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

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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