Sicherheitskultur im Wandel

EventsResponsibility to Protect: Outline 


Norms and Practice of Humanitarian Intervention: The Responsibility to Protect and Global Security Culture

Workshop outline

Over the recent years, a number of new humanitarian principles and norms have evolved to protect defenseless populations from systematic state repression – most prominently the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a principle that was adopted in the final document of the UN General Assembly 2005. This marked the preliminary end of a long process, in which the international community intended to draw lessons from the devastating failure of the UN in both Rwanda and Srebrenica. This process culminated in a bold proposal by a high-level panel and finally in an overwhelming majority among all states in the UN General Assembly. Many – scholars and practitioners alike – have welcomed the principle. For them, the R2P is the advent of a new global culture of human security; a pragmatic and internationalist move to narrow the broad idea of human rights into a more manageable conception integrating and balancing the principle of state sovereignty and the international humanitarian responsibility to protect individuals.

However, this principle – though occasionally rhetorically invoked – has not been the basis for much concrete and serious action. Most scholars explain this fact by pointing to a stalemate in the UN Security Council and the unwillingness to invest steadily political capital and military means beyond national borders for a moral purpose. Others argue that the symbolic use serves the interest of individual member states: since, in an international context, and even under the auspices of a multinational organization, coercive support for norm implementation can only be mobilized at the national level, the rhetorical invocation of a general norm like the R2P might mask particularistic national interests. By the same token, however, the implementation of international norms, humanitarian norms in particular, maybe rejected just under the pretext of safeguarding national sovereignty against international intervention.

The example of the R2P reveals that there is a gap between normative innovation and the practice of norm implementation. The prevalent two-step view of norms (first, norms are decided upon; second, they are implemented) has obvious limits. This workshop discussed whether norms and practices are tightly linked: no norm without a norm legitimizing practice.

With regard to the R2P, we asked: Has the debate on humanitarian intervention led to more normative integration, i.e. is a global security culture emerging? Or has it aggravated the disagreement between states with regard to humanitarian norms and being thus rather a scapegoat for a continuing clash of diverse security cultures than the advent of a new integrated culture? Who has a voice in these global normative questions? Can humanitarian norms be implemented force- and successfully at all or are they merely of a symbolic nature? Do purely symbolic norms exist at all? Is there a destabilizing effect for international institutions if humanitarian norms are only selectively, symbolically, or differently applied?

The workshop confronted this interlinked set of questions

  1. by investigating the degree of normative integration and innovation the Responsibility to Protect gave potentially rise to,
  2. by asking whether this goes hand in hand with corresponding shifts in new practices as well as in a new global security culture, and
  3. by elaborating which limits there are for the implementation of humanitarian norms in general and to which degree the legitimacy of a international norm is linked to its credible (even symbolic) enforcement.

The workshop papers will be published in the peer reviewed German journal “Die Friedenswarte – Journal of International Peace and Organization” in 2012.    



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