Skip to content

Talks@Diplomacy: Experiencing R2P with Dr. Edward C. Luck

NOTE: This post was written by Emily Fox, a first-year graduate student. Emily’s specializations are Foreign Policy Analysis and the Middle East. Emily has interned at the Chautauqua Institution and has worked with several NGOs in Uganda.  Emily has worked as a photojournalist and has been published in the New York Times, US News and World Report, The Chautauquan Daily, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She has contributed to The Appalachian Culture Project, The Family Enrichment Center, Ensigo, and Abaana.


On Monday March 30, Dr. Edward C. Luck, Tom and Ruth Sharkey Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, gave a talk titled “Nurturing a Norm: Learning from the UN’s R2P Experience.”

Dr. Luck began his talk by expanding on the background of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), citing how the prevalence of mass murder in the 20th Century in places such as Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia had set the stage for an ethical debate on whether respecting state sovereignty should be a barrier to response in the face of atrocities. Dr. Luck highlighted that a change in attitudes about R2P began to materialize with a shift of the perception of the debate from when it is right to intervene to who is responsible for protecting populations.  Initially, the concept of intervention drew on the just war guidelines, and states were skeptical about the emphasis of military solutions. States were also hesitant about the implications of responsibility after an incident. Additionally, vague wording created potential loopholes.

Dr. Luck described how he was tasked, under UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, with working on a mandate that dealt with the conceptual portion of R2P, melding the two previous versions, developing the concept politically, and assessing how R2P could work institutionally and operationally. While he stated that people initially called this task “a losing proposition,” through refinement and collaboration he was able to devise a three-pillar scheme that would remain strong while appealing to diverse member states. These pillars are as follows:

  1. The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement;
  2. The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility;
  3. The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Dr. Luck emphasized how using the language of “assistance” in the second pillar helped open the door for important solutions such as development that were not present under concepts derived from the just war doctrine.

Norm development came into play during the second portion of Dr. Luck’s talk, drawing on Martha Finnemore’s and Kathryn Sikkink’s concept of a norm lifecycle.

Dr. Luck saw opportunities to develop R2P as a norm in the language and institutional processes surrounding R2P. The original model for R2P was based on an idea of bad states pitted against good people. Dr. Luck saw an opportunity to clarify this language, pointing out that many armed groups carried out violence and that a reframing to incorporate non-state actors could not only protect vulnerable populations, but help the normative qualities of R2P appeal to more members. Implementing a policy of annually submitting an R2P report to the General Assembly helped ensure that the conversation surrounding R2P continued in an arena that incorporated the most member states.

These careful considerations have helped ingrain R2P as a norm over time. While Dr. Luck does not believe he has seen the sort of “norm cascade” championed by Finnnemore and Sikkink, he has seen a slow but steady cementing of R2P as norm. Dr. Luck points out that after the messy 2011 intervention in Libya, there was a fear that R2P would be irrevocably harmed, however, R2P continues to gain ground and has been mentioned in 25 resolutions since. When asked about public perception, Dr. Luck emphasized that R2P is essentially a bottom-up concept.

Overall, Dr. Luck’s talk provided unique, first-hand insight not only into the complexity of R2P, but also into the complexity of developing norms and policy within the UN. He also gave a glimpse into the problems that can arise from building policy in a dynamic world. In the week that the initial ICISS report was set to be released, the US experienced the 9/11 attacks. Later, violence surrounding the 2007 Kenyan elections tested an R2P doctrine that had not yet been fully formed.

Looking forward, Dr. Luck is now exploring, in partnership with his wife, the concept of R2P at the individual level, citing how the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide mobilized populations and that R2P must extend to situations like these as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest