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Updated: March 12, 2012 03:00 IST

BRICS and the ‘Responsibility while Protecting’ concept

Oliver Stuenkel
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IN STEP: BRICS leaders at a one-day summit, at Sanya, China in 2011.
PTI IN STEP: BRICS leaders at a one-day summit, at Sanya, China in 2011.

The concept of “the responsibility while protecting” is an interesting example of how Brazil is attempting to play the role as a mediator between the United States and Europe (which tend to be quick to recommend military intervention) on the one hand and reluctant BRICS members, such as Russia and China on the other.

During her first address to the U.N. General Assembly, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff acknowledged the concept of the “responsibility to protect,” according to which it is legitimate to intervene in another country that is unable or unwilling to preserve the lives of its citizens. At the same time, she conditioned her support by suggesting a complementary norm which she called “the responsibility while protecting,” which involves establishing basic criteria to assure that interventions by force always do the smallest damage possible. This provides an important framework for emerging powers who seek to strike a balance between protecting threatened populations while reducing the negative implications of military intervention. The concept of “responsibility while protecting” was part of the last IBSA summit declaration, and there is potential to approach this important topic during this year's BRIC summit in India (March 28-29).

On Syria

Syria shows why the concept of “Responsibility to Protect” is in crisis. There seemed to have been consensus in the case of Libya in February and March 2011. Yet already during the war, the BRICS have rightly argued that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces exceeded the U.N. mandate given to them. Resolution 1973 was “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack,” yet NATO regarded it as a permission to bring upon regime change. As a consequence, the BRICS are now suspicious of any resolution regarding Syria.

The concept of “Responsibility while Protecting” (RWP) may be a way towards a compromise. It proposes a set of criteria (including last resort, proportionality, and balance of consequences) to be taken into account before the U.N. Security Council mandates any use of military force. In addition, a monitoring-and-review mechanism to ensure that such mandates' implementation is seriously debated.

There is likely to be resistance from both established powers and the BRICS. Europe and the U.S. will regard it as yet another tactic to delay resolutions that allow the use of force. India and South Africa are supportive of the concept yet Russia and China are certain to be sceptical. But there is a growing consensus that the alternative to Security Council cooperation is a return to the days of Rwanda and Kosovo, in which there is a stark choice between inaction in the face of large-scale killings (Rwanda) and action outlawed by the U.N. Charter (Kosovo).

As the BRICS' economic and geopolitical weight increases, they have strong incentives to avoid such a scenario. While it may have been feasible to prize sovereignty over intervention at all times before, emerging powers' interests are too important and complex to hold on to such a radical position. A protracted political crisis in the Middle East, for example, strongly affects all BRICS members' national interests, and if they were able to articulate a common strategy in specific moments, they'd be able to offer a serious alternative to the established powers' narrative.

(Oliver Stuenkel is Professor of International Relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, Brazil.)

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All this noble talk from the BRICS countries will have absolutely no effect unless they are willing to put their money where their mouth is. The US and Europe (especially NATO) are the only countries that are actually willing to spend the money, and send in their troops to do the dirty work. Once the BRICS countries stop talking and start acting with real money and people, then maybe their actions will speak for themselves.

from:  K. Raghunathan
Posted on: Mar 12, 2012 at 17:19 IST

NATO certainly has violated several UN mandates on the name of restoration of peace in the disputed region, which defeats the very purpose of the 1973 resolution. Powerful countries' military powers are expected to curb violence and protect subdued victims and their rights in the wars and incandiery situations arising out of regime changes, rather than forcing their mandates on the incumbent rule to change or stepping down. There is a serious need to check this sort of euphemistic imperialism, which powerful western countries have been practicing for so long, for a greater good of the international security.

from:  himanshu dhumash
Posted on: Mar 12, 2012 at 14:47 IST

The main problem is that intervention is carried out only on select
countries. People are being killed / oppressed in very many countries
all over the world, and ignored by the 'protectors'. It is this double
standards that needs to be removed.

from:  sigh
Posted on: Mar 12, 2012 at 14:40 IST

It has become norms to the US and the European Union to distort the concepts and principles in order to further their hegemonistic interests.Although protecting the population of any country from the brutal violance and tyranny of a tyrrant is a sacred responsibility of the world community but the arrogation of this role by a few self proclaimed protector countries is a matter of great concern. IN the name of protection they even violate the UN mandates.These practises are highly detrimental to the world peace and need immediate attention of the all countries of the world.

from:  Remant jha
Posted on: Mar 12, 2012 at 13:00 IST
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