Using Force Against the 'Weapons of the Weak': Examining a Chemical-Biological Weapons Usage Criterion for Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention Under the Responsibility to Protect
49 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2013 Last revised: 12 Nov 2013
Date Written: November 11, 2013
The civil war in Syria has demonstrated the international community’s inability to act to protect civilians caught in mass atrocities during cases of U.N. Security Council deadlock, with permanent member vetoes presenting a significant legal obstacle to international humanitarian intervention.
The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) construct, created in response to the NATO intervention in Kosovo, was originally designed to overcome such Security Council paralysis by transforming the debate from the 'right' of states to intervene to the 'responsibility' of the entire international community to protect civilians, as well as opening the door to legitimate unilateral humanitarian intervention in cases of Security Council deadlock. However, despite the innovations of these 'hard R2P' principles, the R2P framework was weakened during U.N. adoption into a 'soft R2P' that is reflected in the current legal impasse over Security Council authorization for humanitarian intervention.
This article examines a chemical and biological weapons (CBW) usage criterion as a condition legitimizing unilateral humanitarian intervention under R2P. A CBW usage criterion for R2P intervention can provide the international community with a framework for legitimate humanitarian intervention to end chemical and biological weapons attacks against civilians and deter such attacks in the future. Such a criterion would increase support for a principle of R2P intervention across realist, institutionalist and cosmopolitan perspectives, strengthening a norm of humanitarian intervention in cases of CBW attack and promoting the international community’s overall ability to protect civilians in war.
To provide legitimacy to act against future such atrocities, the international community should thus begin efforts to incorporate into the U.N. framework an R2P principle authorizing intervention in cases of CBW use against civilians.
Keywords: Responsibility to Protect, R2P, humanitarian intervention, chemical weapons, biological weapons
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