Speaking of Khadafy, no one will cry over his overthrow or death. If anyone has forfeited his right to govern, it’s the thug who runs Libya. Still, that’s probably best decided by Libyans—unless or until Khadafy threatens the United States or its interests. But if Khadafy is guilty of violating R2P principles, what about Syria’s Assad, Sudan’s Bashir, Cuba’s Castro, Iran’s Ahmadinejad, North Korea’s Kim? The list could go on and on. In fact, if I made the list, it might include China’s leaders and Russia’s leaders (see Tiananmen, Tibet and Chechnya). If they made the list, it might include the United States or Estonia. If Kosovo made the list, it might include Serbia. If the Serbs made the list, it might include Kosovo. If Pakistan made the list, it might include India. If India made the list, it might include Pakistan. You get the point.
Moreover, what level of negligence or outright willfulness constitutes “failure to protect”—disproportionate death rates among different ethnic groups, mass-arrests, seizure of property? These sorts of things could be twisted to apply to the United States, especially in a world awash in moral relativism. Before scoffing at this, recall that Belgian lawyers tried to put U.S. commanders in the dock for failing to stop postwar looting in Iraq. One wonders where their outrage was when a bona fide war criminal reigned in Baghdad. But this points out one of the problems with many R2P advocates. They are surprisingly silent on the obvious cases: the Saddam Husseins and Kim Jong Ils and Fidel Castros of the world. It’s difficult to understand why.
Whatever their motives, it seems that advocates of R2P are opening the door to the further weakening of national sovereignty and the further weakening of the nation-state system—a system which has served America well. It pays to recall that the United States has thrived in the nation-state system. We were born into it, raised in it, grew to master and shape it, and today we benefit from it, sustain it and dominate it. When and if it ceases to be the main organizing structure for the world—if R2P seduces America into taking sides everywhere, weakening the responsibilities and benefits of sovereignty along the way—there is no guarantee that Americans will have the same position and place they enjoy today.
Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.
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