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Giving Meaning to ‘Never Again’: Implementing the Responsibility to Protect (R2P): some challenges in psychological context

By Alan Pleydell

Summarized by Gianne Broughton

June 2005



This paper is based upon ongoing theoretical reflections on International Relations and the various fluid social entities, including states and linguistically and ethnically self-defining peoples, which make up its units.  It is also based on practical work on peacebuilding and conflict transformation with people in the post-Yugoslav countries over the last 14 years.  During this time, I have reflected on the moral, political and strategic hazards together with the comparative advantages and disadvantages of purported humanitarian interventions, military or otherwise – in the dimensions of their nature, their timing and their authority. My personal experience and reflective interaction with morality and the psychology of guilt and shame on a smaller personal and interpersonal scale has also instructed me. I have worked amongst people accused of delinquency and guilty of it and have some knowledge of what for the most part is likely to cause them to reflect on their behaviour and want to change it.


The basic sense behind Responsibility to Protect


The R2P agenda – the attempt to articulate, introduce and establish a strong international norm accepting a general international responsibility forcefully in the last resort to protect subject peoples who lose the protection of the government whose normal duty it is to protect them and who may indeed conversely and perversely be their direct targets —is a thoroughly laudable one. I agree that people at large have a right to security, and that the governments and citizens of other countries at large whose security is not threatened and who have some relevant capacity also have some sort of human duty to intervene to protect those who are in a state of dire threat, over and against the intentions of the controlling government in the territory concerned. So far, so good.


I worry about it all however, and quite seriously. I certainly think that there is a right and a duty for outsiders, preferably those publicly authorised, to intervene in the worst human rights abuses within states, but I also fear that the style and timing of the required interventions, as currently discussed, carry high risks of going appallingly badly wrong. Part of this is because the positive propaganda on behalf on the interventions in Bosnia in 1995 and Yugoslavia/Kosovo in 1999 rather obscures the far more patchy evidence of success as seen from the perspective of the continuing intractable disorder on the ground. The establishment of principles, rules and definitions, let’s say the formal conditions to frame the legitimacy of the authority for a forceful intervention is only half the story.  The other half is the precise political, psychological and emotional climate and contexts within which the proposed interventions are imagined to be taking place.  That is, about how people, particularly actual or potential perpetrators are thinking. We should be considering how at an early stage they might be tempted to be weaned off their murderous intentions and deflected towards more productive ambitions.


This involves two things which are quite counter-intuitive and also counter to our inclinations.  Firstly, attempting to understand the motive for massacre (which involves the risk of drawing closer to people we may consider deeply dangerous and ugly).  Secondly, being prepared to contemplate forms of intervention which are much earlier, but potentially carry the promise of a less violently confrontational road, than those usually under discussion within the current dialogue on Responsibility to Protect. This is going to involve us in attempting a paradigm shift towards working actively for the consent of those under scrutiny, whilst wherever possible leaving the authority and active governing capacity of the state in some sense intact, if heavily guided. Once we find ourselves obliged to take the last resort action of military intervention, I would say that we have already lost at least half the game. Getting it even half-right in the first place is extraordinarily difficult.


Shame and common humanity


A central issue here that calls for deeper exploration revolves around shame and susceptibility to shame, individually and collectively. Putting it more bluntly, being aware in some part of oneself that what one is doing or supporting is totally wrong. Such awareness is more or less likely in differing circumstances to be conducive, on one hand, to denial, resistance to scrutiny and interference and putting up evasions, barriers and smokescreens, or on the other hand, more conducive to the more or less willing acceptance of help towards reform. Of crucial importance in this consideration is the active retention in the centre of our consciousness of the knowledge of the universality of human imperfection, not only theoretically but actually, as a lived experience. Each of us individually, and each of the differing societies which we collectively constitute, especially where they are formalised as states having a recognised position within international society, have to be in a condition of actively knowing and owning our capacity for error, for being wrong and for being in the wrong. Our credibility with others, if not with ourselves, crucially rests on it. We need an active apprehension and manifestly lived understanding, that, as Solzhenitsyn put it – ‘the boundary between good and evil does not lie between differing societies, but runs through the heart of every man’. This must mean that I know that though I happen to have succeeded in behaving myself moderately well today, I may fall into circumstances tomorrow or later where I shall at the least have cause to regret what I have done. And if I can fall into frenzied error, whether or not others can see that I am in extremis, it equally entails that at least in principle I can fall out of it - that I have some hope of a return to calm and normality. And if I can believe this of myself I must also believe it of others.


Those who believe that they are condemned utterly, in the core of their being and not only in what they happen to be doing at the moment or to have done in the recent past will never have much motive to change their spots unless subjected to not just occasional but perpetual and unending force – something which no society which pretends to civilisation, let alone political virtue, can undertake systematically without confounding itself and turning into the opposite of what it claims to be. In religious terms there is an issue of blasphemy. Societies and individuals who identify themselves both as intrinsically good and as practically incapable of error, and who squeeze out any space within their belief systems for entertaining its possibility, no matter how rich or powerful, are closer to the practical possibility of committing major human rights abuses than those who have an actively lived sense of their common fallibility and their consequent need to subject themselves to common authority.


This is a human logic: the one thing which will persuade those who have stepped far outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour and who have committed, murder, rape and mayhem in prolonged bouts of frenzy is the knowledge that there is some prospect of return to the human fold. Otherwise the only available routes are suicide or the continued acting out of insanity and destruction in the attempt to maintain the self-image of sanity.


Yet it is plain to everyone that all societies which hope for a peaceful and viable existence, economically and politically, and to establish it as the norm, must maintain and develop some sort of systems of authoritative control to deal with – to absorb, accommodate and transform the behaviour of - those whose behaviour is systematically so disruptive as to threaten the prospect of continued social order whatsoever. And there are many societies where this is the case. The issue is not only one of principle, but of developing and maintaining widely socially sanctioned methods of steering the most outrageous forms of deviancy back into calmer behaviour.


The authors of R2P and their successors recognise the issue in theoretical terms, and in staking out the boundaries of the territory what they have done is of the greatest significance and value. In order to build a world of behavioural acceptability which is by and large adopted by societies as a matter of habit and second nature, there needs to be at least some form of generally understood and recognisably authoritative norms of behaviour accepted by most people and states most of the time and we need to argue our way towards this acceptance. What we have to engage with is the unpleasant but unavoidable fact that there are large tracts of the world where, beyond a certain point of irritation, far from destructive violence being seen as the last resort, almost the very first response to the question what ought to be done with those perceived as opponents and enemies is simply to control or remove them – to expel them, rape them, torture and murder them as part of the campaign to achieve it or just to obliterate them from the face of the earth by any means available – in the notorious words of the now Hague-convicted former Republika Srbska vice-president  Biljana Plavsic, to ‘gouge their eyes out with a rusty spoon’.  And this is so not only in places perceived as weak and failed states. The habit of dehumanising those defined as opponents as the prelude to doing literally anything to them and to justifying it is also deeply ingrained in the psyche of those larger, richer, more generally organised and above all more powerful states, such as my own and for instance the United States, whose leaders tend to portray themselves as more solid, stable, responsible and indeed intrinsically virtuous than those they believe their sense of responsibility calls them to deal with authoritatively.




The ‘reality’ of motives for abuse


The actual and potential perpetrators of massacre are not usually doing it just for nothing, or for the hell of it, even though that may be part of the story and we are facing people who have schooled themselves to an alarmingly casual lack of inhibition. Nonetheless, they are usually doing it because there is something that they more or less realistically fear - secession, loss of key economic resources, critical loss of political control and its attendant privileges, physical isolation and loss of key communications, amongst other things.  My suggestion is that if they can be got to early enough and their fears realistically and actively addressed, it may be possible to steer them away from the active intent to commit massacre in the first place. This will certainly not be successful in every case, and there will be cases where fate forecloses on all other options but a forceful intervention, but my fear is that unless we make the attempt to address the attendant psychological circumstances surrounding the propensity to massacre, our chances of preventive action will be much reduced and will find ourselves pushed by our own worst case analysis into actualising the worst case as a self-fulfilling prophecy and then trying to clear up afterwards, claiming it all the while to be the best solution or the best that  could have  been done in the circumstances and that there was never any other way .


International Law and Child Protection Law – a parallel


Having sketched the outlines of the psychological and political problem, I turn to an analogy between international law and child protection law (that is, the extension of child protection practice within the domestic context) to take some lessons from a similar psychological environment.


There are two parts to the analogy: the opening of an avenue for protecting children whilst maintaining the family intact as the primary unit of child nurture and protection; and the psychological circumstances which make that conscionable.


This involves and has involved conceptually softening the hard boundary of the family conceived as a sphere of inviolable privacy as of right and making it conditional, much in the same way that softening the sovereign inviolability of the state can be conceived as a way of enhancing the security of its population at the same time as enhancing the state’s own viability. It hasn’t always been the case that the law has been able to reach into the family in such a way as to protect children from abusive parents – whether by appointing social workers or trainers in non-violence or taking them into care. In the Roman republic, the law stopped at the boundary of the family since this was regarded as an exclusively private sphere. The head of the household, a citizen, could dispose of the members of his household – wife, children and slaves, as he saw fit, including killing them, and the law couldn’t touch him. And this kind of position, with local variations, has persisted in many places until very recently. What has changed in the last hundred years and increasingly the last twenty or so, at least in liberal democratic societies, is that, far from perfectly, the courts have come to recognise the interests of the child as paramount and that, though the normal family is understood to uphold them, where this fails, the child’s interests override any claim to inviolability which the abusive adults within a family may claim for it or themselves. It doesn’t always work, there are far too many instances of ongoing child abuse, child torture and child murder. But at least in principle, the courts can appoint some person or persons other than the police, who are not those with the best skills in this instance, to monitor what is going on within the family and to assist the parents towards learning more healthy practices.


Within this space, parents can be trained to have and express their anger more appropriately and less dangerously, to recognise the vulnerability of the children, to be less under stress and extreme in their behaviour and reactions, to be clearer about their broader goals, including potentially those of being good parents, and to find ways of communicating which are less emotionally charged and incendiary, or leading back into the vicious circle of violence. They can be taught to be more powerful, and to perceiving themselves less to be the victims of their own out of control children and to introduce far greater calm and negotiability into their relations. Maybe it can’t be achieved with everyone, but where it works it is because the intervening party, although there by authoritative allocation of the court, is also in part there by the willing consent of the parents, even if grudgingly, who by and large know that they want to keep the family intact.


The most skilful of social workers, family psychologists and trainers manage to keep awareness of their formal role and authority in the background. They are most effective in so far as they manage to establish a relationship of trust in which their presence is more than tolerated and may become welcomed. The more this is the case, the more creatively, cooperatively and productively they are able to work. One might say that the shell is formal but the inner substance which makes the whole set-up work is the quality of relating which enhances the delinquent subject’s sense both of self-worth and of competence as a parent. The intervener has to negotiate her own position as helper. Once she starts giving hard instructions on the basis of ‘because I say so or else’, she knows she is on the slippery slope to loss equally of willing cooperation and of control of the situation. The prospects of success in the transformation of behaviour and habit are even greater if the abusive parent can be persuaded to accept help before the courts are ever formally involved. Being already convicted within a confrontational system may have dangerously reduced the available context of goodwill and trust within such transformations may be attempted.


By this modification in understanding and practice, the integrity and sovereignty of the family are in fact enhanced, in that though they are in a sense ‘interfered’ with – their hard inviolability has been breached - more families are kept intact and functioning healthily as families should. An exchange that is profitable to all parties has taken place. The central object of the exercise is to increase the proportion of healthily functioning families, without overstretching the long arm of the law - not to increase the number of parents in jail or the number of children in foster care homes, even if at the margin such strategies might be inevitable and indeed preferable in some cases.


I think that this example provides a direct and relevant analogy with the situation obtaining within and surrounding an abusive state. Our task lies in finding the equivalent ways in which the authoritative allocation of benign non-violent interventions, short of last resort measures, can be got to be accepted, both within the international community as a whole as valid in principle, and within the abusive state itself.

 The key in both cases is an insistent appeal to that part of the actually or potentially abusive party (and we are all potentially abusive parties) which in some part recognises the abuse and has a desire for achieving its goals by less destructive means and showing the availability of some alternative means of getting there. It relies on uncovering the innate desire of the abuser to perform better and to heal, perhaps from beneath layers of arrogant self-justification and denial, through steady, firm and respectful behaviour on the part of the intervener.


Nonviolence, intelligent policing, and the right or duty of minimum coercion in defence of order – the moral risks.


Part of why I think that the active use of coercive force may be necessary in extremis on some limited occasions is because I recognise that at least in some measure the potential for coercion lies at the back of the domestic order that we take for granted in the generally peaceful and prosperous societies that I take it most of us involved in this discussion inhabit. Peaceful societies and civility itself are generally dependent on a large measure of voluntary self-ordering and consent to moderate government through authoritative rules and conventions provided it is with a relatively light touch.  At the same time, it is true that in any generation and place there may be individuals and groups who do not submit themselves voluntarily to a commonly agreed order and whose exercise of their own voluntary independence may spell wholesale destruction for others if it is allowed to persist unchecked. In my view, this is part of the perennial reality of human life, though there may well be pockets of human society in privileged places, perhaps on idyllic Pacific islands, where peacefulness is so habitual that the presence of coercive control is practically unnecessary – a state to which we should all be aiming.


However, in the best ordered societies, so strong is the general habit of voluntary self-order that the coercive force of police and similar powers only needs to be brought to the fore on rare and extreme occasions. A major part of successful policing in a well-ordered society resides in habitually not deploying the available force to anything like its full extent, and in fact not even displaying it most of the time. Most British police typically carry a pair of handcuffs and a truncheon, if that. But part of this effectively pacific equation which we mustn’t forget is that their authority partly derives from the known fact, both amongst the ordinary population and the would-be violent criminals amongst them, that they are quickly capable of more should the necessity be felt to arise. They are deploying psychologically preferable and necessary non-violent tactics and self-presentation from within a broader context of fact, meaning and understanding which includes the ability and readiness to coerce should the need be felt to arise. For my part, I want the police to arrest gun criminals and drug dealers. Even when the latter are armed, I would far rather that the police achieved it by surprising them in their beds at night – with superior force but without bloodshed – if they can manage it. In my book, deploying force doesn’t necessarily spell violence. In this specific sort of situation, practically the whole skill, the whole balancing act, for the police as for ourselves as citizens at home and in the world, lies in the intelligent deployment of our resources, including force, such that the situation does not degenerate into violence, the physical harm or destruction of persons. We may achieve it most of the time but we can’t guarantee it.  Let’s call it ‘intelligent policing’. The discernment of the correct level of force is the core of intelligent policing.


The opposite of intelligent policing is abusive policing.  When the police start shooting with live rounds into the heart of demonstrating crowds, then the legitimacy of the entire civil order and government is brought seriously into question, as has recently happened in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Once the authorities, forces controlled by or supported by the government, engage in the wholesale slaughter of civilians, their authority is at least compromised and potentially forfeited.  The legitimacy of any state’s police and other forces depends in very large degree on the skill with which they manage to persuade those apparently bent on deviant and destructive behaviour not to follow through with their intentions.


In so far as we subscribe to this way of thinking I would like us all to note carefully that we are here in the broad territory of the logic of deterrence and of the controlled management of threat, its measured escalation and de-escalation relative to prevailing circumstance. If we are prepared to deploy it at home, we ought also I think to be prepared to deploy it abroad, even if in limited and defined circumstances. The whole position I am outlining is certainly morally questionable and indeed paradoxical since as is well known deterrence only works if you are at some level finally prepared to follow through with your threats, which could be judged to be immoral both in the character of the intent and in the result if enacted. If we accept this in any degree at all, then we have already departed from the level of pure disengagement from the prospect of violence that some believe that real non-violence entails. I respect and honour at least some of the people who adopt that position, but it is not one to which I currently feel personally able to subscribe.


Practical and Psychological Hazards of Military Intervention


Faced with the reality of actual or imminent massacre, the option of military intervention can seem overwhelmingly necessary. And after it is undertaken it is often claimed to have been the best and indeed the only available option – even if earlier and more concerted diplomatic interventions might have been better. Yet in evaluating the ‘success’ of military intervention we should be fully aware of the costs. The fact remains that a full ten years after Srebrenica, Bosnia remains an international protectorate, unable to move forward or back, with no prospect of orderly withdrawal in sight. The UN High Representative Paddy Ashdown is caught on the horns of a dilemma. To get anything done he has to continue to be authoritarian and heavy-handed and use his power to sack recalcitrant and corrupt local ministers who yet have been duly elected by democratic process – as it happens he does it without much public protest – people know the score and the name of the game and they are not fools. But the more he exercises his power, the more it inhibits the growth, evolution and maturation of any possible mature, cooperative politics – normal, more or less non-violent politics. The presence of the international authority becomes a deepening self-fulfilling prophecy. The same holds true of Kosovo; though I won’t go into that in detail here. In the eastern part of Bosnia today - in the heart of Republika Srpska, it is not only that Radovan Karadic happens to remain unarrested, it is that the reason for this is that practically the entire local population remain in support of him, despite the huge price on his head. They haven’t changed their spots one iota and, love them or hate them, they know the meaning of loyalty. His defence is many lines deep, though his imminent arrest has been confidently announced with boring regularity for most of the last ten years. For the local people, Karadic is their hero and the events of Srebrenica in July 1995, the murder of 8,000 men and boys, are still referred to locally as its ‘liberation’. A month or so ago, Karadic’s mother died. Of course Radovan found himself not able to be there at the funeral, since it would effectively actualise the long-predicted arrest. But the other brothers were. And even from the freshly dug grave, through them - Mother was able to issue a defiant cry which echoed throughout the region – ‘Radovan; our cause is just; don’t let the bastards get you!’


How could I describe this situation in a nutshell? Looking at the circumstances of mass human rights abuse, there is nearly always something, a genuine irritation or fear present in the antecedent conditions, that lies behind the eventual motive to massacre. Whereas for judicial and moral purposes I would agree that it is absolutely necessary to draw the line and say enough is enough, to mark certain acts as absolutely unacceptable regardless of motive or background and to do so publicly, it remains true that the real, detailed attendant politics must be attended to – before, during and after, and by all means better before. One could further say that there is properly no innocence in politics. Grievances usually have some sort of causal root in the day-to-day situation even if they are largely sustained and blown out of proportion by opportunistic fantasy. To be sure the flames of massacre are fanned by the most outrageous campaigns of active, deliberate racism and cultural and ethnic stereotyping which have no real basis in fact whatever. This was true both in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia. But condemning or outlawing racism will never neutralise it on its own. These group allegiances exist sufficiently as historical facts on the ground to form the basis of continuing deep-seated fears and resentments of a kind which will not be cancelled solely by external intervention of any kind – before, during, or after; diplomatic, political or military.


Difficulties really begin to arise when one starts to get down to details and to consider the longer-term impact and implications of an intervention. The obvious point about intervention in the internal affairs of a state is that it involves taking over or neutralising the government, or getting into combat with the government or with the effective power, and attempting to suspend, destroy or replace its power and authority, leaving a potential vacuum for the longer term. Once the government – or let us say the effective local power – whether it has a measure of legitimacy and recognition or not – has had its power suspended or deflected, the question then becomes how some sort of viable and stably responsible habit of politics can be encouraged to evolve such that the suspension of local autonomy is not then forced to become permanent. Intervention once having taken place, there is a high risk in disengagement.



Scrutiny and securing consent.


There is a conundrum in the centre of all this. Unless what is envisaged is the international deployment of overwhelming force sustained indefinitely in a number of differing theatres through the building and maintenance of so-called coalitions of the willing, more or less willing consent on the part of the part of the actual or potential abuser must be brought into play at some stage in the game, sooner or later. As in the child protection law example, in order to cooperate, the one being scrutinised and potentially intervened in needs to believe at some level in the potentially benign intent of those intervening.  If the alleged abuser so much as suspects that there are hidden, especially self-interested, agendas, he will freeze, put up the barriers and resist. And this will be the response regardless of the final rights and wrongs of the case as seen through the eyes of moral philosophers, lawyers or historians.


It is one thing to secure the right and duty to intervene to protect in principle on the international level – by producing what looks like a watertight argument for its necessity in extreme cases and then working for a consensus worldwide that codifies and solidifies what will constitute the necessary and sufficient conditions which will create a right and duty to intervene it in such a way that it will stick sufficiently to convince at least a working majority of international lawyers or governments at any one moment that the necessary  conditions have been met. It is quite a different matter to persuade someone that they come under the rules in a particular case or that they do not have a special reason for self-exemption. As we have seen in the recent case of Iraq, and the way in which the British Government set about obtaining an opinion to justify its position, such is the natural variation in opinion that one can always find someone to put a reasonable gloss on what one intended and was fully determined to do anyway. International law always remains inextricably embedded in the reality of politics, and who wins the argument in terms of what is finally decided to be done may not necessarily turn on the most cogent reasoning.


As I said, affecting the climate of international opinion amongst a majority of states and attempting to get it codified and ratified in the General Assembly or the Security Council is one thing. It is certainly a necessary condition if the world normative environment is to undergo any sort of permanent change such as is envisaged. But it is quite another thing to persuade a recalcitrant state or its allies and supporters that even then it really comes under the description of being a proper subject of inspection and/or forceful intervention or indefinite suspension of its sovereign authority.


We need to consider both in principle and in more detail what is actually liable to encourage states or individuals to willingly subject themselves to scrutiny and intervention. Perhaps the knowledge that others are willing to subject themselves to it also would do it.  If some particular group, the likely pariahs, sense that they are the only ones who are being singled out for this sort of treatment, they are not likely to be persuaded.


If a state were going to consent to external interference, it would need at least to be able to see that all the others, but primarily those with the most power to interfere, were truly willing to subject themselves to equal treatment in parallel circumstances. If the state receiving the public scrutiny develops a sense of isolation and of lack of level and equal treatment, a very likely response will be to put up the barriers and to protest about sovereign independence and unwarranted interference. The state would not likely consent if it perceived the intervention as an imposition of limits and controls without any corresponding or indeed overriding tangible benefit.  The state might consent if it believed that it was not being condemned out of hand, but is being offered some real and honest assistance, including a better and more open relationship with the states who are offering to intervene.


Yet control may be necessary. There is a paradox right here. From the point of view of preventing the spreading of a disease and its turning into an epidemic, we can all see that it is crucial to nip it in the bud. Everyone recognises the imperative of the logic behind the saying ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. At the same time, we are not going to succeed in the necessary earlier action unless we are able to secure the consent of those who are going to be most inconvenienced – let’s say Vietnamese chicken farmers in the case of the feared flu pandemic resulting from avian flu jumping the species barrier from birds to humans -- by coming to an understanding with them of what lies behind the necessity of intervention.


This requires the potential interveners to interplay with the various parties in a subtle, intelligent, very tough and undeceived series of interactions, from what is perceived as a fundamentally friendly position of felt solidarity, stepping in to check whenever there is the inkling of a movement towards abuse and encouraging and rewarding every move toward less pathological behaviour.


The OSCE Commissioner on National Minorities.


Yugoslavia’s membership of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE – then ‘CSCE’) was suspended in 1992, owing to its behaviour in Croatia and Bosnia. This significantly reduced the authoritative purchase which the OSCE had on the situation. Once membership was suspended, a right of scrutiny could not be upheld or imposed as part of the rules of membership which had previously been accepted voluntarily. However, in many other states, and behind closed doors, Max van der Stoel, the OSCE Commissioner on National Minorities, was able by dint of their membership to negotiate with many governments on improving their relationships with minority ethnic and linguistic populations, in the Baltic States and elsewhere such as Hungary, Slovakia and Romania – and to equally to negotiate with the representatives of the populations themselves. In consequence, attempted draconian nationalist legislation on the part of new governments seeking to throw off the yoke of former oppressors, in the form of harshly restrictive and inherently discriminatory nationality and language laws, was gradually replaced by legislative accommodation to the reality of more than one culture and language. It involved not only relaxation of the respective governments’ stance, but also the corresponding relaxation of their less realistic demands for secession, irredentism or greater independence on the part of the new minorities, so that crisis was averted. The essence of Van der Stoel’s capacity to do this was the skilled application of good offices – being repeatedly and at length in touch with all parties from an early stage, behind closed doors, acknowledging the reality of their insecurities, and talking with each of them about the enduring reality of the others’ positions in order to create and establish a basis for exchange. It also involved having something desirable and credible to offer – continued and increasing membership of the European club (from OSCE towards NATO, the EU) for the potentially abusive authoritarian/majority government and a guaranteed reduction of threat to their security and welfare and full access to the benefits of citizenship to the minority populations.

In his foreword to the main academic study on Van der Stoel’s work[1], Michael Ignatieff commented that it was doubtful whether the Commissioner’s methods were transferable to theatres of conflict other than Europe such as Africa and Asia ‘where regional organisations are weaker [and] the available incentives for good behaviour are weaker’. Further reasons might be the comparative lack of a history of consolidated statehood conceived in terms other than of tribal advantage and domination, or of the stable and acknowledged representatives of oppressed minorities to negotiate with. Nonetheless there are signs of the consolidation of more stable democratic statehood in Africa in a relatively short period. Something like this work, as has been acknowledged by Kofi Annan amongst others, has to be evolved, if military intervention, with all its hazards and unsustainability, and with its necessarily accumulation of mounting future problems is not to predominate and destabilize the world structurally even further.


So what is my recipe for giving meaning to “Never again”?


Begin with the formal conditions which frame the legitimacy for the authority to intervene early at a diplomatic level, beginning with establishing the regular scrutiny of all states as an accepted norm and setting the process up as primarily a path towards normalization and continued inclusion, not condemnation.   At the same time, all states agree to subject themselves to that scrutiny.  A prerequisite for this is for every state to adopt the attitude that it is entirely possible for them to err towards abuse, usually under the temptation of pursuing supposedly ‘higher objectives’ such as security and total control. 


Focus “civilian protection” military thought on developing the skills of intelligent policing, that is, the discernment of the level of force appropriate to the task.  At the same time, clarify the benefits to the dominant group of respecting the human rights of minorities or subject peoples. This has been one of the central functions of the OSCE and could be taken up by other regional international organizations with UN approval and support.  Also, train and authorise people from all parts of the world in the role of “diplomat as counsellor” that helps leaders address fears constructively. Develop a realistic democratic political development practice and resource it.  Finally, but not least, provide the resources, political education and diplomatic skill for minority citizen groups to frame their demands more tactically, realistically and in forms which do not invite further repressive measures.

This is certainly an incomplete answer.  It would be more honest to end with a list of questions than with a recipe.  The list might be very long, but here are a few:


What is the real point of our proposed interventions under the Responsibility to Protect? -





[1] Quiet Diplomacy in Action: the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, ed. Walter A. Kemp, Kluwer Law International, The Hague, 2001: ISBN 90-411-1651-6, p. xvii