Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Responsibility to Control

The Libya War is raising the issue of the responsibility to protect. That is, the responsibility of the world community to intervene within a state when it attacks its own citizens or even fails to protect its own citizens from violence or even natural disasters:

The doctrine of “responsibility to protect” (R2P) holds that when a sovereign state fails to prevent atrocities, foreign governments may intervene to stop them. Human-rights advocates say it saves lives. Sceptics see it as too easily misused to be useful: a cover for imperialism, or even an incentive to kill (because even if a massacre is not looming, an unscrupulous warlord might be tempted to engineer one against his own people to spur outside support).

Previous uses of R2P have been solo ventures. In 2008 Russia used it to justify attacking Georgia, and France cited it after the cyclone in Myanmar, implying that humanitarian aid might have to be brought in by force if the regime persisted in stonewalling (it backed down). But before this year, no mission had been authorised by the UN Security Council that so explicitly cited the new principle.

One problem is that this is outside the norm of states controlling what goes on inside their own country. R2P can seem like a humanitarian idea, but Iraq could have been justified by R2P if it hadn't been justified by our national interests. And like it or not, it does run contrary to centuries of practice in our international system.

I think we'd be better off insisting on a doctrine that works within the existing system and which would allow us to deal with a number of problems that otherwise are protected by the system: R2C.

That is, "responsibility to control (R2C)." How many places in the world are in theory under the control of a sovereign member of the international system but is in practice outside of any national control and simply a haven for terrorists or criminals?

Under R2C, if you don't control your territory to prevent it from being used as a haven for terrorists, criminal gangs, or pirates, other countries gain the right to police that area. I called it the Lexington Rule:

One of the problems with dealing with non-state actors is that they have enough power to defy the state government that has the responsibility for policing that piece of territory. So when a country goes after the non-state actor exercising the power of a state to wage war, the country runs afoul of the Westphalian assumptions because the country is attacking the formal territory of some state government even if that government does not control the territory. The Hizbollah War is a case in point.

So what if we modify our rules of recognition? Let's split our recognition. We recognize a government that holds a UN seat and borrows money and is responsible for its actions, as we do now. Right now it is all or nothing. You are recognized or not and if you do you are given credit for controlling everything within the lines on the map indicating your country. The government has legal responsibility to control their territory, but in practice there is no way to compel them to do so and yet international law prevents others from trying to install some level of control--or at least to destroy threats gathering in those areas beyond government control.

But as part of this recognition, we also declare the boundaries of these recognized governments that reflect effective control and not just legal fictions based on lines on maps. For most countries, we'd use the formal boundaries. Germany controls their territory. But not all countries are in this situation.

Where a country's government does not or cannot control all their territory, we should declare areas "free of control" by a national government and therefore deprive the non-state actor from hiding behind the nominal legal government when they are attacked on their de facto territory that the non-state actor rules.

Not that the United Nations would ever sanction this idea. But I think R2C would do more to further world peace than R2P.