Right-wing commentators are calling Justin Trudeau’s decision to withdraw fighter jets from Syria-Iraq “un Liberal” and unfortunately they’re right.
But, by citing the Liberal sponsored Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to justify Canadian participation in the US-led bombing, these pundits are revealing the essence of this “humanitarian imperialist” doctrine.
Last week senior Maclean’s writer Michael Petrou called on Trudeau to rethink his commitment to stop Canadian bombing raids, writing “reasons for confronting Islamic State with force are decidedly Liberal. Your party pioneered the notion of ‘responsibility to protect’.” For his part, National Post columnist Matt Gurney bemoaned how “the Liberal Party of Canada once championed, at least with words, the so-called Responsibility to Protect doctrine.”
Ignored by the outgoing Conservative government, R2P was a showpiece of previous Liberal Party governments’ foreign-policy. In September 2000 Canada launched the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which presented its final report, The Responsibility to Protect, to the UN in December 2001. At the organization’s 2005 World Summit, Canada advocated that world leaders endorse the new doctrine. It asserts that where gross human rights abuses are occurring, it is the duty of the international community to intervene, over and above considerations of state sovereignty. The doctrine asserts that “the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.”
But who gets to decide when “gross human rights abuses” are occurring? Lesotho? Uruguay? Or the USA?
The truth is, human rights rhetoric aside, R2P is an effort to redefine international law to better serve the major powers. While the less sophisticated neoconservatives simply call for a more aggressive military posture, the more liberal supporters of imperialism prefer a high-minded ideological mask to accomplish the same end. Those citing R2P to pressure Trudeau to continue bombing Iraq-Syria are demonstrating an acute, but cynical, understanding of the doctrine.
R2P was invoked to justify the 2011 NATO war in Libya and 2004 overthrow of Haiti’s elected government. Both proved highly destructive to those “protected”.
As NATO’s bombing of Libya began a principal author of the R2P report, Ramesh Thakur, boasted that “R2P is coming closer to being solidified as an actionable norm.” Similarly, at the end of the war former Liberal Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and Canadian Ambassador to the UN Allan Rock wrote: “In a fortuitous coincidence, last week’s liberation of Libya occurred exactly a decade after the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle was proposed by the Canadian-initiated International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS).”
But don’t expect R2P proponents to discuss Libya today. “Since Col Gaddafi’s death in Sirte in October 2011,” the BBC reported in August, “Libya has descended into chaos, with various militias fighting for power.” ISIS has taken control of parts of the country while a government in Tripoli and another in Benghazi claim national authority. The foreign intervention delivered a terrible blow to Libya and has exacerbated conflicts in the region.
Canadian officials also cited R2P to justify cutting off assistance to Haiti’s elected government and then intervening militarily in the country in February 2004. In discussing the January 2003 Ottawa Initiative on Haiti, where high level US, Canadian and French officials discussed overthrowing elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Liberal Secretary of State for Latin America and Minister for La Francophonie Dennis Paradis explained that “there was onethematic that went under the whole meeting… The responsibility to protect.” Similarly, in a highly censored February 11, 2004 cable from the embassy in Port-au-Prince to Foreign Affairs, Canadian ambassador Kenneth Cook explained that “President Aristide is clearly a serious aggravating factor in the current crisis” and that there is a need to “consider the options including whether a case can be made for the duty [responsibility] to protect.”
Thousands of Haitians were killed in the violence unleashed by the coup and the country remains under UN military occupation.
It’s telling that neo-conservative supporters of the discredited Harper government are now the ones invoking R2P.
Will Trudeau discard the doctrine or quickly reveal himself as just another liberal imperialist?