UN paralysis over Syria: the responsibility to protect or regime change?

Abstract

The Syrian conflict, now in its eighth year, is a bitter example where a sovereign state and the international community have manifestly failed in their responsibilities to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes. What factors have prevented the international community from fulfilling its obligation under the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to save Syrian civilians? This paper argues that the contradiction between the protection of civilians and regime change has undermined international confidence in the principle of R2P and tarnished it as a tool for US foreign policy agendas. This argument is developed by a review of R2P’s conceptualisation followed by examining its implementation in Libya. This study concludes that the conceptual confusion and the Libyan experience have broken the international consensus on R2P and paralysed the United Nations in dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Syria. More specifically, the UN Security Council’s disagreement over the means to protect Syrians has made R2P itself an impediment to its operationalisation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

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  2. 2.

    Kofi Annan, ‘Two Concepts of Sovereignty’, The Economist, 16 September 1999, http://www.economist.com/node/324795.

  3. 3.

    UN General Assembly, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: Report of the UN Secretary-General, Document A/63/677 (New York: United Nations, 2009), p. 10.

  4. 4.

    International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), The Responsibility to Protect (Ottawa: IDRC, 2001), p. 35.

  5. 5.

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  6. 6.

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  7. 7.

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  8. 8.

    SC, S/PV.6650, 9 November 2011, p. 22, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/POC%20S%20PV%206650.pdf.

  9. 9.

    SC, S/PV.6531, 10 May 2011, pp. 20–1, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/Syria%20SPV%206531.pdf.

  10. 10.

    Gareth Evans, Ramesh Thakur and Robert A. Pape, ‘Correspondence: Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect’, International Security, vol. 37, no. 4, 2013, pp. 199–214.

  11. 11.

    Gareth Evans, ‘Responding to Atrocities: The New Geopolitics of Intervention’, in SIPRI Yearbook 2012: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 33–5.

  12. 12.

    Alex Bellamy, ‘From Tripoli to Damascus? Lesson Learning and the Implementation of the Responsibility to Protect’, International Politics, vol. 51, no. 1, 2014, p. 37.

  13. 13.

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  14. 14.

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  15. 15.

    See for example Christopher Phillips, The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East (London: Yale University Press, 2016), p. 94; and Jess Gifkins, ‘The UN Security Council Divided: Syria in Crisis’, Global Responsibility to Protect, vol. 4, no. 3, 2012, p. 391.

  16. 16.

    Richard Connolly and Cecilie Sendstad, ‘Russia’s Role as an Arms Exporter: The Strategic and Economic Importance of Arms Exports for Russia’, Chatham House, 2017, pp. 17–8, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/files/chathamhouse/publications/research/2017-03-20-russia-arms-exporter-connolly-sendstad.pdf.

  17. 17.

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  18. 18.

    Phillips, The Battle for Syria, p. 97.

  19. 19.

    CBS News, ‘All Eyes on Putin’, 60 Minutes, 27 September 2015, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/vladimir-putin-russian-president-60-minutes-charlie-rose/.

  20. 20.

    ‘Russian Top Diplomat Says Syria Cannot Repeat Libya’s Fate’, Tass, 2 December 2016, http://tass.com/politics/916537.

  21. 21.

    Daniel Treisman, ‘Why Putin Took Crimea’, Foreign Affairs, vol. 95, no. 3, 2016, p. 54; see also Roy Allison, ‘Russia and Syria: Explaining Alignment with a Regime in Crisis’, International Affairs, vol. 89, no. 4, 2013, pp. 807–8.

  22. 22.

    Treisman, ‘Why Putin Took Crimea’, p. 54.

  23. 23.

    ‘Russian Federation Marine Doctrine’, 26 July 2015, President of Russia official website, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/50060.

  24. 24.

    SC, S/PV.6627, 4 October 2011, p. 4, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/Golan%20Heights%20S%20PV%206627.pdf.

  25. 25.

    Ibid., p. 6.

  26. 26.

    Ibid., p. 11, emphasis added.

  27. 27.

    Fredric Hof, ‘I Got Syria So Wrong’, Politico, 14 October 2015, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/10/syria-civil-war-213242.

  28. 28.

    SC, S/PV.6650, p. 25.

  29. 29.

    SC, S/PV.6531; S/PV.6650.

  30. 30.

    SC, S/PV.6711, p. 9.

  31. 31.

    Ibid., p. 11.

  32. 32.

    Ibid., p. 8.

  33. 33.

    Cited in Roland Dannreuther, ‘Russia and the Arab Spring: Supporting the Counter-Revolution’, Journal of European Integration, vol. 37, no. 1, 2015, p. 83.

  34. 34.

    SC, S/PV.6810, 19 July 2012, p. 8, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/PV.6810.

  35. 35.

    Ibid., p. 3.

  36. 36.

    ‘China Saying “No” on Syria Issue Is Responsible Move: FM Official’, People’s Daily, 11 April 2012, http://www.gov.cn/misc/2012-04/10/content_2110380.htm. See also Li Xiaokun, ‘Beijing’s Policy on Syria “Responsible”’, China Daily, 11 April 2012, http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2012-04/11/content_15018253.htm.

  37. 37.

    ‘China’s Stance on Syria “consistent”’, People’s Daily, 21 February 2012, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012-02/21/content_14661572.htm.

  38. 38.

    Guan Yan, ‘China’s Roadmap Based On Syrian Realities’, People’s Daily, 2 November 2012, http://en.people.cn/90883/8001906.html.

  39. 39.

    SC, S/PV.7180, 22 May 2014, p. 13, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_pv_7180.pdf.

  40. 40.

    SC, S/PV.7785, 8 October 2016, p. 4, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_pv_7785.pdf; SC, S/PV.7825, 5 December 2016, p. 7, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_pv_7825.pdf.

  41. 41.

    SC, S/PV.7893, 28 February 2017, p. 7, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_pv_7893.pdf.

  42. 42.

    Ibid., p. 9.

  43. 43.

    SC, S/PV.7922, 12 April 2017, p. 6, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_pv_7922.pdf.

  44. 44.

    SC, S/PV.7116, 22 February 2014, p. 7, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_pv_7116.pdf.

  45. 45.

    ‘Interview to German Newspaper Bild: part 2’, President of Russia official website, 12 January 2016, http://en.special.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/51155.

  46. 46.

    Zhong Sheng, ‘Preventing UN Security Council from Becoming a Rubber Stamp’, People’s Daily, 8 February 2012, http://en.people.cn/90780/7723344.html; Zhong Sheng, ‘Regime Change Should Not Be Determined by External Forces’, People’s Daily, 18 July 2012, http://en.people.cn/90777/7879699.html; Zhong Sheng, ‘Why China Vetoes UN Draft Resolution for Syria Issue’, People’s Daily, 8 February 2012, http://en.people.cn/90780/7723539.html.

  47. 47.

    Cited in Ruan Zongze, ‘Responsible Protection: Building a Safer World’, China Institute of International Studies, 15 June 2012.

  48. 48.

    Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ryussian Federation, ‘Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation (approved by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin on November 30, 2016)’, 1 December 2016, http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/official_documents/-/asset_publisher/CptICkB6BZ29/content/id/2542248.

  49. 49.

    Gareth Evans, ‘R2P Down but Not Out after Libya and Syria’, gevans.org, 9 September 2013, http://www.gevans.org/speeches/speech485.html.

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Akbarzadeh, S., Saba, A. UN paralysis over Syria: the responsibility to protect or regime change?. Int Polit 56, 536–550 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-018-0149-x

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Keywords

  • Syria
  • R2P
  • Regime change
  • United Nations