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The “Responsibility to Protect” Doctrine: Revived in Libya, Buried in Syria

Proponents of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, commonly referred to as R2P, claim that it came of age with NATO’s successful military intervention to protect the civilian population in Libya. This commentary raises questions of whether NATO’s intervention under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 followed the original 2001 R2P report and other related UN documents, and contends that if R2P had come of age with NATO’s intervention in Libya, it has had a tragic death with the Security Council’s inability to initiate actions on Syria. The death of R2P in Syria has been rendered inevitable by NATO’s abuses in Libya, and the doctrine is doomed to a bleak future.

The Responsibility to Protect Doctrine Revived in Libya Buried in
Libyan tribesmen gather on March 27, 2011 on the remains of a pro-government ammunition convoy bombed the day before near Ajdabiya by coalition forces. AFP / Patrick Baz

NATO’s military strikes on Libya, under UN Security Council Resolution 1973, to dislodge the Gaddafi regime is widely viewed as the “watershed moment” in the short history of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, commonly referred to as R2P. Ardent supporters of this doctrine claim that the use of military force against Gaddafi to save Libyan lives was in line with the original spirit of R2P; the doctrine, they further claim, came of age with the defeat of Gaddafi forces through NATO’s bombings. However, despite what the supporters argue, NATO’s intervention in Libya has seriously undercut the R2P doctrine itself. 

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