of numerous clauses which introduced sanctions on individuals or entities that were directly or indirectly associated with Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and/ or the Taliban. Since then, the UN is strictly “jolting the knobs” of Al Qaeda’s influence in the world, apprehending the members operating today.

There was a rampant pace in the US administration, particularly after 9/11, when the Department of State, the Pentagon and Washington coordinated “military” strategies to eliminate Al Qaeda once and for all. This was an “independent” approach and UN was neither consulted nor sought to support their decision. Nonetheless, have famed for crimes against humanity, acute violence, international community was forced to take harsh measures against Al Qaeda, which was soon replaced by military “aggressive” strategies.

The situation today

The rampant conflicts that we witness today, comprises of majority of actors that are “terror factions” or “militant units”. Reinforced by technological “modifications” in the modern world of today, terror factions have increasingly “modified” their “modus operandi” and expanded their areas of operations and adapted new “multi-media” methods of recruitment. This has forced many countries to fight against these terror factions in their respective regions. The instigation of a conflict and its implications to “humanitarian response” can be principally understood through the case study of Syrian conflict.

Syria – The instigator of “humanitarian response”

The Syrian “humanitarian crisis” had one of the worst implications of an escalated conflict on civilian masses, which not only forced international community to deliberate on Responsibility to Protect doctrine but also by far, a complete failure of international communities to protect the masses. The United Nations Security Council failed to reach to a conclusion, their efforts to break the stalemate between the super powers further delayed “humanitarian response” ending the “slight” possibility of a strong response in the Syrian crisis last year. United Nations Security Council P5 members China and Russia both vetoed the resolution on mass atrocities committed by the Assad regime, calling an immediate end to the conflict and threatening the regional actors with harsh sanctions.

Furthermore, there is more to that meets the conflict, a hidden picture which clearly rules out “humanitarian” centrism as nations feared from “political” repercussions, if they supported the resolution. Nations, in this particular case, gave importance to their

“relationship status” with Syria and its implications if they so support the resolution. Even in such “critical” times, power nations gave weightage to “international politics”. Hence, out of sheer fear of losing an ally, power nations became ready to face a challenge from other member nations. In this particular context, other nations supporting the resolution were primarily the United States, Great Britain, and France, who called Russia and China “equal” perpetrators if they so failed to “give human lives priority”. China and Russia were viewed as “benefactors”, who had “higher” stake in the conflict.


There are particularly three policies, which policy makers can use for their advantages in an effort to address the issue of public outrage against a dictator regime:

  • No interfere policy, let the people decide the fate of their own country;
  • Limit to humanitarian support to the civilian masses, refraining from getting carried away in the armed conflict;
  • Or interfere in such a way that an outcome is achieved from the intervention after the end of conflict.

Each policy may seem to be simple, but each of the three aforementioned options carry itself with challenges unique to its own, and a solution which might force a nation to follow all the three steps.

The first policy is popularly known as “policy of standby”. As the masses fight for their democratic values, change in political leadership and a brighter fate of their country, international community can use political pressure over the regime/ government to give in the demands of the people. This strategy have been largely successful in Egypt and Tunisia, which underwent a massive shift in the regime, when the oppression regime surrendered to voices of the people. Undoubtedly, many in Libya wanted the same fate. This policy comes with no “heavy financial burden” which power nations often commit to the rising voices of the people, which have no ramifications on the future relation with the state even after the “people’s revolution” is successful.

The first, although, can become a host of major problems. The diplomatic and political pressure may rather complicate and already deteriorating situation: this can be taken from the accounts of Al Assad’s reaction towards sanctions imposed on Libya by the West. Furthermore, any economic sanction will affect the local population more, rather harshly, which might make the state vulnerable towards a more dreaded conflict or an external aggression. These “escalated” conflicts have major implications on the international arena. Taking specific economic conditions of a “fragile” state, any economic sanction, particularly against a state in the middle east might compromise global economy, especially when there is an overshoot of oil prices, which may further lead to a greater economic depression, making it impossible for regional companies to control the prices of oil. Moreover, if a new regime does take charge of the people, the new regime could blame international community of failure to support, which could further deteriorate future “prospects” of a relationship.

The second policy explains power nations to provide humanitarian support. This will prevent the international community to participate in the conflict, but ensures that those masses displaced during the conflict are properly rehabilitated and those caught in the conflict are re-settled in safe zones. This is an ideal situation but it is too rigged with many problems. Most important issue is to identify the lead agency in providing the aid, then comes the responsibility of the agency to deliver it to the people. This is precisely the point, where a humanitarian response mission gets “violently mixed” with the conflict. On many occasions, the masses who are in need of supplies become “collateral” during conflicts, hence it becomes very difficult for humanitarian task forces to deliver aid and medical supplies without military support.

The third policy, calls for some form of military intervention. This can involve power nations to supply military hardware and provide necessary training to the masses which is in direct conflict against the government forces, helping them in an effort to level the playing field. This policy comes with an enormous risk, as on many occasions, you are not sure even for intelligence agencies do decide who’s who particularly during a conflict, an issue that suits well with the on-going Syrian conflict. Moreover, a passive form of intervention such as, designating the skies as no-fly zone, re-deploying military assets in areas with frequent bombing in an effort to stop aerial attacks, and preventing the state from deploying chemical and biological weapons against the masses. Policy makers should know that, this qualifies for an active participation in the conflict, and seeks large military assets, contribution from the international community, coordinating military assets and deploying military units may become a risk to their lives.

Furthermore, there are certain examples that prove the success of a “well-crafted, designated and assessed” intervention policy. Even after assisting rebel forces in Libya, the death toll continued to mount; although, with coordinated efforts from power nations, their intelligence assets, Libyan forces were able to topple Gaddafi’s regime much quicker. In relating with Syrian conflict, the death toll during the Libyan crisis were quiet low. Moreover, the question during humanitarian conflict is which actor international community should support? If the international community refrain from supporting actors during the conflict, the new regime, if formed may show hostility towards the members of the international community, making it difficult for power nations to mend their relations, and if the “death” of one regime results in the sheer replacement of much violent regime, the intervention may simply give the seat of power to the more “violent” regime.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anant Mishra

is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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