The implications of the double standard within the concept of the r2p

Peace & Security30 Jun 2010Daniel Peters

Within the concept of r2p there is a need for criteria: in which cases and under which circumstances a military intervention is justified, and therefore to act consistently and to avoid a moral double standard.

The criterion of reasonable prospects of success, as was introduced by the ICISS in 2001 (and also mentioned directly in the HLP of 2004, and indirectly in the reports of the secretary-general in 2005 and 2009), points out that there is no chance to protect the population of major military powers by force and consequently, military interventions against major powers aren’t justified.

This is what I call a structural double standard, which divides the world into minor and major military powers. This leads to the conclusion that the starting position of a conflict, which possibly leads to a military intervention based on r2p, is asymmetric – a minor military power facing a striking international force. As an additional consequence, the majority of the world’s population cannot be protected through coercive force from the international community, as long as 8 of the 10 most populous countries are major military powers.

In the 1990s there was a moral double standard in UN practice, comparing, for example, the reaction to the situations in Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor. The ICISS criteria would have had a huge effect in those situations. The structural double standard within the ‘reasonable prospects’ criterion, would have excluded a military intervention against Indonesia to protect the population of East Timor, because of the negative balance of consequences.

Further implications of the structural double standard regarding the limitation and the legitimacy of force depend on the right authority. If military action is tied to the prior consent of the UN, the consequences are positive (a contribution to the system of collective security, and the acceptance of the fact that only the UN has the adequate tools to cope with the asymmetric situation) when compared to interventions by regional organizations or coalitions of the willing without prior UN approval (instrumentalization of the concept by major powers, and the threat of a military build-up by minor powers).

As a résumé, this abstract is a statement for the acknowledgement of double standards in humanitarian interventions. The concept of r2p, as it was adopted atthe World Summit in 2005, lacks criteria. The criterion of reasonable prospects of success or balance of consequences seems to fit into the concept and into the system of collective security, but only if it is tied to the right authority of the UN. In this way, the structural double standard of the reasonable prospects criterion replaces the moral double standard of recent UN practice.