Academic journal article Global Governance

Conflict Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect

Academic journal article Global Governance

Conflict Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect

Article excerpt

Although the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty identified the responsibility to prevent as the single most important aspect of its report The Responsibility to Protect, most scholarly and political attention has been given to the concept's reaction component rather than to its prevention component. This article aims to correct this imbalance by examining progress with, changes to, and attitudes toward the responsibility to prevent since the publication of the commission's report in 2001. It seeks to explain the relative neglect of prevention in debates about The Responsibility to Protect, arguing that the answer can be found in a combination of doubts about how wide the definition of prevention should be, political concerns raised by the use of prevention in the war on terrorism, and practical concerns about the appropriate institutional locus for responsibility. The article moves on to identify some basic principles that might help advance the responsibility to prevent. KEYWORDS: responsibility to protect, conflict prevention, UN, institutions, war.

According to the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), the Responsibility to Protect concept comprises three responsibilities relating to deadly conflict and other human-made catastrophes: to prevent, to react, and to rebuild. (1) The responsibility to react has received significant political and scholarly attention and has dominated debates about the adoption of the responsibility-to-protect principle by the UN General Assembly at the 2005 World Summit. (2) Likewise, the responsibility to rebuild has been accompanied by renewed interest in questions of justice after war (the so-called jus post bellum) and was institutionalized by the World Summit through the creation of the UN's Peace-building Commission. Despite being described as the "single most important dimension of the responsibility to protect," the responsibility to prevent to prevent has been relatively neglected. (3) In the World Summit's Outcome Document, the UN's commitment to conflict prevention was kept separate from its commitment to the Responsibility to Protect, and states committed only to help establish an "early warning" capability for the UN and to support the secretary-general's Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide. (4) The call of the ICISS for measures to centralize preventive efforts, tackle the root causes of conflict, and enhance direct prevention capabilities was overlooked in favor of this focus on early warning.

The purpose of this article is threefold. First, it examines progress with, changes to, and attitudes toward the responsibility to prevent since the release of The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in 2001. Second, it seeks to explain the relative neglect of the responsibility to prevent and the reluctance of even advocates of the R2P to lobby for reform in this area. Finally the article explores ways of developing the "responsibility to prevent" and making good on the vision set out by the ICISS.

Prevention in the Responsibility to Protect

It goes without saying that the prevention of deadly conflict is one of the fundamental goals of the UN. The preamble to the UN Charter commits the organization to "saving future generations" from the "scourge of war." In 1955, Dag Hammarskjold identified the prevention and solving of conflicts as the organization's most significant function. (5) Indeed, UN peacekeeping itself grew out of Hammarskjold's belief that the primary contribution that the world organization could make to international peace and security was in the prevention and resolution of conflict, and not in the enforcement of collective will as envisaged by the drafters of the Charter. The case for conflict prevention was strengthened in 1997 when the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict estimated that even a maximal commitment to direct and structural conflict prevention would cost less than half the price of intervention and subsequent rebuilding. …

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