Responsibility to Protect-Orwellian for Endless War


“Naturally the common people don’t want war…That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along…”–Goering at the Nuremberg Trials

A recent article in the National Interest, The Deceptive Appeal of the Responsibility to Protect, raises interesting moral questions. Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a UN initiative established in 2005. It consists of a set of principles as follows:

A state has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing;

  1. The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility;
  2. If the state manifestly fails to protect its citizens from the four above mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.

This sounds reasonable as stated. No decent person thinks genocide or war crimes are acceptable. However, just principles unequally applied result in injustice. For example, it is wrong to steal. If a man robs a bank the law will intervene. If a bank robs a man through fraud, it is unlikely that the law will intervene.

Madeline Albright (Secretary of State under Bill Clinton) and Richard Williamson (envoy to the Sudan under George W. Bush) are pushing R2P.

Madeline Albright famously said, in an interview with Leslie Stahl that the deaths of 500,000 children Iraqi children due to US sanctions were “worth it.” George W. Bush’s intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan constitute the war crime of aggression, a crime with which Nazis were charged at Nuremberg.

Chief American Nuremberg prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson, explained:

“To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

So Albright’s and Williamson’s empathy for victims of state violence is highly questionable. If not empathy for victims, what would be their motivation for entering a foreign nation to “protect” citizens from their governments? Daddy Bush intervened in Iraq to protect Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, who had used poison gas on Kuwaitis. This is so hideous an act that almost everyone thought he must intervene. Yet Saddam Hussein used poison gas against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war and the US did not “protect,” and in fact, supplied him the gas, along with biological weapons. Why was R2P so unequally applied?

Let’s face it-foreign policy is decided strictly on the basis of national interest. You could argue that that is as it should be. All nations, we assume, act in their own interest. Moral reasoning for foreign policy is purely utilitarian. Will 500,000 children die? Hmmm. Will new opportunities for trade open up? Will strategic power be consolidated? Will it supply the US oil addiction? Then the children’s deaths are worth it.

Most people will say, “Wait a minute, let’s think about this, this sounds wrong.” That’s because most people don’t decide moral questions on a utilitarian basis. If they did, they would put non-producers “to sleep,” like old pets. They don’t do that because the non-producer is grandma or a disabled child and they love them. Someone loved the 500,000 Iraqi children, too. Because most people have hearts, foreign policy makers have to lie to them and use deceptive titles like “Responsibility to Protect” to pull off their purely utilitarian schemes.


  1. And people forget so easily. And they get confused and misremember things. And history gets smothered and buried under piles of newsprint. It’s all for oil and resources and it is all controlled by self-interest, not even the country’s interest. If it was for the interest of the country we’d be spending more money on investment in renewables and sustainable energy solutions (and thereby also doing something about climate change). It’s all so short term and self-centred.

    1. You are correct. The rulers rule and we know they aren’t necessarily people we voted for. But there is hope. We are talking. We can get info now faster than ever in human history-and share it. A corporation cannot be moral, nor can a government be moral. However, individuals in those organizations can be moral-or immoral. It still matters to us that they do right.

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