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May 31, 2008

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Responsibility to Protect

Good, short piece by David Rieff in the NYT about the urge to intervene — and the fact that we never actually do.

Any other good references/readings on this out there?

Update: Good pointers from David in the comments. Also, “criminal neglect.”

Posted May 31, 2008 at 7:26 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted


I'm not sure what sort of readings you're looking for. As you say, Rieff's piece is pretty good.

The two things that really caught my eye while the whole "we should invade Burma" this was swirling were this excellent comprehensive post by John Boonstra at UN Dispatch about all the often misinformed prognostication about the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) doctrine and this sagacious but brief paragraph from Matt Yglesias:

The thing you have to understand about the surge of pundits wanting to invade Burma is that it’s the very absurdity of the idea that makes it such an appealing op-ed thesis. It’s self-righteousness without responsibility. Advocate an invasion of a country you don’t know anything about and have it happen and, well, all kinds of things might go awry in a way that’s embarrassing. But since everyone knows there’s not going to be an invasion of Burma, you can say there ought to be one and then make up a nice story about how well it hypothetically went. You can even show your thoughtful seriousness about matters of war and peace by chalking up the tragic failure to invade as yet another disastrous consequence of the war in Iraq.

And finally, though I hate to link to myself, this post may--depending on what exactly it is you're seeking--point you to more I've liked on the topic you're looking for. But as I said, these two are foremost in my mind.

That's *exactly* the kind of stuff I was looking for, David. Thanks for the thoughtful pointers.

This is just a disjointed thought, but I wonder if it's easier to generate both a sense of responsibility to intervene in a crisis and actual, concrete momentum to do so exactly when there's already a fairly long-standing non-crisis sense of responsibility to begin with. Hence the Berlin Airlift, the Marshall Plan, etc.

These also advanced strategic political and material interests, to be sure, but I think it was easier to envision "saving" Europe once the U.S. felt that it had done so once already (and bore some responsibility for its destruction too). Likewise, the late-1990s intervention in the Balkans, which followed the mid-1990s activity there.

Burma's a strange case, because a chunk of the public already feels drawn to the country and a sense of antipathy towards the political/military leadership because of the earlier political rumblings, which the natural disaster only builds upon. But nobody's actually been involved there, been really responsible; so there's no real momentum to build on to act in a crisis.

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