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China and the “Responsibility to Protect”: The Implications of the Libyan Intervention

  • Andrew GARWOOD-GOWERS (a1)
Abstract

The emerging principle of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) challenges China's traditional emphasis on non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other states and non-use of force. This article considers the impact of the 2011 Libyan intervention on Beijing's evolving relationship with R2P, and assesses its implications for the future development of the doctrine itself. It argues that China's decision to allow the passage of Security Council resolution 1973, which authorized force in Libya, was shaped by an unusual set of political and factual circumstances, and does not represent a significant softening of Chinese attitudes towards R2P. More broadly, controversy over the scope of NATO's military action in Libya has raised questions about R2P's legitimacy, which have contributed to a lack of timely international action in Syria. In the short term, this post-Libya backlash against R2P is likely to constrain the Security Council's ability to respond decisively in civilian protection situations.

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a.garwood-gowers@qut.edu.au
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Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, Australia. This article was finished in December 2011. Subsequent developments up to 27 March 2012 have, as far as possible, been included.

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1. International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), “The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty” (December 2001), online: ICISS 〈http://responsibilitytoprotect.org/ICISS%20Report.pdf〉 [ICISS].

2. See SC Res. 1973 (2011), UN Doc. S/RES/1973 (2011) [SC Res. 1973].

3. See e.g. BELLAMY Alex J. and WILLIAMS Paul, “The New Politics of Protection? Cote d'Ivoire, Libya and the Responsibility to Protect” (2011) 87 International Affairs 825 at 840; Ramesh THAKUR, “Libya: The First Stand or the Last Post for the Responsibility to Protect?” e-International Relations (13 March 2011), online: e-International Relations 〈http://www.e-ir.info/?p=7646〉; Andrew GARWOOD-GOWERS, “Libya and the International Community's ‘Responsibility to Protect’” On Line Opinion (25 February 2011), online: On Line Opinion 〈http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=11676〉.

4. Thomas G. WEISS, “RtoP Alive and Well after Libya” (2011) 25 Ethics and International Affairs 1 at 1.

5. See Part V of this article for discussion of the Chinese and Russian vetoes of two draft Security Council resolutions relating to Syria on 4 October 2011 and 4 February 2012.

6. See Charter of the United Nations, 26 June 1945, 1 U.N.T.S. XVI (entered into force 24 October 1945) [UN Charter]. The principle of non-intervention is contained in art. 2(7) and the prohibition on the use of force is in art. 2(4).

7. For a discussion of the evolution of China's position on R2P, see Part II of this article.

8. THAKUR Ramesh, The United Nations, Peace and Security: From Collective Security to the Responsibility to Protect (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) at 251.

9. ICISS, supra note 1 at xi.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid., at xii.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., at xiii.

14. 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, GA Res. 60/1, UN Doc. A/RES/60/1 (2005), at paras. 138 and 139 [World Summit Outcome Document]; Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc. A/63/677 (2009).

15. For discussion of the legal definitions of the four crimes, see SCHEFFER David, “Atrocity Crimes Framing the Responsibility to Protect” (2009) 40 Case Western Journal of International Law 111.

16. World Summit Outcome Document, supra note 14, at para. 139.

17. See, for example, BELLAMY Alex J. and REIKE Ruben, “The Responsibility to Protect and International Law” (2010) 2 Global Responsibility to Protect 267; STAHN Carsten, “Responsibility to Protect: Political Rhetoric or Emerging Legal Norm?” (2007) 101 American Journal of International Law 99. Note that Orford argues that R2P “should be understood as normative in the former sense of providing legal authorisation for certain kinds of activities”. However, this is a claim that R2P confers legal powers, rather than an assertion that it imposes legal duties. See ORFORD Anne, “From Promise to Practice? The Legal Significance of the Responsibility to Protect Concept” (2011) 3 Global Responsibility to Protect 400 at 421.

18. For example, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 9 December 1948, GA Res. 260 (III) A, UN Doc. A/810 (1948) (entered into force 12 January 1951) has been interpreted by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as imposing a legal duty on a state to take peaceful measures to prevent genocide in circumstances where that state has relevant information and capacity to take such steps. See Case Concerning Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro), Judgment of 26 February 2007, [2007] I.C.J. Rep. 43.

19. UN Charter, supra note 6, Chapter VII.

20. Bellamy and Reike, supra note 17 at 284−285.

21. In ICISS Roundtable discussions in June 2001, China stated that “[i]t is clear that certain Western powers have played with noble principles to serve their own hegemonic interests”. See International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), “The Responsibility to Protect: Research, Bibliography, Background - Supplementary Volume to the Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty” (December 2001), online: International Development Research Centre 〈http://web.idrc.ca/openebooks/963-1/〉, at 392 [ICISS Supplement].

22. On R2P's preventive dimension, see Andrew GARWOOD-GOWERS, “Enhancing Protection of Civilians through Responsibility to Protect Preventive Action” in Angus FRANCIS, Vesselin POPOVSKI, and Charles SAMPFORD, eds., The Norms of Protection: The Responsibility to Protect and the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, forthcoming).

23. World Summit Outcome Document, supra note 14, at para. 139. For discussion of this shift along the normative continuum, see PRANTL Jochen and NAKANO Ryoko, “Global Norm Diffusion in East Asia: How China and Japan Implement the Responsibility to Protect” (2011) 25 International Relations 204 at 209.

24. WEISS Thomas G., “R2P after 9/11 and the World Summit” (2006) 24 Wisconsin International Law Journal 741 at 750.

25. SC Res. 1674, UN Doc. S/RES/1674 (2006) [SC Res. 1674].

26. SC Res. 1706, UN Doc. S/RES/1706 (2006) [SC Res. 1706].

27. SC Res. 1894, UN Doc. S/RES/1894 (2009).

28. On the Kenyan situation, see Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, “The Responsibility to Protect and Kenya: Past Successes and Current Challenges” (13 August 2010), online: Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 〈http://globalr2p.org/〉.

29. See UN Doc. A/63/PV.97 (2009); UN Doc. A/63/PV.98 (2009); UN Doc. A/63/PV.99 (2009); UN Doc. A/63/PV.100 (2009); UN Doc. A/63/PV.101 (2009).

30. On criticism of the Secretary-General's diplomatic strategy, see WELSH Jennifer, “Civilian Protection in Libya: Putting Coercion and Controversy Back into RtoP” (2011) 25 Ethics and International Affairs 1 at 7.

31. FOOT Rosemary, “The Responsibility to Protect and its Evolution: Beijing's Influence on Norm Creation in Humanitarian Areas” (2011) 6 St Antony's International Review 47 at 59.

32. For detailed discussion, see Zhongying PANG, “China's Non-Intervention Question” (2009) 1 Global Responsibility to Protect 237; DAVIS Jonathan E., “From Ideology to Pragmatism: China's Position on Humanitarian Intervention in the Post-Cold War Era” (2011) 44 Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 217 at 224−227.

33. These two principles form part of China's “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence”, which are enshrined in the preamble to the Chinese Constitution. See Constitution of the People's Republic of China, 4 December 1982, adopted by the National People's Congress, online: The National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China 〈http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Constitution/node_2825.htm〉.

34. ICISS, supra note 1, at 8.

35. Welsh notes that the less controversial aspects of prevention and state assistance also entail intrusion on state sovereignty, albeit in a less dramatic form than military intervention; see Welsh, supra note 30 at 7.

36. ICISS Supplement, supra note 21, at 392.

37. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, “Position Paper of the People's Republic of China on the United Nations Reforms” (7 June 2005), online: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China 〈http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/zxxx/t199318.htm〉.

38. Paragraph 139 of the World Summit Outcome Document, supra note 14 refers to “collective action … through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII”.

39. Prantl and Nakano, supra note 23 at 214.

40. SC Res. 1674, supra note 25.

41. World Summit Outcome Document, supra note 14.

42. Prantl and Nakano, supra note 23 at 213.

43. TEITT Sarah, “The Responsibility to Protect and China's Peacekeeping Policy” (2011) 18 International Peacekeeping 298 at 304.

44. SC Res. 1706, supra note 26.

45. See UN Doc. S/PV.5619 (2007) on Myanmar; UN Doc. S/PV.5933 (2008) on Zimbabwe.

46. Teitt, supra note 43 at 309.

47. Yun SUN, “China's Acquiescence on UNSCR 1973 - No Big Deal” International Relations and Security Network (ISN), online: International Relations and Security Network 〈http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Current-Affairs/ISN-Insights/Detail?lng=en&id=128200&contextid734=128200&contextid735=128197&tabid=128197〉.

48. Foot, supra note 31 at 60.

49. Dan GRIFFITHS, “China's Balancing Act Over Darfur” BBC News (17 May 2007), online: BBC News 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6665983.stm〉.

50. WU Chengqui, “Sovereignty, Human Rights and Responsibility: Changes in China's Response to International Humanitarian Crises” (2010) 15 Journal of Chinese Political Science 71 at 92.

51. Prantl and Nakano, supra note 23 at 213−214.

52. Pang, supra note 32 at 246. This was recently illustrated by China's massive evacuation of 32,000 of its citizens from Libya as the crisis unfolded.

53. See generally FULLILOVE Michael, “China and the United Nations: The Stakeholder Spectrum” (2011) 34 The Washington Quarterly 63.

54. For more on China and peacekeeping, see HUANG Chin-Hao, “Principles and Praxis of China's Peacekeeping” (2011) 18 International Peacekeeping 257; RICHARDSON Courtney, “A Responsible Power? China and the UN Peacekeeping Regime” (2011) 18 International Peacekeeping 286; CHEN Jing, “Explaining the Change in China's Attitude Toward UN Peacekeeping: A Norm Change Perspective” (2009) 18 Journal of Contemporary China 157.

55. For a detailed account of events leading up to NATO's military intervention in Libya, see WILLIAMS Paul D., “Briefing: The Road to Humanitarian War in Libya” (2011) 3 Global Responsibility to Protect 248.

56. Security Council Press Statement on Libya, UN Doc. SC/10180 (2011) [Security Council Press Statement on Libya].

57. UN Charter, supra note 6, Chapter VII.

58. SC Res. 1970, UN Doc. S/RES/1970 (2011) [SC Res. 1970].

59. UN Doc. S/PV.6498 (2011) [UN Doc. 6498].

60. SC Res. 1973, supra note 2.

61. Ibid.

62. Welsh, supra note 30 at 1.

63. Separate questions over the legality of NATO's use of force arose later in relation to the scope of the mandate in resolution 1973 (SC Res. 1973, supra note 2). See PAYANDEH Mehrdad, “The United Nations, Military Intervention, and Regime Change in Libya” (2012) 52 Virginia Journal of International Law 355; Donald ROTHWELL, “Responsibility to Protect, Not Reason to Invade” The Drum Opinion (21 April 2011), online: The Drum Opinion 〈www.abc.net.au/unleashed/97706.html〉.

64. The term “perfect storm” in relation to the Libyan intervention was used in Tim DUNNE and Jess GIFKINS, “Libya and R2P: Norm Consolidation or Perfect Storm?” The Interpreter (14 April 2011), online: The Interpreter 〈http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2011/04/14/Libya-R2P-Norm-consolidation-or-perfect-storm.aspx〉. See also Tim DUNNE and Jess GIFKINS, “Libya and R2P: A Perfect Storm?” The Interpreter (15 April 2011), online: The Interpreter 〈http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2011/04/15/Libya-R2PA-perfect-storm-.aspx〉.

65. Bellamy and Williams, supra note 3 at 838−839.

66. “Defiant Gaddafi Issues Chilling Call” Australian Broadcasting Corporation (23 February 2011), online: Australian Broadcasting Corporation 〈http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2011/s3146582.htm〉.

67. “Libyan Ambassador Jolts UN into Action” The Age (26 February 2011), online: The Age 〈http://www.theage.com.au/world/libyan-ambassador-jolts-un-into-action-20110226-1b92k.html〉.

68. For a detailed account of the positions taken by regional organizations and states, see Bellamy and Williams, supra note 3 at 838−846.

69. Now renamed Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

70. See Letter Dated 14 March 2011 from the Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States to the United Nations Addressed to the President of the Security Council, UN Doc. S/2011/137 (2011).

71. Bellamy and Williams, supra note 3 at 841.

72. SC Res. 1973, supra note 2.

73. BRIC refers to Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

74. Bellamy and Williams, supra note 3 at 844.

75. SC Res. 1970, supra note 58; SC Res. 1973, supra note 2.

76. Security Council Press Statement on Libya, supra note 56.

77. Welsh, supra note 30 at 1.

78. SC Res. 1970, supra note 58.

79. SC Res. 1973, supra note 2.

80. UN Doc. 6498, supra note 59, at 10.

81. Ibid.

82. Ibid.

83. Bellamy and Williams, supra note 3 at 847.

84. UN Doc. 6498, supra note 59, at 10.

85. Simon TISDALL, “The Consensus on Intervention in Libya Has Shattered” The Guardian (23 March 2011).

86. See Payandeh, supra note 63 at 29−36; SC Res. 1973, supra note 2.

87. UN Doc. S/PV.6528 (2011), at 10 [UN Doc. 6528].

88. UN Doc. S/PV.6531 (2011), at 20 [UN Doc. 6531].

89. UN Doc. 6528, supra note 87, at 10.

90. UN Doc. 6531, supra note 88, at 21.

91. Ibid.

92. Ibid.

93. SC Res. 1973, supra note 2.

94. At the time of finalizing this article, the Assad government had indicated that it would accept a six-point peace plan formulated by Joint Special Envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League, Kofi Annan; see Statement by the President of the Security Council, UN Doc. S/PRST/2012/6 (2012). However, doubts remain over whether the initiative will actually be implemented or prove effective in resolving the crisis; see Ian BLACK, “Syria's Nod to UN Peace Plan Greeted with Scepticism” The Guardian (27 March 2012), online: The Guardian 〈http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/27/syria-nod-un-peace-plan-scepticism〉.

95. Mark KERSTEN, “No Surprise: Why Libya but Not Syria” Opinio Juris (5 October 2011), online: Opinio Juris 〈http://opiniojuris.org/2011/10/05/no-surprise-why-libya-but-not-syria/〉.

96. See UN Doc. S/PV.6627 (2011) [UN Doc. 6627]. There were nine votes in favour (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, France, Gabon, Germany, Nigeria, Portugal, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America), two against (China and Russia), and four abstentions (Brazil, India, Lebanon, and South Africa).

97. See France, Germany, Portugal and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: Draft Resolution, UN Doc. S/2011/612 (2011) [UN Doc. 612].

98. Ibid.

99. UN Doc. 6627, supra note 96, at 5.

100. Ibid., at 4.

101. Ibid.

102. Bahrain, Colombia, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and United States of America: Draft Resolution, UN Doc. S/2012/77 (2012).

103. Ibid., at 1.

104. See UN Doc. S/PV/6711 (2012) [UN Doc. 6711]. Note also that on 21 February 2012, a similarly worded resolution on Syria was adopted by the UN General Assembly; see The Situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, GA Res. 66/253, UN Doc. A/RES/66/253 (2012).

105. UN Doc. 6711, at 9.

106. Quoted in “China Defends Syria Veto in People's Daily Article” The Guardian (6 February 2012).

107. UN Doc. 6627, supra note 96, at 9.

108. Ibid., at 3.

109. Ibid., at 7.

110. UN Doc. 6711, supra note 104.

111. Walter Russell MEAD, “The Wilsonian World Order Has Once Again Been Postponed” The American Interest (5 October 2011), online: The American Interest 〈http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/10/05/the-wilsonian-world-order-has-once-again-been-postponed/〉.

112. See UN Doc. 612, supra note 97.

113. I am grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers for suggesting this alternative view of China's approach to R2P in the Syria situation.

114. This statement was made by the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, in an opinion piece in The Guardian newspaper; see Liu XIAOMING, “China Believes Syria Needs a Peaceful Solution” The Guardian (9 February 2012), online: The Guardian 〈http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/09/china-syria-veto-un-resolution〉.

115. Letter Dated 9 November 2011 from the Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations Addressed to the Secretary-General - Responsibility While Protecting: Elements for the Development and Promotion of a Concept, UN Doc. A/66/551-S/2011/701 (2011), at para. 10.

116. Phillipe BOLOPION, “After Libya, the Question: To Protect or Depose?” Los Angeles Times (25 August 2011), online: Los Angeles Times 〈http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/25/opinion/la-oe-bolopion-libya-responsibility-t20110825〉.

117. Bellamy and Williams, supra note 3 at 847−848.

118. Kevin BOREHAM, “Libya and the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ Doctrine” On Line Opinion (26 August 2011), online: On Line Opinion 〈http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=12522〉.

119. Bellamy and Williams, supra note 3 at 849.

120. HEHIR Aidan, “The Responsibility to Protect in International Political Discourse: Encouraging Statement of Intent or Illusory Platitudes” (2011) 15 International Journal of Human Rights 1331 at 1343.

121. See ICISS, supra note 1 at xii; A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the Secretary-General's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, UN Doc. A/59/565 (2004), at 57−8, para. 207.

122. On proposals to enhance Security Council decision-making in R2P situations, see BLATTER Ariela and WILLIAMS Paul D., “The Responsibility Not to Veto” (2011) 3 Global Responsibility to Protect 301; LEVINE Daniel H., “Some Concerns About ‘The Responsibility Not to Veto’” (2011) 3 Global Responsibility to Protect 323.

123. Bellamy and Williams, supra note 3 at 847.

124. SC Res. 1973, supra note 2.

125. Ibid.

* Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, Australia. This article was finished in December 2011. Subsequent developments up to 27 March 2012 have, as far as possible, been included.

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