Small Wars Journal

R2P is the New COIN?

Tue, 09/20/2011 - 9:16am

R2P is the New COIN by Mark Safranski at Zenpundit. Bluf:

The weirdly astrategic NATO campaign in Libya intervening on the side of ill-defined rebels against the tyrannical rule of Libyan strongman Colonel Moammar Gaddafi brought to general public attention the idea of “Responsibility to Protect” as a putative doctrine for US foreign policy and an alleged aspect of international law. The most vocal public face of R2P, an idea that has floated among liberal internationalist IL academics and NGO activists since the 90’s, was Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Policy Planning Director of the US State Department and an advisor to the Obama administration. Slaughter, writing in The Atlantic, was a passionate advocate of R2P as a “redefinition of sovereignty“ and debated her position and underlying IR theory assumptions with critics such as Dan Drezner, Joshua Foust, and Dan Trombly.


What I believe does not matter.

What does matter is a better understanding of U.S. policy, where it is taking us and others, and why.

Herein, I am suggesting that there seems to be a relationship -- an underlying theme and/or direction re: U.S. policy -- that such things as CNAS, the character of our recent interventions and R2P may be helping to reveal/point toward.

This is the drive to have, for example, international law (R2P) sanction intervention so as to allow us to go in and deal with the so-called "root causes" of various problems (terrorism, insurgency, genocide, etc.).

These "root causes" we seem to lump under the category of "lack of modernity" (defined as a lack of such things as a strong central government, a market-democracy and full integration into the global economy).

Why do I say this? Because the "solutions" we advocate and the manner in which we have intervened, these seem to be designed -- not so much to defeat the enemy per se -- but rather to address the "root causes" that we believe gave rise to these problems in the first place, to wit: a "lack of modernity."

Likewise, in our preventive/proactive efforts we see similar measures being undertaken ("building partner [modernity] capacity") for similar reasons (to fix the underlying root causes [lack of modernity] of these and other problems).

Is all this "logical" and have I explained it well enough. I can't say. But I would suggest that there is enough "smoke" here to cause us to look more closely to see if there is a related and corresponding "fire."

So, to get to the heart of what R2P is really all about, let us ask what we would actually do if we DID routinely go in and intervene re: genocide, ethnic cleansing, etc.

a. Would we just go in, kick a few butts and then leave things pretty much as they were? (In and out - no big deal -- but nothing really gets fixed.)

b. Or would the purpose of our intervention be to address the "root causes" of these problems; so that we might not have to, again and again, go back into these locales for these exact same unresolved reasons? (Thus, "in and stay" -- maybe up to your elbows and for a pretty good while -- which is a very big deal indeed.)

Bill C.

Wed, 09/28/2011 - 8:14am

In reply to by Bill M.

Inadvertently put my reply at the top of this page last night.

Added thought:

As RCJ always admonishes me, to wit: to look past the "sizzle" and look more to the "steak:" What makes these transformation/incorporation (modernization) efforts by such things as R2P -- now to be sanctioned by international law -- worth our while?

Answer: Modernized states and societies are thought to present the United States and the world at-large with fewer problems and cause them, instead, to offer up greater utility/usefulness. However, there is much more at stake here than simply problems and utility, to wit: there is the element of "control."

Transition to modernity is thought to render greater control over these states and societies, in that such a transformation causes these countries and their populations to become, much as our nation and its population are, near totally dependent on the rules and dictates of the market, the global economy and other international norms.

Thus, "their" understanding -- and "ours" -- that "modernity" comes at a significant cost and loss, to wit: a loss of uniqueness, a loss of independence, a loss of exclusiveness and, ultimately, a certain loss of control.

Bill M.

Mon, 09/26/2011 - 11:57pm

In reply to by Bill C.

I think the logic of your argument is starting to fray. I also realize you are only stating what you think U.S. policy is versus what you may believe, so it might be fairer to say the ideas presented Zen's post have no supporting logic.

Bill C.

Mon, 09/26/2011 - 12:07pm

In reply to by Bill M.

An attempt:

Who opposes modernization? Those who do not wish to lose their present way of life and/or those who do not want to adopt our way of life in its place. Herein, certain states and societies who do not wish to see their country "openned up" and "made more accessable" to foreign ideas, foreign enterprises and the vast numbers of foreign people who would be allowed, via modernization, to come into the subject countries to pursue their foreign ideas and enterprises. (To wit: A loss of control?)

Clarify what modernization is: Here goes: Modernization is, from the perspective of the United States, making a state and society better organized, oriented and configured so that these might optimally provide for the wants, needs and desires of the subject population, the American people and the world at-large. Transitioning the state and society toward a toward a market-democracy and full integration into the global economy is thought to meet this "modernization" requirement.

Self-determination: Would we logically stand with a government that is opposed by its people? I believe that we have in the past and would again -- without hesitation -- if the government was pursuing our interests (modernity, per se) and the people stood in the way. Lack of modernity, from our perspective, breeds insurgency, genocide, terrorism, and other ills that compromise the well-being of these states and societies themselves and that of the rest of the world. Thus, self-determination is no longer (if it ever was) the most important consideration; indeed, it can be seen as a threat. This threat, per se, (via such concepts as R2M) allows us to breach sovereignty and get the ball rolling in the proper "modernization" direction; as is required.

What state opposes modernization? Certainly the governments of N. Korea and Iran. But also, from our perspective, any government and/or population that is not moving out smartly to adapt their state and society such that it might better provide for (from our perspective) the wants, needs and desires of their population, the United States and those of the modern world.

Trade sanctions against other countries hindering/compromising their modernization: Such countries were not transitioning quickly enough toward market-democracy?

Bill M.

Sun, 09/25/2011 - 11:14pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Who opposes modernization other than Al Qaeda and the Tea Party? Although half joking, I think it is important to clarify what modernization is before we can determine who opposes it, and if that opposition is an issue or not for the U.S. as it relates to our national security. Maybe an argument can be made that China and S. Korea are modernizing much quicker than the U.S.? And while to the casual observer it may look like Westernization, it isn't, they have very retained their Asian culture. Japan in many ways is more modern when it comes to technology than the U.S., as is Germany and other nations.

If you're referring to modern in the sense of political models, it would be hubristric of us to claim we have the best model, especially since we're clearly in a period of decline that our system is facilitating. Only in a system like ours would certain canidates even be considered for President that most of us wouldn't even want teaching our kids history in school.

Regarding your first point, last time I checked American values centered around the right of self-determination, so would we logically stand with a government that is opposed by its people?

Regarding your second point, beyond North Korea and maybe Iran's Mullahs, what State opposes modernization? The Cold War is over, although we act as though we're still fighting it.

Here's one for you, the U.S. as actually opposed modernization when it implemented trade sanctions against numerous countries. Iraq "was" one of the most modern countries in the Middle East.

I think the enemy you're referrng to (beyond AQ) that opposing modernization is a figment of our collective imagination. The issues that drive conflict are more basic.

Bill C.

Sun, 09/25/2011 - 10:48pm

In reply to by Bill M.

"Why can't we promote our values and help modernize the world without using the military?"

I think for two reasons:

a. Because to us -- and/or to our "enemies" -- the concept of "modernization" is synonymous with "Westernization" and

b. Because the "enemy" (the substantial portion of the population that is opposed to modernization/Westernization of their state and society) gets a vote (one way or another).

Thus, in the drive (indigenous and/or foreign) to modernize/Westernize the rest of the world, the purpose of and need for both "their" military and intelligence forces -- and "ours" -- is:

(1) To stand/help others to stand against those members of the subject population who would actively oppose this modernization/Westernization initiative and

(2) To stand/help others to stand against those outside states and societies who would, due to similar convictions (oppose modernization/Westernization), actively work to support their fellow dissenters.

Herein, TIME, in the context offered here, may also not be on our side as, once again, the "enemy" may have a significant say in choosing when, where and how the conflict(s) shaped by current and future modernization/Westernation initiatives will take place.

Bill M.

Thu, 09/22/2011 - 1:46am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C.

David hit the nail on the head when he mentioned TIME gets in the way and yells at us to return to our home bases after months or years of failure to achieve our ideas. Many of us criticized the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia after the battle of Mogadishu, but in hindsight maybe that was a courageous and correct decision? What if we stayed? What would we have accomplished? At what cost? How long would it have lasted?

I do think there will be times when it is in our interests (even if it is just morally the right thing to do in extreme cases) to conduct a R2P operation, and IF we set limited and achievable objectives then the costs may be acceptable compared to what we're attempting to accomplish in Afghanistan. However, plans never seem to unfold as their intended and other factors always emerge that drive national level policy changes and then no surprise we find ourselves in another quagmire with no good way forward and no good way out.

I suggest that if our policy is really R2M as you suggest, then there are other ways to achieve that over time without military intervention. That means we don't rely on isolating countries, we don't close our borders and make it harder for their citizens to get visas to go to our schools, and we don't prohibit our businesses from investing there, and most of all we don't push for economic sanctions which overtime stagnate a country's forward march into the modern world. The sanctions wrecked Iraq's economy, but they didn't weaken Saddam. If the modern world is presented in a way that is seen as beneficial to a nation we hope to help, then over time they'll express a williness to join and request help to do so (primarily financial). Instead of tilting against windmills, we'll become the wind that turns the blades.

We need to take a hard look at R2P and CNAS global COIN proposals and determine if they truly are in line with our values of self-determination. If not, are we at risk of becoming a new colonial like power that everyone hates?

Why can't we promote our values and help modernize the world without using the military? Are we really that inept?

I believe that overall goal of R2P is to address and fix the underlying problem (outdated/obsolete political, economic and social systems in outlier states and societies) that we believe is the ultimate cause of all these difficulties (insurgencies, terrorism, genocide, etc.).

Failure to address this underlying problem (by expeditiously transitioning one's state and society toward market-democracy and full integration into the global economy) we have declared is "dereliction of duty;" which allows us to breach sovereignty and intervene to help you do your job (we may have to "hire and fire" in this regard) or do your job for you.

Why? Because failure to do this (expeditiously transition one's state and society toward market-democracy and full integration into the global economy), we believe, continues to place your population -- and ours -- in peril.

Thus, R2P, I would suggest, can more easily be viewed and understood as R2M (responsibilty to modernize); this duty and responsibility extending to -- not just these local governors and governments -- but, likewise, to we "leaders of the world" as well.


Wed, 09/21/2011 - 5:21am

I am unconvinced that this concept 'R2P' is fit for purpose, partly as Western intervention is now profoundly unpopular, it is invariably expensive and exposes those who follow it to a high risk of failure.

For a moment let us go back in history. Would the 'R2P' advocates regard apartheid era South Africa and associated states (the Portuguese colonies, SW Africa and Rhodesia) as places to intervene? Move forward a few years, Rwanda and Somalia?

Have the various interventions in DR Congo met the 'R2P' objectives? (Note how often African examples appear).

What do we in the "caring" West do when another less obvious candidate for legitimacy cites 'R2P' and intervenes?

As SWC has regularly observed we can break a nation state - with military force; we struggle to then follow through, partly as non-military support is lacking and that terribly inconvenient factor TIME comes along, which gets louder saying "time to go folks".

Outstanding, another tsunami of ideological stupidity coming our way. This time we at least have forewarning its coming, and we're also reminded of how seriously bad this could be by comparing it to CNAS. You can find more interesting thoughts from Ms. Slaughter by doing a simple Google search. Sadly she reminds me of Paul Wolfowitz, so sure of herself, and it won't be until thousands die pursuing this idea that she'll casually admit, "oh, we miscalculated."

We need a new think tank in D.C. manned by Veterans with common sense pushing for a pragmatic foreign policy that reflects American values and protects our interests.

There is no "R2P." We humans are tribal; the way it's worked out over the centuries is that we focus most directly on our own tribe and often actually find it necessary to kill the other tribe in order to maximize the survival chances of our own tribe. That's what we do. Dr. Slaughter is clearly not a historian, nor is she an anthropologist. She is, however, what's termed in the vernacular, a "bleeding heart." Yes, all us with some sense of empathy for our fellow man really wish that all peoples could live together in harmony and that rulers would always be just. This is the "kumbaya" theory of political science. But it doesn't work.

Has Dr. Slaughter ever donned a uniform and actually roamed around in these marvelous places she loves so much, particularly with people shooting at her? What's pretty interesting about a lot of these places—besides that little thing about being shot at—is how many of the wealthy and politically connected young people don't actually ever, you know, have to worry about being shot at. I remember that from Vietnam. Go to Saigon, almost get run over by young dudes riding motor bikes. Saigon cowboys, we called 'em. They weren't in the military, but their nation was at way. Why was this? They were connected: only poor, unconnected kids served with their American allies. Wouldn't it be nice if those cowboys had gone to reeducation camps? But, nah, I'm sure they made out. They were survivors. Those countries Dr. Slaughter says we have a responsibility to protect are full of cowboys.

What Dr. Slaughter is really saying is that Americans have a responsibility to die, yes, DIE, in countries where the principal activity for politically connected military aged people is dodging military service and enriching themselves through graft and corruption. Isn't that what COIN really is? Doing the job that the local boys won't do? Americans working to make the locals' societies better without the locals showing up to help?

"R2P." No thank you.

Addendum to my comment below:

Thus, in all reality, what "Responsibility to Protect" actually means is the responsibility to transition your state and society toward market-democracy and full integration in the global economy.

Should a government fail to move out smartly to perform these duties and responsibilities, and should such problems as are common to such a failure manifest themselves (terrorism, insurgency, genocide, ethnic cleansing, etc.), then we will feel justified in:

a. Charging such governments/governors with dereliction of duty.

b. Relieving such governments/governors of their commands.

c. And stepping in -- as is necessary -- to make sure that the job of all such governments/governors (to expeditious transition their state and society toward market-democracy and full integration into the global economy) is properly carried out.

d. This, so that both this state and society -- and those of the larger international community -- are adequately protected and provided for.

This, we feel, is what the job entails re: world leadership today.

Here, to me, is how we might see the relationship between R2P and the New COIN:

a. Both R2P and the New COIN, it would seem, take as their basis the belief that certain states and societies (those WITHOUT strong central governments capable of and focused on transitioning the state and society toward market-democracy and full integration into the global economy); these such states and societies -- today -- are no longer able to adequately provide for and protect their citizenry; this being evidenced by the fact that such states and societies often display aberant characteristics, such as: terrorists/terrorism, insurgency, genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, etc.

b. This understanding (that "outlier" states and societies display -- or are susceptible to -- certain common aberant and adverse behaviors); this prompts advocates of this position to suggest that they are justified in intervening, with their "instruments of power" and with their "international institutions," to fix these problems -- both for the benefit of these countries themselves -- and for the benefit of the rest of the world. Herein, the goal is to install strong central governments (with robust military, police and intelligence forces) which are capable of transitioning these states and societies toward market-democracy and full integration into the global economy (and effectively dealing with those members of the population who would resist such a necessary transition).

Thus, the connection between R2P and the New COIN may be:

(1) Both suggest there is a single, common and underlying problem related to their issues (insurgencies, genocide, etc.) which relates to outdated political, economic and social systems in outlier states and societies.

(2) And, consistent with this position, both suggest a single and similar solution, which is: via the modern world's intervention and assistance, install our "modern" political, economic and social systems in these older/obsolete systems' place.

Herein, everything -- both locally and internationally -- is thought will be "fixed."

Ken White

Tue, 09/20/2011 - 11:48am

Zenpundit is in process of performing a valuable service. His review of the the R2P mantra will shine much needed light on a dark corner containing a rather bad monster...

He writes:<blockquote>"In all candor, I found Dr. Slaughter’s thesis to be deeply troubling but the debate itself was insightful and stimulating and Slaughter is to be commended for responding at length to the arguments of her critics. Hopefully, there will be greater and wider debate in the future because, in it’s current policy trajectory, R2P is going to become “the new COIN”.</blockquote>Rather scary thought that. As he continues:<blockquote>"...This is not to say that R2P is a military doctrine, but like the rise of pop-centric COIN, it will be an electrifying idea that has the potential fire the imagination of foreign policy intellectuals, make careers for it’s bureaucratic enthusiasts and act as a substitute for the absence of a coherent American grand strategy. The proponents of R2P (R2Peons?) appear to be in the early stages of following a policy advocacy template set down by the COINdinistas, <u>but their ambitions appear to be far, far greater in scope</u>".(emphasis added / kw)</blockquote>That last is apparently true and should be worrisome to all. I'll note that those whom Zenpundit rightly says will be "fired" will not be those who do the actual Protecting nor will they be the ones who pay the costs of such abject foolishness.

The R2P theory is the tip of an iceberg wherein the State -- a State? -- has overarching responsibility in all things and individuals have no responsibilities for them selves, indeed, no responsibility other than to act as the State directs. That is indeed monstrous.

In her paper linked by Zenpundit, Dr. Slaughter writes: "<i>States can only govern effectively by actively cooperating with other states and by collectively reserving the power to intervene in other states' affairs</i>." The first clause is possibly correct, the second is a road to unending warfare -- quite simply, humans will not long tolerate it. I suggest that if that idea is applied to individuals, then I am endowed with the ability to get together with my neighbors and we can attack another neighbor whose only crime is to behave differently than do most of us. My suspicion is that will not work on several levels.

A State normally and by definition exercises sovereignty over an area and some people. I went to the Wiki article on<a href=; Sovereignty</a> to refresh my memory on the concept. Didn’t learn much new but it did confirm my suspicion that the good Doctor is intent upon discarding Centuries of precedent and generally beneficial human experience for – what?

Recall that the US Government has nominal sovereignty over this nation, remember also that it functions only marginally well and is immensely aided in exercising its sovereignty by its federal nature -- it could not function without the fifty States comprising the union. Attempts to pass the 'efficient' one size fit all laws with which the Congress is so enamored usually end up with extensive modification to fit the vagaries of human existence, geography -- and common sense. I always enjoy the thought of any of those States intervening in another State. I relish the thought of my neighbors in Mississippi and Alabama imposing their will on Dr. Slaughter's New Jersey. Oh, wait. That might be difficult due to size and resources -- perhaps better if Alabama and Mississippi pick on Rhode Island to bring them into conformity and a love for Grits.

She also writes: "<i>The principal advantage is that subjecting government institutions directly to international obligations could buttress clean institutions against corrupt ones and rights-respecting institutions against their more oppressive counterparts.</i>” Admirable. My question is what standard is applied to the determination of corruption and oppressiveness? What cultural norms are to be heeded and which are to be ignored? <u>Who</u> makes these determinations? If it is a collective decision, what precludes either mob rule or a ‘might makes right’ led possibly quite wrong determination…

As Zenpundit also wrote:<blockquote>"...unlike R2P, an abstract theory literally going abroad in search of monsters to destroy..."</blockquote>

I'm sure we shall all band together shortly to exercise our responsibility to protect the oppressed in China...

This ‘philosophy’ is a utopian fantasy and one cannot but ponder: The goal is – what?

She ends with this: "<i>But in a world in which sovereignty means the capacity to participate in cooperative regimes in the interest of all states, expanding the formal capacity of different state institutions to interact with their counterparts around the <u>world means expanding state power</u>. Even in the conditions of a very changed world, sovereignty would once again mean what it should mean most fundamentally: a state's right and duty to protect and provide for its people.</i>"(emphasis added / kw)