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Hoover Task Force Short Essays #5, #6, and #7

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Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 7:37 AM

I’ve fallen behind in linking to the short essays being published by the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law. The latest come from Tod Lindberg, Amy Zegart, and Philip Bobbitt.

Lindberg’s essay, entitled “Libya, Syria, and the Responsibility to Protect” opens as follows:

At the 2005 United Nations World Summit, member states formally embraced the “responsibility to protect,” a principle of humanitarian intervention aimed at stopping atrocities. Briefly, the principle holds that states have a responsibility to protect populations residing on their territory from genocide and lesser atrocities; if they cannot or will not act in fulfillment of this responsibility, the international community may intervene to provide protection. The intention of the principle, known colloquially as R2P, is to defeat claims that states might make about their sovereign right to non-interference in their internal affairs in order to shield their own acts of mass atrocity or their failure to stop atrocities.

R2P, though it is often described as an emerging norm in international politics and international law, has always been controversial. Needless to say, authoritarian states that are themselves complicit in atrocities will never do more than pay lip service to any such responsibility toward the people they rule. Other states have expressed concerns that R2P is indistinguishable from neo-colonialism and the “right of intervention” strong states have sometimes asserted in pursuit of their national interests against weaker states. Critics have also noted the potential unevenness of the application of R2P: powerful states with the ability to deter military intervention under the banner of R2P will potentially be able to disregard the asserted responsibility.

Bobbitt’s contribution to the series, entitled “How to Succeed in Foreign Policy Without Really Trying,” opens thus:

In four important areas, the White House set new foreign policy priorities: nuclear non-proliferation with the objective of ridding the world of nuclear weapons; a shift in emphasis from the traditional, Atlanticist orientation of the United States to a recognition of the growing importance of China as a potential collaborator; a reversal of the hostility felt by Muslims in the Middle East toward the United States; and progress in the wars on terror by quitting Iraq and surging in Afghanistan.  In each of these areas, the president made important addresses and initiated policy approaches; and in each area, he was disappointed while the diplomatic overtures of the last four years have been generally quite positive, indeed more positive than at any time in the last decade.

Zegart, meanwhile, has penned an essay entitled, “The Three Most Dangerous Things About Threat Lists.” It begins:

The New Year is always a time for making lists, and presidential inaugurations crank the Beltway list-making machine into overdrive. We’ve got prediction listschallenge lists, and even foreign-policy-problems-the-president-could-solve-right-now lists. The thing is, the most serious foreign policy challenges are often unlisted surprises.

In 1995, President Clinton issued a Presidential Decision Directive that demanded intelligence priorities be placed into tiers. They were, and Afghanistan was near the bottom. In 2000, a self-appointed bipartisan Commission on America’s National Interests tried a similar drill. They ended up assigning counterterrorism and democracy promotion outside the Western hemisphere as second- and third-tier interests. In 2011, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told West Point cadets, “When it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect. We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more — we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged.”

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