I wanted to say something pithy or insightfully intriguing tonight, but I decided to scrap those thoughts and let words speak for themselves. Over the weekend, I had an incredible opportunity to listen to a very distinguished elder statesman and foreign diplomat talk about his experiences practicing diplomacy and international relations. Lakhdar Brahimi spoke at my wife’s graduation. He is the one for whom we now refer to the landmark UN report about peace operations in the 1990s as simply, the Brahimi Report. Certainly, it was a very interesting and engaging speech as he shared his diplomatic experiences dealing with critical global challenges in Afghanistan and South Africa.
Something struck me during his talk about the consequent doctrine that follows the UN report later in the 2000s — that is the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. We may talk more about the R2P doctrine, in particular, but I want to juxtapose the thinking behind the foundation for R2P with another set of thinking. In the early 1950s, the U.S. was entering the Cold War and positioning itself for a long struggle against an ideological foe. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union tried to describe their respective responsibilities to pursue objectives that would secure national interests on behalf of those for whom those interests mattered most. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, delivered a similar landmark speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in which he details a justification for a doctrine of “massive retaliation” based on a responsibility to protect against aggression to ideals of freedom.
We should therefore wonder, for what are states responsible, and actually for whom are they responsible? These might seem like simple questions, but after reading the Brahimi report and the 1950s speech by Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, consider, what is it we, the U.S., should be responsible for; for whom?