Friday, May 16, 2008

Whose Responsibility to Protect?

I'll be appearing on The Agenda with Steve Paikin tonight to discuss the Responsibility to Protect and the crisis in Burma/Myanmar. It is always difficult to talk about international relations in the abstract when tens of thousands of people are dead or dying. But we have to face up to the problem that we always want to help, but at little or no cost--and the Burma case, like Somalia before it, raises difficulties.

My fellow panelists didn't like that I've adopted the position articulated by Pang Zhongying, that there is no "international community" that exists above or separate from sovereign nation-states. To quote from his 2002 essay:

it is necessary to draw the distinction between the concepts of "international community" versus "international society." "Community" implies that its components share many things in common, such as values, whereas "society" recognizes that, while actors may have shared interests, there is no overarching common power or universal standard. Former United Nations Secretary-General Butros Butros Ghali has been a leading proponent of the notion of "the international community." I maintain that, at present, one can use the term "international community" to describe something like the European Union, a community of nation-states sharing common values, institutions, and procedures, but I do not believe that Ghali's vision applies to the reality of world politics. Thus, in assessing China's international environment, I think that it is more useful to conceive of global affairs taking place within the parameters of an "international society" rather than an "international community."

And we are in a transition phase. More and more, we accept the idea that sovereignty is not absolute and we may have responsibilities to people who are not citizens with us in a shared political community--but if the nation-state cannot or will not accept its sovereign responsibilities, we are still unsure as to who should and who should bear those burdens. Witness Somalia (or Sudan).

Will the deaths in Burma/Myanmar cause states--and more importantly, populations--to reassess their views? Would Americans support sending U.S. troops into humanitarian missions? Should we revisit an earlier proposal, about having contract forces (soldiers and civilian experts) on staff to do such missions?

Interested in your reactions to the program.

Nik, Leon Hadar over at The American Conservative argues that if the U.S. had engaged Burma much earlier, there would be more Americans especially business figures on the ground today and a greater chance of getting more help in.

Will be interested to see the program.
I think that by the terms "International Community" one always understood the Atlantic Community + Japan during the Cold War years. I agree with you on Ghali. But he might have been trying to create some space for states such as Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, and others to participate in the White Man's Club [the International Community] in a more equitable manner. For him, just like the leaders of Turkey, dignified involvement in the deliberations of the Atlantic Community would have been preferable to permanent delegation to the North-South Dialogue, NAM, the Arab League, AOU, OIC, and other such weightless geopolitical organizations.
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