Thursday, September 1, 2011

Trombly and Foust on R2P, sovereignty, Libya, and a rational basis for U.S. foreign policy

I haven't had time to write about this subject (though if you follow me on Twitter it should be plain that I have strong feelings about it), but Dan Trombly and Josh Foust are absolutely killing it on Libya and the so-called "responsibility to protect."

First, see Anne-Marie Slaughter at The Atlantic.

Now read Foust at PBS Need to Know.

And finally, check out Trombly's comprehensive take-down of R2P opportunism at Slouching Towards Columbia.

I like Anne-Marie Slaughter -- I think she's charismatic and engaging, and her enthusiasm to correspond with analysts and students on Twitter is an admirable example for other policy big-wigs to emulate. But Foust and Trombly are so effective in categorically dismantling the philosophical and logical foundations of her argument that the reasonably-minded can only lament their comparative distance from the levers of power.

(It seems like an appropriate time to offer this aside: Dan Trombly is a freaking superstar. I don't know the guy personally, but if this kid spends his 20s making copies for the Michael O'Hanlons of the world, it will be a damned tragedy. It's depressing to consider how completely the so-called "foreign policy establishment" is walled off to original thinking, but I hope he gets an opportunity to do meaningful work. Read his blog. Every day. (No, seriously.))

Don't expect much from me over the long weekend, as I'll be on a train to New York this afternoon. (Hopefully I can get through the last 300-ish pages of The Makers of Modern Strategy, but I'm not holding out a ton of hope.)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Oh dear. Well, uh, yes, I have bothered to read the ICISS R2P report, although that was a while back. No, I have not read every single thing written about R2P since the inception of the term. And I'll fully admit to only having read journal articles, excerpts, and literature reviews on Krasner. GASP. (by the way, you seem to believe that I don't think states other than the US have ever violated other countries sovereignty, which is sort of odd considering it's because of that exact reason I worry about the systemic effects of its erosion, but hey)

    However, if we want to play the name dropping game, I can come up with my own list since historical analysis of sovereignty didn't begin in 1999. Have you read anything by Schmitt? How about any of the historical theorists of sovereignty he cites? Yeah, I'm not going to get into the Westphalia debate because I too have read Osiander. But I'm not going to do that because that isn't my point and I'm not going to pretend I know the definitive reading list on this.

    If you've got a problem with my argument, why not write a response critiquing it, and perhaps even elaborating which parts of your preferred scholarly stable are actually relevant, because who knows if I'm going to actually read the entirety of Organized Hypocrisy and suddenly abandon my preference for Nomos of the Earth?

    There's a reason there's a reason the "about" section of my blog says "I claim expertise in nothing" (regardless of the kind things your co-blogger says about me). I'm just a guy who does read (even if I prefer the contemporary political theorists to modern retrospection sometimes, I know) and then writes things. Have at it. But I don't the internet equivalent of "silete theologi in munere alieno" is doing much work here.

    But hey, cheers for the reading list suggestions.

  3. Edited to a more civil tone - MK

    What utter garbage, by you, Foust and Trombly. Have any of you even bothered to read the original R2P report from the ICISS? The volumes of debate about these issues among member states at the UN throughout the 1990s, leading up to the limited endorsement of R2P at the 2005 World Summit, or the debates since then? Or the volumes that have been written on the subject over the last two decades? Or maybe how the concept has been variously upheld and broken over the last 20 years by states other than the U.S.?

    Or how about the history of the concept of sovereignty itself? Krasner's extensive work on the subject? Bothered to read the sections of the Treaty of Westphalia that frame sovereignty as contingent upon respect for the rights of religious minorities?

  4. Dan - thanks for responding. The vehemence of my comment was spurred by Gulliver's categorical assertion that you had apparently demolished R2P without acknowledging or engaging with an enormous body of relevant literature, work and implementation.

    I am somewhat restricted in responding in great detail on subjects currently in the headlines, but I will try and post a more general response to your argument on your blog. For now, let me just point out that this passage from your post:

    This is rather misleading, because the reduction of R2P to a merely opportunistic concept undermines the principles of R2P itself. After all, if R2P is only undertaken when action can cheaply and presumably quickly “make a difference” then it’s not very much of a responsibility.

    directly contradicts both the letter of R2P, and its foundations in the just war tradition. On page 47 of the ICISS report it directly addresses this point:

    "Reasonable Prospects
    4.41 Military action can only be justified if it stands a reasonable chance of success, that is, halting or averting the atrocities or suffering that triggered the intervention in the first place. Military intervention is not justified if actual protection cannot be achieved, or if the con- sequences of embarking upon the intervention are likely to be worse than if there is no action at all. In particular, a military action for limited human protection purposes cannot be justified if in the process it triggers a larger conflict. It will be the case that some human beings simply cannot be rescued except at unacceptable cost – perhaps of a larger regional conflagration, involving major military powers. In such cases, however painful the reality, coercive military action is no longer justified.

    4.42 Application of this precautionary principle would on purely utilitarian grounds be likely to preclude military action against any one of the five permanent members of the Security Council even if all the other conditions for intervention described here were met. It is difficult to imagine a major conflict being avoided, or success in the original objective being achieved, if such action were mounted against any of them. The same is true of other major powers who are not permanent members of Security Council. This raises again the question of double standards – but the Commission’s position here, as elsewhere, is simply this: the reality that interventions may not be able to be mounted in every case where there is justification for doing so, is no reason for them not to be mounted in any case.

    4.43 In relation to the major powers, there are still other types of pressure that can be applied, as happened, for example, in the case of Indonesia and East Timor. And other types of collective action – including sanctions – could and should still be considered in such cases as part of the responsibility to protect."

    For anyone who's interested, the full text is here:

    This reflects a fundamental acknowledgment of the tensions that are inevitably generated when any fundamental principle is applied in the real world. It argues that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.

    There are many other points in your essay that I will try and address later in a long post at your blog. But I would also point out, since you reference Congo (presumably DRC, not ROC), that:

    A) there has been no parallel in the Congo to the acute crisis that threatened in Libya for a long time (arguably since the refugee camps were overrun in 1996), presenting no obvious opportunity to fundamentally alter the course of events there through a discrete intervention (the Ituri Crisis and Op Artemis being the one notable exception).

    B) The U.S. has been fairly heavily engaged through multilateral bodies to try and address the ongoing instability. And deeply imperfect though they are, they have actually made a huge difference.

  5. Thanks for the response. I know that R2P is intended to be more selective but I can't help but think that if the argument that Anne-Marie Slaughter lays out to justify R2P, namely, a change in the relationship of rights, sovereignty, and international order, then ought not the US be obligated to use its considerable power to make the conditions for "making a difference" more possible?

    Unlike Just War, whose origins I see mainly as regulating an imperfect system rather than part of a wider re-evaluation of what the nature of sovereignty actually is (which R2P doctrine does entail, even if it does not always go as far as Slaughter does in essentially redefining sovereignty itself), R2P does have a prescriptive element, whereas under no vision of just war that I'm aware of are states obligated to use military force.

    This does force the question of whether major powers are obligated to alter their force structures and foreign policy postures to make fulfilling R2P more effective. If it is a Responsibility in peace and war, then it's misleading to say that the US merely "can't" intervene in some places. In a hypothetical world where the US wasn't involved in Iraq or Afghanistan, America might be obligated to intervene in somewhere like Syria. Potential R2P practitioners aren't entirely passive observers looking for opportunities, they can make choices that make the military options for protecting civilians more attractive. I think there is an unanswered question of how far states should go in prioritizing R2P and shaping the international conditions to make implementation - including in military form - more plausible. In the short term, yes, there are few obvious cases where intervention helps, but in the longer term the US and other states could absolutely try to create conditions where there are more situations where intervention is possible.

    My broader concern with R2P and especially the way many Americans (such as Slaughter) describe it is that unlike just war and previous violations of sovereignty you mention, it's conceived as a genuine rethinking of the nature of internal and international order. I think that has potential for systemic harm which far outweighs its benefits.

    Thanks for the reply. I'll have more on this topic later, probably. Look forward to anything you have time to write.

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