While Rome burns, violins play; whilst the Titanic sinks… Although enormous progress has been made across the world since the Second World War, currently 1.5 billion people in the world are still at risk from conﬂict and they are more or less all in the bottom global income and development group.1 Very obvious conﬂicts, and related refugee ﬂows, have long gone relatively untended, spanning from Sudan to contemporary South Sudan, Syria, and more. Yet other long-ignored conﬂicts, such as in Bosnia or Afghanistan, eventually attract the interest of the international community and are treated to peacekeeping, peacebuilding, statebuilding, and the whole raft of programming activities aimed at stabilization. Yet, something is clearly wrong with the international political and
economic architecture in terms of capacity and responses, as recently noted by numerous commentators from the United Nations (UN) system and beyond (including the Secretary-General and intellectual supporters of the evolving liberal peace system and its “just-war” foundations). If the apogee of mainstream peace thinking is the liberal peace system, then the post-Cold War era has seen several attempts to develop a related “right of intervention” to support that system, culminating in the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine of 2005.2
From the perspective of many rising countries, one would expect that the liberal peace system would open to challenges, and certainly to improvement. One might assume any right of intervention should have a global-social role in political, cultural, and probably economic terms. However, R2P has not managed to reconcile even a narrow version of human rights with sovereignty, in the eyes of many of the world’s states, which prefer the latter norm over the risk of intervention. After experiencing colonialism, two World Wars and the Cold War, and
ﬁnding themselves disadvantaged by global resource distribution, capital, and politics, it might be assumed that many states would adopt such a position in favor of enhanced social, cultural, and economic rights, as well as political and legal rights. Certainly, for a while and perhaps before the US “War on Terror,” many of these states, such as Brazil, appeared to be more or less in favor of working to create a just world order on the grounds of global and positive solidarity, whether based on economic relations or political cooperation. The question of whether a right of intervention is the answer to
addressing continuing conﬂict and human rights violations, and improving the international system is a complex and controversial question, and one for which it is hard to provide a deﬁnitive answer in political terms-although in ethical terms, related to the sanctity of human life and its condition, the picture is perhaps clearer. The problem has long been that the international architecture is mainly
initiated by hegemonic, geopolitical, and economic interests rather than humanitarian norms, ethics, and international law. Its inconsistency is glaringly obvious in historical and distributive terms, and yet R2P, once oﬀered as a solution, remains merely an academic and policy debate, rather than a concerted attempt to save these lives under threat today (say, in Syria, Iraq, or South Sudan). The danger of R2P’s dissolution into a legal principle that has become a dead letter, rarely upheld and only in distant courts long after the event, is obvious to all. One might say it is an example of what Pankaj Mishra has called “negative solidarity.”3 Perhaps it could have been so much stronger if it had built far broader global-to local-scale consent, aiming for social legitimacy as well as positive legality, and extended the concept of human security to stand up for subaltern and conﬂict-aﬀected rights consistently, regardless of with whose interests they did or did not coincide. In my view R2P’s reality has become a conservative and elite form
of solidarity, which looks unlikely to preserve the liberal peace architecture, let alone the minimalist neoliberal state. It might, however, just hold up neoliberal global governance for a time. On occasion, as in Libya, it may address direct violence, although much of the violence in the world today is more structural in nature. Although using a principled mechanism inconsistently to maintain an international order full of contradictions seems an improbable way to build a better world, it might be a hopeful, if marginal, sign if Northern and Southern states could at least agree in principle on the deeper norms behind R2P (good global citizenship, human rights, and increasing equality), if not on their implementation.