Citizens, Culture & State Sovereignty: What Future for the Responsibility to Protect?

A public discussion and launch for the book Responsibility to Protect: Cultural Perspectives in the Global South. This event was convened by the Centre for International Studies & the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict.

NATOs military intervention in Libya alongside the UNs inaction in Syria raise tough questions about the controversial norm of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), adopted by the United Nations World Summit in 2005. The Arab Spring has demonstrated that citizens can reshape state sovereignty and effect regime change: sometimes alone and unaided, and sometimes with major international diplomatic or military intervention. It showed that international strategic security decisions can be prompted by entreaties for protection from ordinary civilians, and influenced by their cultural sensitivities. And yet, it also revealed that UN member states may still fail to prevent avoidable human carnage, and reject their responsibility to protect threatened civilians in order to protect their national or vested interests, instead. What future then for R2P, and for the prevention of future genocides?


Dr. Rama Mani introduced and launched Responsibility to Protect: Cultural Perspectives from the Global South, (Routledge, Sept. 2011, co-edited by Mani and Prof. Thomas G. Weiss). She argued why it is crucial today for the UN, NATO and EU to consider both cultural dimensions of ethics, values, spirituality and aesthetics, as well as civilians needs, demands and sensitivities in shaping future R2P responses, drawing on local voices from Rwanda, Kosovo, Nepal and elsewhere.

Professor Jennifer Welsh provided a normative critique: do culture and civil society count in politics? Can culture help shape R2P preventive strategies, in light of recent interventions & non-interventions?

Professor Richard Caplan responded from a peace operations perspective: drawing on the turbulent experiences of Kosovo and Afghanistan, what can culture teach us about shaping more appropriate international interventions and exit strategies that dont do more harm than good?

Professor Kalypso Nicoladis chaired and concluded the session, providing an EU perspective, as the EU gets more involved in peace operations and R2P interventions.