The “Responsibility to Protect” and the Incentives for Peace
In a short article in October’s Prospect magazine I pose the question, what has been the impact of vigorous advocacy on the “responsibility to protect” on the prospects for peace in Darfur? A longer version will be published in the November issue of International Affairs.
My argument is that the adoption of the aspiration of international forces providing physical protection to the suffering people of Darfur has changed the dynamics of the peace process, in ways that have made it harder to reach a settlement. In 2000, the UN’s “Brahimi Report” on peace operations noted that “Promising to extend such protection establishes a very high threshold of expectation. The potentially large mismatch between desired objective and resources available to meet it raises the prospect of continuing disappointment with United Nations follow-through in this area.”
Sadly, the experience of Darfur vindicates Brahimi’s caution over the enthusiasm of those who would rather see Darfur as a test case of the “responsibility to protect.”
The promise of international forces that would not only protect Darfurian civilians but also disarm the Janjawiid and transform the political governance of Darfur heightened the expectations of the leaders of the Darfurian armed movements when they entered peace talks with the government. Anything short of physical security guaranteed by international troops they considered insufficient for them to sign a deal. In short, the incentives for peace had changed. And indeed what has happened is that those rebel leaders who signed up to the peace deal have been marginalized and those who didn’t have remained in high regard.
Meanwhile on Khartoum’s side, the injection of international protection responsibilities into the debate over a solution to the crisis meant that government negotiators were faced with shifting goalposts–for them the incentives for reaching a peace deal diminished each time their concessions were met with new international demands and tougher rhetoric. Unsurprisingly, those political leaders in Khartoum who advocated compromise have seen their political fortunes decline, while those who argued for a tough line are ascendant.
Does this mean that the “responsibility to protect” is an impossible ideal that stands in the way of achievable goals, such as a negotiated peace? It depends on the knowledge, skill and honesty to the facts of activists and diplomats.
I hope that my articles on this subject will help provoke a debate that can allow for more informed advocacy and an effective peace process.