Tag Archives: R2P

The Problem with R2P

28 Jun

The Responsibility to Protect Doctrine (R2P) is arguably the watershed moment in the recent history of humanitarianism.  R2P cleared up the humanitarian intervention debate by providing the international community with a moral imperative to act, clear avenues for mitigation, and the weight of culpability when atrocities do occur.  R2P’s internationalization and institutionalization of civilian protection is, as Anne-Marie Slaughter writes, “…the most important shift in our conception of sovereignty since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.”

R2P though, as one might expect, is not without its troubles.  (The imperialism charge for me is not one of them, because R2P does not encourage the domination of small countries by large ones; it merely provides transparent rhetorical dressing for actions states would’ve undertaken anyways.)  R2P’s language frames civilian protection as occurring entirely between states and international institutions.  States themselves, of course, have the primary responsibility, but then the international community has the responsibility to aid states in protecting their civilians.

Therefore, R2P rests on two foundational assumptions.  The first is that states, with the occasional helping hand of the international community, have the capacity to adequately protect civilians.  This simply isn’t the case.  The UN suffers from severe bureaucratic, financial, and political difficulties in even predicting mass violence, let alone intervening to stop it.  While regional organizations are generally improving their ability to predict, mitigate, and respond to mass violence, their capability to push the same bureaucratic, financial, and political constraints is still hampered.  Most civilians will remain beyond the reach of international organizations and even well-meaning states when violence breaks out.

R2P’s second assumption is that even if there are barriers to current prediction, mitigation, and intervention by the international community, international institutions and states are theoretically best-placed to support civilian self protection.  However, this overlooks that the above problems are inherent in the international political system.  A few months ago, I wrote, “Despite early warning’s long history within the UN, it is still barely an institutionalized concept…As it stands, the existence of any system that combines an intelligence gathering mechanism, an early warning component, and results in capable prevention or mitigation strategies is a fiction and will be continue to be so for the foreseeable future.  The same institutional and psychological barriers that prevent successful atrocity early warning, prevention, and response will persevere.”

Unfortunately, R2P’s framing leaves no room for sub-state methods of civilian protection, and more specifically, the possibility of civilian self-protection.  Frédéric Mégret writes, “…formulations of R2P all stopped short of reorganizing that ‘victims’ (or intended victims) of atrocities might have a role in averting atrocities at the point when they are being committed.”  Mégret labels R2P as a component of a “salvation paradigm”, in which outsiders view themselves as the only ones capable of saving those at risk of mass violence.  The problem here is that most civilians who survive R2P crimes (genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing) do so without the help of outside actors.  The survival of this silent majority is mostly a result of small-scale social networks that take on protective roles in conflict.  Hillhorst estimates that less than 10% of civilians survive natural disasters because of outside aid, and due to the more advanced nature of disaster early warning systems and the relative lack of political complications caused by disaster aid, it’s a safe bet that this number is even lower for violent conflict.  R2P is the cornerstone of how to protect civilians, but yet it fails to engage with the avenue through which an enormous majority survive.

The distance between R2P’s vision of civilian protection and its reality is a problem that goes beyond the theoretical.  R2P’s wording ensures international strategies for civilian self-protection will continue to work through state and international institutional channels, where frankly there isn’t much improvement that can be made.  Even if  there is a shift toward collaborating with sub-state actors, R2P’s lack of recognition of these efforts means they will remain rare and continuously makeshift.  R2P is a potent mechanism for generating a global consensus that atrocities must not be ignored, but this does not translate into effective civilian protection.

Trying to understand why R2P does not recognize the most common forms of civilian self-protection during mass atrocities throws up two divergent currents that pulled the doctrine in opposing directions, and what can be generally described as the “top-down model” won out.    The first set of influences will likely be more familiar to the reader.  R2P emerged out of the “humanitarian intervention” debate of the 1990’s, itself spawned by the conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, and Rwanda.  Especially in the latter two, humanitarians were frustrated by the international community’s inability to act effectively to stop violence.  This frustration translated into a constructed chain of causality that drew a direct  and almost monocausal link between international inaction and the occurrence of atrocities.  This ignored both the complex drivers and inhibitors of mass violence and the international community’s frequent inability to sufficiently protect civilians through military interventions.

Academics also contributed heavily to R2P’s top-down approach to civilian protection.  Scholars of violent conflict have tended to imbue armed actors with near-total agency in determining the course of conflict.  Norms might matter, but only rarely do scholars demonstrate how civilians can participate in the shaping of these norms.  Only recently have scholars like Stathis Kalyvas and Oliver Kaplan examined civilian agency during violent conflict.  Therefore, without a theoretical base to examine how unarmed non-elites may play a role in shaping conflict and aiding their own survival, it becomes difficult to imagine an international doctrine for responding to atrocities that has a role for these marginalized actors.

However, the more intriguing current that helped to shape R2P is the one that ultimately lost out.  Mégret notes the R2P was in fact out of step with thinking in related fields at the time, “Whereas neighboring branches of the international discourse (e.g. conflict mediation, development) are increasingly explicit about the need to forge direct relations with civil society actors even at the height of conflict, R2P seems marked by a reversal to the ‘high politics’ of international intervention in times of unfolding crisis.”  This positive influence was almost borne out, as the original draft of R2P created by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty included a section highlighting the agency of victims and domestic civil societies in protecting themselves from conflict.  For reasons unbeknownst to me, this vein of thought pushing for a more grassroots approach to conflict prevention and mitigation lost the ideological struggle.  Perhaps a more in-depth study how this conflict manifested itself in R2P’s creation will reveal deeper truths about R2P’s creation and its subsequent effect on how we conceive civilian protection.

R2P may leave little room for pursuing sub-state-led civilian protection efforts during conflict, but its success as a norm means that civilian protection is largely defined through the doctrine.  Despite its restrictive wording, R2P’s elimination would do far more harm than good for international civilian protection.  The answer lies in reform, not revolution.  The language of the second pillar provides a possible entry point.  It reads, “The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility…”  If the doctrine were amended to simply read, “…encourage and assist States and civilians…” the international community would, in two words, be able to recognize the ability of civilians and civil societies to protect themselves without undercutting the international responsibility to respond to R2P crimes.  There may be a normative mountain to climb to spark that change, but I for one am hopeful.

What Will the Future of Atrocity Prevention and Response Hold?

13 Feb

*I started writing my thesis last week.  Because that’s taking up a lot of time, I just wanted to post the lightly-edited last section of the first draft of my first chapter.  If you have any thoughts on what I could do better, please feel free to share them.

The next twenty years will be an exciting time for the concept of early warning.  I believe the same applies to atrocity prevention and mitigation.  The idea of early warning, and certainly quantitative early warning, is in its infancy.  There is a good chance that the next two decades will see the institutionalization of early warning systems (EWS) within IGO’s, regional organizations, and national governments.  On the prevention and mitigation front, R2P is less than a decade old.  Unlike any norm before it, it provides a moral, legal, and operational backing for the prevention and mitigation of mass atrocities, which in turn deters potential perpetrators.

There are plenty of other reasons to find hope in efforts to close the response gap.  First, EWS’s are improving.  They are becoming more accurate, they are reaching out to include previously untouched constituencies, and their proliferation across Africa demonstrates that they are now accepted as a necessary component for any effective anti-atrocity policy.  Another positive sign is an emergent vein of scholarship that looks at how to direct early warnings to civilians on the ground rather than policymakers operating in metaphorical ivory towers.  Along these lines, there are signs that the UN and regional organizations are improving their early warning capacities.

While evaluation of the effects of early warning is difficult and practically nonexistent, it does seem that the international community is getting better at it.  Kenya offers a good case study.  In 2008, post-election violence killed thousands of people.  Accordingly, prior to the 2013 elections, many analysts predicted a similar outcome.  Fortunately, the elections went off with very little violence.  Why?  Well, combining analysis before and after the elections provides a picture of a thorough and multifaceted prevention effort.  Writing in 2012, Babaud and Ndung’u argue that while there were serious flaws, Kenya is one of the few places where locally-led conflict prevention and early warning have happened.  They also note the importance of the emergence of crowd-sourced prevention initiatives like Ushahidi, which provide quickly-available and accurate information on conflict dynamics.  Unlike many early warning systems, Kenya’s had a clear and systematic flow of information, represented by this diagram:

Writing after the elections, Jay Ulfelder surveys a number of experts on Kenya and concludes that there were four main preventive efforts that had an effect: (1) a conscious effort by the Kenyan media to limit inflammatory reporting spurred by a combination of international pressure and memories of 2008, (2) a government SMS service that blocked hate speech, (3) investment in Kenyan infrastructure between 2008 and 2013, and (4) the restraining of major political actors through their links to Western money.  He notes that these findings may not be generalizable to all prevention efforts primarily because the violence in Kenya would have been election-related.  Regardless, it shows that not only can the international community work together to promote prevention, but that an array of fairly simple programs can have a real impact on the reduction of violence.

In 1999, then-UNSG Kofi Annan wrote, “Today no one disputes that prevention is better, and cheaper, than reacting to crises after the fact.  Yet out political and organizational cultures and practices remain oriented far more towards reaction than prevention.”  Seven years later, in a report to the UNGA, he wrote, “In its resolution 57/337, annex, paragraph 35, the General Assembly recognized the need to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations for early warning, collection of information and analysis. I regret to report that no significant progress has been made in this area. In fact, unlike some regional organizations, the United Nations still lacks the capability to analyse [sic] and integrate data from different parts of the system into comprehensive early warning reports and strategies on conflict prevention.”

Unfortunately, at the beginning of 2014, little more progress has been made.  Despite early warning’s long history within the UN, it is still barely an institutionalized concept.  If there are some reasons to be optimistic about the prospects for closing the response gap, there are just as many or more to be pessimistic.  As it stands, the existence of any system that combines an intelligence gathering mechanism, an early warning component, and results in capable prevention or mitigation strategies is a fiction and will be continue to be so for the foreseeable future.  The same institutional and psychological barriers that prevent successful atrocity early warning, prevention, and response will persevere.  Ominously, a recent spike in both state collapses and global social unrest has likely contributed to a recent increase in mass killings, and this trend does not show an obvious sign of abating.

One estimate is that less than ten percent of civilians that survive natural disasters do so because of outside aid.  This figure is likely even higher for civilian victims of violent conflict and mass atrocities considering the more advanced nature of disaster EWS’s and the relative lack of political complications caused by disaster aid.  Even if there is major progress in closing the atrocity response gap in the next twenty years, the vast majority of civilians will have to survive on their own.  Therefore, when we talk about outside prevention and intervention, we must remember that the efforts of the international community are ultimately peripheral to the conflict experiences of most individuals.  Intervention is not, and will never be, a sustainable solution for preventing and mitigating mass atrocities around the world.  Survival is almost always the burden of the persecuted.

Quickfire Thoughts on Obama’s Syria Announcement

31 Aug

Obama’s big Rose Garden announcement today deserves some attention.  I don’t have time to write a full post, so here are three reactions I had.  Any pushback is appreciated.

This was not Obama’s first choice

Obama has been quite cautious on intervening in Syria despite significant pressure to the contrary.  His approval of arms transfers smacked of an attempt to silence the critics.  This is evidenced by the fact that the FSA is yet to actually receive any of those arms.  The chemical weapons attack on Ghouta presented another instance in which pressure from within the administration and from other countries (France and Israel primarily)  forced Obama’s hand.  Enforcing the norm against chemical weapons likely played a role in Obama’s decision to take this route of action, but it is clearly a compromise to ‘do something’ rather than an intentional strategy Obama believes will help achieve his objectives.    Passing the buck to Congress was a brilliant political move.  Instead of taking unilateral (or perhaps multilateral if France and Israel jump on board) action, he’s making congress take the blame for an intervention that’s both widely unpopular and unlikely to achieve positive results.  These factors may mean an intervention doesn’t happen, allowing Obama to not use military force and coming out looking looking less weak than inaction would have.  Whatever Congress decides, it also improves Obama’s image as a consensus-seeker.

This is not a humanitarian intervention

Charli Carpenter said it well on Foreign Policy.  It’s not R2P because it’s not going through the UNSC.  Also, the scope and target of the mission are not consistent with protecting civilians.  Studies on interventions that target the incumbent demonstrate that they actually lead to more civilian deaths.  If an intervention was open-ended, and included a more expansive mandate, it could possibly decrease civilian casualties.  While my STAND colleague Hannah Finnie drew  my attention to the similarities between Obama’s speech and LBJ’s Vietnam speech, I think further escalation beyond a limited timeframe and mandate is unlikely.  Two key phrases encapsulate this line of thinking.*  First Obama said, “We know our military cannot solve the underlying conflict in Syria.”  This points to a limited and focused intervention.  Second, POTUS argued that the “ancient sectarian differences” present in Syria are impossible to solve with military force.  This is reminiscent of Clinton’s thinking on Bosnia (influenced by the Robert Kaplan book Ghosts of the Balkans), which caused him to be very pessimistic about the benefits of intervention.  While the US did eventually did get further involved in Bosnia, it was not at Clinton’s behest.  Obama’s buck passing has squashed the possibility of expanding the mission, at least for the foreseeable future.

Intervention, if it happens, is unlikely to be successful

Obama stated that the primarily goal of the mission was to enforce the norm against chemical weapons.  While there is generally an international consensus against chemical weapons use, it’s important to remember Syria hasn’t signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, so it didn’t break that international law in the Ghouta incident (it was still a war crime according to my basic understanding of international law).  The limited timeframe  of this intervention makes deterrence against further use unlikely, however.  Assad already knows that Obama is reluctant to use force, and assuming the bombing happens, it’s unlikely Assad will be cowed into refraining from chemical weapons use following the conclusion of the US mission (doubts about CW’s strategic value aside).  There is simply not the political will for a open-ended mission that would potentially prevent the long-term use of chemical weapons.  Even then, it’s unclear what the value of such an intervention would be.  Many more civilians have been killed by conventional means than chemical weapons, and even if the latter arouse our disgust.  Deaths are deaths, and if a limited intervention is going to cause more than it prevents, it’s clearly a bad policy.  I seriously doubt that this is what Obama wants, but when military inaction becomes impossible, he’s judged that seeking congressional approval for a piecemeal strategy that’s bound to fail is preferable to a large-scale, boots on the ground intervention that has a slightly higher chance of success.

*I don’t have the speech transcript in front of me, so these were transcribed from memory.

Conflicts to Watch in 2013 (Part II)

3 Jan

Here goes part two of conflicts to watch for civilian protection advocates in 2013.


It’s deja vu all over again.  Another round of elections that comes with the potential of violence.  The elections in 2007 caused 1,500 deaths due to a disputed election split along ethnic lines.  Unfortunately, a very similar result is possible this time around.  The two main contenders are Raila Odingo, a Luo, and Uhuru Kenyetta, a Kikuyu, and both these candidates were accused of personally encouraging and directing violence in 2007.  Like last time, this an election mostly based on ethnicity, considering the similar nature of the candidates’ platforms.  Worryingly, according to some observes, ethnic tensions are even worse than they were five years ago.  Weapons proliferation means that attacks that were mostly conducted with machetes and bows and arrows in 2007 now may be undertaken with handguns and small arms.  Hopefully, everything will go smoothly, but the warning signs are there.


The new year looks exceedingly bleak in Syria.  A recent casualty estimate by UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay  puts the total at 60,000, which is 15,000 more than even Syrian opposition groups have been reporting.  Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this sort of carnage will end before Assad falls, but even then, there are no guarantees for Syria’s civilian population.  While some have argued that Assad will not fall until he runs out of money (which likely wouldn’t be this year),  the situation in Syria is more complicated than in Libya, where literally the only thing keeping Gaddafi in power was his money.  Assad will almost certainly fall this year, and that’s what the world must prepare for.  I’ve written before on the real dangers of talking about Syria in the framework of intervention while ignoring that the conflict between the FSA and Assad is not the potentially defining moment for the international community.  Post-conflict Syria will not be a paradise: there is a real danger of a genocide directed against the Alawite minority.  While the Syrian National Coalition was quick to condemn attacks against civilians (and contains a more diverse set of Syrians than its identically acronymed predecessor), the FSA’s actions have not stayed consistent with these lofty statements.  Alternatively, a post-conflict power struggle between Islamists and secularists (even if those divides are simplistic) is not out of the question.  2013 is likely to be a very bloody year as both sides increasingly resort to military solutions to political problems.  Instead of focusing on toppling Assad, the international community needs to take a more civilian-orientated approach and come up with strong, concrete proposals to stop the violence as soon as possible.

Central Asia

Central Asia is the only region to not appear on both Foreign Policy’s and the Council of Foreign Relations’ list, which isn’t entirely surprising, considering its under-representation in world media and the lack of an immediate and obvious threat.  Despite the lack of a clear, easily-definable threat in any of the four countries discussed below, poor governance and unresolved conflicts threaten regional stability and the health of each individual state.  Uzbekistan is one of the world’s most repressive countries, and there is no succession plan for 74-year-old dictator Islam Karimov.  In Tajikistan regional tensions between Gorno-Badakhshan and the central government in Dushanbe remained unresolved following a clash in July.  For Kyrgyzstan, the problem isn’t necessarily what happened in 2012, but what might happen in 2013.  While ethnic relations in Osh, the site of attempted ethnic cleansing in 2010, have improved, there has been little international engagement on prevention in the past two years.  Lastly, Kazakhstan has problems on two fronts.  Firstly, a small Islamic jihad group called Jund al-Khalifah has launched sporadic attacks.  While there are debates about how homegrown the movement is, its presence does seem to point to at least some limited organic support for the group.  Secondly, in December 2011, Kazakh police fired on striking oil workers in Zhanaozen, killing several.  Again, there are debates on how representative Zhanaozen is of social relations in Kazakhstan, and while narratives that use the Arab Spring framework to categorize Kazakhstan are simplistic, there are serious problems at the core of Kazakh state and society.

Not If But When: Planning for the Inevitable Syrian Rebel Victory

23 Nov

Debates in the UN have, for months, have focused on whether or not military intervention should happen on Syria.  These debates have dragged on and on with little movement in any direction, and have also simultaneously ignored that the conflict is no longer a stalemate: the rebels are winning.  Not only are they winning, but there is increasing evidence that Assad has lost his ability to eventually prevail.  It’s unclear when the Syrian rebels will win, but a post-Assad Syria is now a near certainty.  Therefore, the focus for international actors needs to shift from dilly-dallying on intervention to serious planning on how to safeguard human rights once the Assad regime is toppled.

Unlike in Libya, the decision on the behalf of Western powers whether or not to intervene will not be the defining moment of the conflict.  At this point in the conflict, the effects of intervention will not be military, but rather political.  How will intervention affect the involvement and credibility of western governments in building a new regime?  In Libya, NATO members have taken a relatively hands off approach, and while there are still many problems, the country has held free elections and is relatively stable.  The west has far from a perfect record on state-building, but there are some things, such as aid money, technical expertise, and bureaucratic capacity that the international community could provide without trying to handpick Syria’s new leaders.

The sectarianization of the conflict does not bode well for the eventual losers in Syria. In Libya, the sides were definitely partially drawn along ethnic lines, but the contours were not nearly as clear as they are in Syria.  Assad has armed Christians, Alawites, and Druze, and these groups have sided with almost exclusively sided with the government.  This ethnic dynamic has caused numerous sectarian killings over the course of the war, and the hateful rhetoric is only growing louder.  Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect writes, “Indeed, as pro-democracy protests degenerated into civil war, the ideological composition of the opposition changed. The Free Syrian Army’s slogan remains, “We are all one people of one country.” But inside Syria those chanting “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to their graves!” have become more than a fringe element.”  While the Syrian National Coalition is certainly more representative than the Syrian National Council, the structural factors do not seem positive for Alawites, Christians, and Druze.  If the international community wants to have a lasting legacy in Syria, civilian protection and human rights promotion has to be the central focus.  Unfortunately, the prospects for international involvement in these areas looks grim.  There has been very little international condemnation, if any, of the sectarian killings carried out by the FSA.  Similarly, the west’s record in preventing minority persecution in Libya is dismal.  A serious change in orientation is needed to protect minority groups from likely being at the mercy of Sunni militias once Assad is defeated.

Another big question that has been largely ignored is what post-conflict justice will look like in Syria.  The ethnic dimension only amplifies the dangers of a harsh, victor’s justice.  Therefore, this is the second key area in which western governments can participate.  There are numerous routes that this effort could take, from the ICC to a truth and reconciliation commission.  Whatever method is chosen, it must apply equally to all participants in the conflict and allow the Syrian people to move one with the sense that justice has been done.  For Western governments, it is not enough to simply hasten the downfall of Assad.  In order to play a constructive role, foreign nation must begin working with Syrian partners to assure fair representation, respect for human rights, and a comprehensive justice mechanism in an inevitable post-Assad Syria.

Dehumanization in Mass Atrocities: Perpetrators Aren’t the Only Guilty Ones

8 Nov

*This is the second post of a two part series in reaction to my participation in the Women and Genocide in the 21st Century Conference organized by the Darfur Women Action Group.  The first focused on realism in advocacy, and this will focus on the dehumanization of perpetrators of mass atrocities.

At multiple points during the conference, actress and activist Mario Bello spoke of her desire to “shoot” human rights violators (in this case, specifically Omar al-Bashir and rapists).  While her anger is understandable, dehumanizing the perpetrators of human rights violations and mass atrocities is both simplistic and counterproductive.  Child soldiers, for example, provide us with a complicated picture of perpetrators vs. victims, and therefore avoiding basic moral rationalizations leads to better analysis and advocacy.

The type of judgement passed by Maria Bello inherently divides those in conflict regions into two categories: the perpetrators and the victims.  In this conceptualization, the evil perpetrators become less worthy of human rights, while the victims are entirely innocent.  Reality is more complicated.  During the Rwandan genocide, moderate, vocal Hutus were the first to be killed by the radical Hutu forces.  For Hutus who did not wish to participate in the subsequent ethnically-driven massacres, there were no good options.  These complex realities problematize our conception of perpetrator vs. victim.  Where do we draw the line, and is there even a line?  If we accept that the line is not obvious, and we ourselves have not experienced such horrific situations, can we even judge where the line is?  These are questions we need to ask ourselves before deciding who deserves human rights and who doesn’t.

Dehumanizing perpetrators of mass atrocities also blunts policy options.  Lumping Bashir into the category of those that deserve to be shot presents an artificial moral barrier for advocates.  This barrier makes post-conflict scenarios that include perpetrators seem morally reprehensible, despite evidence that engaging with perpetrators is a productive approach.  Bashir, of course, is likely essential to potential change within Sudan, and dehumanizing him to the point where we cannot seek to engage with him productively is not a particularly good strategy.

Finally, we must remember that advocates’ approach to a particular conflict will influence future approaches for combating mass atrocities.  Categorizing and dehumanizing perpetrators sets a dangerous precedent for ignoring the ethical complexities of widespread violence against civilians.  In the play A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More and William Roper have a telling interaction:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Essentializing perpetrators and victims into a duality and dehumanizing the former is a slippery slop for human rights activists.  This approach lends itself to an eventual loss of moral authority for well-meaning advocates, and hampers their ability to successfully respond to current and future conflicts.  Dehumanization is an extraordinarily powerful and dangerous concept, and not taking care to avoid it is immensely harmful to effective advocacy.

The Responsibility to Protect (the State?) in Mali

17 Oct

Ever since Tuareg rebels defeated Malian forces to create the de-facto independent Republic of Azawad in Northern Mali, foreign military intervention has been on the table.  Though it has not happened yet, the UN Security Council laid the groundwork for intervention a few days ago.  While most policy makers have stuck to stressing the need to fight extremism, commentators have also highlighted human rights violations by Ansar Dine, a Tuareg Islamist group with links to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM).  Due to these human rights violations, R2P has also entered the picture (it may well not be cited if an intervention happens, but due to the possibility, its applicability should be analyzed).  However, despite numerous executions, destroyed cultural sites, and refugees, the situation in Mali has not reached the level of genocide or a mass atrocity, forcing us to either reinterpret Responsibility to Protect’s (R2P) mandate or discard it as an analytic framework.

The second pillar of R2P states that the international community has the duty to help states protect their citizens.  But in Mali, which state does the second pillar refer to?  Bamako has no control over Azawad, but the international community does not recognize the legitimacy of the Tuareg state.  So who does the international community have a duty to assist when in comes to protecting civilians in northern Mali?  By sanctioning an intervention under the guise of R2P, the international community would assert Bamako’s claim to Azawad, and that the Malian government alone can protect civilians in what used to be its territory.  An intervention would unwittingly reinterpret the doctrine as not only a mandate for civilian protection, but also one for territorial integrity.

This interpretation, however, has its priorities in the wrong place.  It implies that only “legitimate” governments (i.e. recognized) have the the ability to protect civilians.  This is not realistic in Mali’s case.  It is not as if a small rebel group temporarily seized a few towns; Bamako has fully lost control of northern Mali, and is no longer the governing power there.  While seeing Bamako as the government in Northern Mali doesn’t match up with realities on the ground, there are still other problematic implications with this view.  The perception that Ansar Dine is inherently dangerous to civilian populations falls back on the idea of the Islamist bogeyman, where Islamists are universally opposed to democracy and human rights.  To be sure, Ansar Dine is a brutal organization that has committed egregious human rights violations, but its presence in northern Mali does not equate to a genocide waiting to happen.  Secondly, the idea that a military intervention (also known as a war) is necessary to reestablish the control of a government (in which the leader of a recent military coup still holds power) over a territory it lost so that it can reclaim its role as the legitimate protector of civilians is so ludicrous it doesn’t merit further examination.

If R2P mandates an intervention to retake northern Mali, then that implies that not only does the the international community have a duty to help states eliminate a group within their borders that are committing mass atrocities, but that it also has a duty to regain territory held by a group that might commit mass atrocities in the future.  This precedent would lend “legitimate” governments, which includes a lot of brutal dictators, justification for crushing separatist forces, as they might kill civilians in the future.  Given the current debate over R2P vs. RwP at the UN, the doctrine doesn’t need any more problems that will hamper its ability to protect civilians.

Applying R2P to Mali implies that governments must control their territory so that they can protect their own civilians, and that if they lose territory, the international community has the responsibility to help governments regain it whether or not mass atrocities have been committed.  This interpretation does exactly what R2P isn’t supposed to: it uses R2P as a justification for military actions without an intent to protect civilians.  It’s better for the future of R2P if we call the intervention in Mali what it is: an intervention to remove Islamists as part of the global war on terror.