It is my pleasure to introduce The Mantle’s inaugural virtual roundtable. The issue at hand, the United Nations’ doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is fascinating in so many respects. A recent development in international relations, R2P touches on many practical, philosophical, and moral quandaries revolving around conflict and security.
R2P’s raison d’être—to never let another Holocaust or Rwanda or Cambodia happen again—is laudable. Its implications on the evolution of the international state system, on individual state sovereignty, and on how and when a population under threat of mass death can be protected are—to say the very least—complicated issues to ponder.
The participants in this roundtable discussion, moderated by Marie Mainil, know all too well the complexities underpinning the R2P doctrine and its implementation. They represent the best of their generation whose task it will be to carry on—or extinguish—R2P’s torch. It was no small task for the United Nations to adopt the principles of R2P at the 2005 World Summit. Great challenges still lie ahead. This discussion, I hope, fuels and furthers the debate on this emerging norm.
To follow the roundtable, "Whose Responsibility to Protect?" see Marie's introductory remarks below. Then, click on each of the participants to read their essays and rebuttals. At the bottom of the discussion page, you can view Marie's concluding remarks to this conversation. Letters regarding this debate are welcome and can be sent to letters [at] mantlethought.org (subject: On%20Whose%20Responsibility%20to%20Protect%3F) (letters(at)mantlethought.org).
- Shaun Randol, Editor. October 7, 2009
frontispiece animation and illustrations by Sarah D. Schulman
In answering whether the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is inherently state-centric and how it relates to weak or failed states, it is important to explain the background and composition of the practice.
The responsibility to protect concerns the enduring, perennial obligations of states to protect populations from mass atrocities. The international community can and must encourage, assist and, in extreme cases, compel states to provide this protection. The R2P principle is notable insofar as it is premised on the idea that the “responsibility” of the agent (i.e. the state) is not contingent upon the capacity of the agent to perform its responsibilities (in contrast to most moral and political philosophy discussions of “responsibility”).