This discussion leads to Slaughter’s second sentence of that paragraph: “Standing up for that principle will result in a world that will be more stable, prosperous and consistent with universal values – the values Americans know as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” There are two problems with this statement. First is that standing up for the principle of sovereignty as responsibility means that those with more liberal interpretations of responsibility are in conflict with those who have more archaic (by Western standards) views on responsibility or view each contentious situation through the lens of their own self-interest beyond the responsibility issues at hand. This conflict can be seen in any location where sovereigns have abjured or violated their responsibilities: Syria, China, Pakistan, Burma, Mali, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, just to name a few. Standing up for the principle of responsibility means standing against other powers who view responsibility differently. This is not a path to stability or prosperity, it is a path to political, economic, or military conflict. Syria is the cause du jour, but how many violations of the American sense of responsibility do we ignore out of our own interests? Some of the places I mentioned are allies or partners of ours because of some other strategic interest. Universally standing for this principle may be the right thing to do morally, but disabuse yourself of the notion that it leads to more stability or that liberal-minded nations even have the power to affect change.
The last paragraph of Slaughter’s op-ed is remarkable, but for different reasons than Fritz gives here. When governments cross the line and abuse their sovereignty, she says “the world will act–with force if necessary and with the approval only of a regional organization and a majority of the members of the U.N. Security Council [bold mine-DL].” How she squares this with her insistence that there must be some sort of international intervention in Syria is not clear. There is no approval for such a thing from a regional organization, and even if Russia and China would not exercise their vetoes there doesn’t appear to be a majority on the Security Council for authorizing the use of force. By the standards of the “responsibility to protect,” that should be the end of the discussion of military options. To their credit, the architects of “responsibility to protect” seem to have understood that pushing for military action in the absence of international consensus weakened rather than enforced the norm in question, which is why they placed such importance on right authority in the criteria they defined.
Fritz’s observation on stability is a good one. Slaughter was forced into making her untenable claim because she was responding to the charge that humanitarian intervention destabilizes the international order. Of course, such interventions do tend to destabilize the international order, and the recent military intervention in Libya justified primarily in the name of R2P has contributed significantly to the destabilization of neighboring countries. R2P may be an “emerging norm,” but that is another way of saying that it is an innovation whose implications many states may not have fully understood when they endorsed it. Because it is an innovation, it could threaten to introduce more instability into international relations than there has been in the recent past. Respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity could become increasingly compromised. Indeed, Slaughter’s call for the U.S. to “stand up” for this principle takes for granted that other states’ sovereignty should be violated more frequently than it has been. That is not an unintended consequence of what Slaughter is proposing–that is the goal. Slaughter didn’t rebut Kissinger’s charge so much as she confirmed his worst fears.