Andrew Kydd argues that R2P is not equal to regime change, which is technically true. However, in many, but not all, cases it is hard to see how one can ensure that the people of a country can be protected responsibly given the regime that exists. The problem here is a basic one for scholars of International Relations and of Politics in general: how do you get a dictator to commit to stopping their abuses of the population?
Aye, there’s the rub. It is hard enough for democracies to commit to protecting their civilians and sticking within the rule of law. The recent events in Turkey, the over-reaching by Bush and Obama administrations, and other examples show that even where institutions are seen as being quite important, and where the rule of law is quite stable and legitimate, governments can abuse their citizens. In authoritarian regimes, especially personalist ones where power lies in individuals and not institutions, leaders have a hard time binding themselves to a particular course of action, including not abusing their population.
Kydd is right that NATO took the R2P mandate from the UN for Libya, and ran it all the way to regime change. Talking to officers who participated in this effort is entertaining as they dip, dodge and duck the regime change label, as they “protected” civilians and used force on their behalf but “technically” did not side with rebels against the Libyan government. But given the start of the conflict and Qaddaffi’s previous behavior, it is not clear how Qaddaffi could have assured the world and, more importantly, the Libyans, that he would stop engaging in politicide. How do you flip the switch from being a dictator engaged in ruthless oppression to one that responsibly protects the population?
In the case of Syria, how would one apply R2P without getting rid of Assad? There are two parts to this, of course: (a) Assad would have to tie his hands and those of his repressive apparatus; and (b) his opponents would have to stop using violence as well. Otherwise, the cycle continues. One could argue that outside interveners could provide the credible guarantees (that would be PV@G editor Barbara Walter’s argument), but it is not clear that outsider interveners can credibly commit to thwacking either side of a conflict when the terms are violated.
Kydd points to the success of the NATO effort in Bosnia, as an R2P-ish (it was before R2P was fully enunciated) success — that NATO stopped the fighting without changing the regimes. The better example might be Kosovo. Kydd indicates this was not regime change because NATO did not get rid of Milosevic. Well, sort of. By facilitating the secession of Kosovo, de facto long before de jure, NATO did change who governed that territory. Milosevic had proved to be unreliable and unconstrained when it came to using force against the people of Kosovo, so NATO ultimately changed the regime of that territory, leaving Milosevic in place for the rest of Serbia.
To be clear, I am not an advocate of intervention in Syria, nor am I an R2P advocate (nor a neo-con). There are many good and bad reasons to intervene in Syria, and many good and bad reasons not to intervene in Syria. But if one wants to buy into responsibility to protect, it is hard to see how any outcome that would leave Assad in place could fit into the category of responsibly protecting. Why? Because I cannot imagine a political solution, a negotiation, that would bind Assad credibly unless Assad were to accept permanent occupation by NATO troops as peace enforcers. Given austerity and all that, Assad’s credibility is not the only missing ingredient, but it is a key one. Until someone figures out a way for rulers in authoritarian regimes to make credible commitments, the line between R2P and regime change will remain mighty fuzzy.