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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Syria, R2P, & the Obama Doctrine

Syrian protesters in front of the Syrian embassy in Cairo
Photo credit: Maggie Osama at the Syrian embassy in Cairo.

Given the brutal crackdown against anti-regime demonstrators in Syria, many analysts concerned about human rights are calling for external intervention. If the world had the responsibility to protect innocents in Libya, they argue, then the same logic applies for Syria. Thousands have already died as people stand up to their government.

However, as many other analysts have noted, nation-states view R2P (as it is known) as an ideal that must be considered on a case-by-case basis -- in the context of the just war doctrine and in conjunction with the views of relevant regional organizations.

Yes, such selectivity potentially weakens the norm's deterrent power, but it is more pragmatic and reflective of international politics as it is actually practiced. One major problem limiting new application of R2P is a lingering suspicion that this framing is used by western powers to justify broader intervention -- for regime change in Libya, for example.

As I have argued previously, US policy (doctrine?) during Barack Obama's presidency arguably reflects something like pragmatic cosmopolitanism. The US will apply its resources to avoid catastrophe when the benefits outweigh costs and the action has multilateral support.

Even if the UN Security Council, which can obviously act only with at least tacit support of the US, could cobble together the material resources to move more forcefully against the Syrian regime, it is not clear that such action would meet these standards for intervention. The US would want to see support from Russia, Turkey, India and perhaps China. And all these nations would need to be convinced that more coercive action would be narrowly targeted and likely to succeed.

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