* Ok, so the post title is sort of inflammatory, and it's not really a terribly accurate representation of what I think. But sometimes you've got to do crazy stuff to get ahead in this game, you know?
Safranski’s point – if I’m reading him properly – is a pretty simple one: he argues that R2P has the intellectual heft and internationalist “elite” sanction to replace counterinsurgency as the new “it” phenomenon for enlightened commentators and policymakers – basically that it can (or will) become the new narrative for those who are uncomfortable advocating for American primacy on its face to justify continued internationalism. Here’s how he puts it:
[I]n it’s current policy trajectory, R2P is going to become “the new COIN”.
This is not to say that R2P is a military doctrine, but like the rise of pop-centric COIN, it will be an electrifying idea that has the potential fire the imagination of foreign policy intellectuals, make careers for it’s bureaucratic enthusiasts and act as a substitute for the absence of a coherent American grand strategy. The proponents of R2P (R2Peons?) appear to be in the early stages of following a policy advocacy template set down by the COINdinistas, but their ambitions appear to be far, far greater in scope. […]
R2P is following the same COIN pattern of bureaucratic-political proselytization with the accomplished academic theorist Anne-Marie Slaughter as the “Kilcullen of R2P”. As with David Kilcullen’s theory of insurgency, Slaughter’s ideas about sovereignty and R2P, which have gained traction with the Obama administration and in Europe as premises for policy, need to be taken seriously and examined in depth lest we wake up a decade hence with buyer’s remorse.
The point (which Safranski acknowledges to some extent in his fourth paragraph): the recent “institutionalization of COIN” across the American political and military cultures is more attributable to its apparent viability as a policy expedient in difficult circumstances than a testament to the overwhelming power of the so-called COINdinistas’ “bureaucratic-political proselytization.” The way that “COIN wisdom” has infiltrated both doctrine and the vernacular of the political class is unlikely to be replicated by R2P for the simple fact that COIN was pitched as the necessary savior of American Iraq policy, not a new, clean-slate paradigm for U.S. engagement in the world. The COINdinistas were obviously more than disinterested spectators, and their politically-astute advocacy certainly greased the skids for widespread acceptance of their politico-military concepts. But they wouldn't have even had a hearing were it not for the deteriorating situation in Iraq. If FM 3-24 had been published in the insurgency-free context of say 1999, the foreboding parallel to R2P would make more sense.
Ulfelder agrees in principle:
In my opinion, R2P stands no chance of becoming the next COIN because attempts to make civilian protection a guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy will be resisted stiffly by the U.S. military.
The specific collection of beliefs and ideas we now call COIN (link) became ascendant in the latter half of the 2000s because it spoke to the needs and desires of civilian and military leaders alike. In the mid-2000s, the U.S. and its allies appeared to be losing the wars they had started a few years earlier in Iraq and Afghanistan, or at least not winning them. Policy-makers responded to the risk of failure by groping around for fresh ideas on how to tip those messy and costly wars toward “victory.” COIN took shape in response to this demand. COIN gave military leaders new things to try in place of the old ones that were failing, and it fanned policy-makers’ hopes for a way to bring those costly wars to some successful end.But I think Jay is wrong to focus so much on the acceptance of the military, which is, frankly speaking, a matter of near irrelevance to policymakers. (As the occupation of Iraq should have amply demonstrated, the White House doesn’t ask “do you have doctrine for this?” before assigning a mission to the military.) The principles of R2P may not be codified into military doctrine the way COIN has, but this isn’t nearly so important as it seems: doctrine is a guide to tactical and operational action, but viewed from another perspective it can be boiled down to “the list of tasks that I as a military leader need to train my forces to perform.” And there’s not a whole pile of stuff under the “R2P” heading that doesn’t also fall into one of the other bins the U.S. military is already training on.
R2P is a legal concept and perhaps even a prescriptive guide to state action, but it’s not a military mission. What are the “R2P tasks” for military forces that aren’t already covered by offense, defense, and stability operations? There may be some additional responsibilities for operational and strategic leaders, but the tactical tasks are essentially those of combat operations, peacekeeping, and peace-enforcement. (We have a legitimate expert on this subject here at the blog, so I hope he’ll chime in, but I’s also encourage others in the know to please correct me if I’m wrong.)
[Added for clarity: "additional responsibilities for operational and strategic leaders" are the sphere of policy, not doctrine; it's reasonable to assume that DOD might drag its feet on putting out policy (that is, issuances or directives) as to the specific functions and responsibilities associated with civilian-protection operations. But such policy already exists for combat operations and stability operations, so this seems to me a bit of a red herring.]
The military may not like the idea of armed humanitarian intervention gaining pride of place in American security policy, but that won’t keep it from executing the missions or training on the required tasks. After all, there wasn’t much enthusiasm for small wars in general (including COIN), Military Operations Other Than War, humanitarian assistance, security cooperation and security force assistance, and so on over the last several decades, but we’re still doing ‘em. After all, the SECDEF might not have favored the Libya intervention, may not have understood the alleged strategic rationale, may not have had high confidence in our ability to constructively shape conditions there, etc., but: U.S. forces still created and enforced a no-fly zone, waged interdiction operations against Libyan regime assets, and supported the operations of NATO allies in the Libyan AO… all without liking it much or having adapted culturally or doctrinally to the mission. The success (however fortunate) of the NATO operation weakens the claims of those who might argue that new doctrine and concepts are needed to effectively execute an "R2P mission."
All of which is just a long way of saying this: Ulfelder is likely right that R2P is unlikely to form the basis for future American security policy, and Safranski is likely wrong. But Ulfelder is likely wrong about the reasons why not, or at least those that pertain to the military – he’s on much more solid ground when he emphasizes the “emergency” justification for COIN in both the military and political spheres.