Today’s appearance of Kofi Annan at UCLA was a chance to go and hear from one of the drivers of IR norms and reforms at the beginning of the last decade. It continues UCLA’s (short) tradition of having luminaries attend the Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton who kicked it off last year.
Kofi Annan of course championed the IR norm of responsibility to protect (R2P) that he first brought to the UN Security Council in the late 1990s and eventually became codified in 2005. He anticipated the question from the audience about R2P and Syria and headed it off by saying that Syria is much more complicated and there is no international consensus on the path forward. It makes one question the salience of the R2P norm if disagreement among the Permanent 5 on the Security Council can hinder its application. The conflicts that were the impetus for R2P in Rwanda and the former Yugoslav states didn’t have universal international agreement on the way forward, only in retrospect. In Rwanda, France wanted to hold off intervention so their allies could escape to the east. In the Balkans, Russia’s historical ties to the Serbs caused their hesitation.
It is interesting to have the pioneer of the R2P concept try to distance its implementation from the most pressing humanitarian crisis of 2013. I wonder how much it has to do with Annan’s failure at mediation of the conflict, or his desire to one day in the future work with Russia and China on a major issue. Continue reading