The People vs. the State: Reflections on UN Authority, US Power and the Responsibility to Protect

Sample Chapter
  • Ramesh Thakur

    1207 Thakur – PeopleVsState_FINAL web rescale
    ISBN-10: 92-808-1207-6,
    ISBN-13: 978-92-808-1207-7
    United Nations University Press
    October 2011

    Professor Ramesh Thakur, former Senior Vice Rector of the United Nations University and UN Assistant Secretary-General, is sometimes described as one of the intellectual godfathers of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Based in our common humanity, R2P is an acceptance of a duty of care by those living in safety towards those trapped in zones of danger. It aims to convert a shocked international conscience into timely and decisive collective action to rescue vulnerable communities so that groups condemned to die in fear can live in hope instead. For more than a decade, Thakur has been deeply engaged with the international discourse on R2P as an influential member of the international commission that came up with that innovative principle. This book brings together his opinion articles from several newspapers in Australia, Canada, India and Japan, and The International Herald Tribune. It begins with Kosovo in 1999 and ends with Libya in 2011, with stops at way-stations in Iraq, Darfur, Lebanon, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Egypt.

    Thakur argues that our choice in today’s real world, with a universal human rights norm and an internationalized human conscience, is not whether international interventions will take place but where, when, how and under whose authority. For international enforcement action to be efficient, effective and enduring, it must be legitimate; for it to be legitimate, it must be in conformity with international law; for it to conform to international law, it must be consistent with the UN Charter that articulates quintessentially liberal international values. Given the nature and victims of modern armed conflict, protection of civilians and populations at risk of mass atrocities is a core UN imperative. But while the United Nations has international authority, it lacks military power. By contrast, although its military might has unmatched global reach, the United States acting unilaterally lacks international authority. Progress towards the good international society requires that force be harnessed to authority as the Responsibility to Protect moves from a universally validated principle to a routinely actionable norm.

    “There are few more important challenges to our common humanity than mass atrocity crimes. There are few issues on which the international community has moved faster towards achieving positive change. And there are few individuals who have contributed more to that process than Ramesh Thakur.”

    Taken from the Foreword by Gareth Evans and Mohamed Sahnoun, Co-Chairs, International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty

    “I am a regular reader of Dr Ramesh Thakur’s writings. I have been impressed by his clear thinking and analysis of world politics. Dr Thakur has challenged me many times to review my own thinking on important issues.”

    Martti Ahtisaari, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, former President of the Republic of Finland and Chairman of the Crisis Management Initiative

    “Ramesh Thakur has established a solid reputation for himself as an international public intellectual. The articles assembled in this book have contributed in no small measure to that achievement. Between them these articles show a keen understanding of the main currents of international affairs. Ramesh’s subtle analysis is well served by an elegant and limpid writing style. Academics, diplomats, journalists as well as the wider public will all welcome the fact that these enduring essays have been brought together in one book.”

    Lakhdar Brahimi, former Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General

    “In recent years Ramesh Thakur has provided the world with brilliant commentary on the passing global scene. To have this wisdom and insight gathered in a single volume provides an invaluable resource that should be made required reading for leaders and citizens alike.”

    Richard Falk, Emeritus Professor, Princeton University

    About the Author

    Ramesh Thakur is Professor of International Relations in the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, Australian National University.

    Selection from Table of Contents:

    Defining new goals for diplomacy of the twenty-first century (with Steve Lee), The International Herald Tribune, 19 January 2000
    Peacekeeping: Diplomacy’s odd couple, the US and the UN, The International Herald Tribune, 26 June 2002
    Intervention could bring safeguards in Asia, The Daily Yomiuri, 3 January 2003
    The UN at 60: The place where humanity’s divisions meet, The International Herald Tribune, 25 June 2005
    A war that was won by not losing, and lost by not winning, The Canberra Times, 30 August 2006
    War in our time: The myth of appeasement, The Hindu, 1 November 2007
    Let the Asians push aid to Burma, The Japan Times, 12 May 2008
    How to help Zimbabweans, The Ottawa Citizen, 22 December 2008
    Responsibility to protect is universal, The Daily Yomiuri, 17 November 2009
    International community has responsibility and must act now to protect Libyans, The Daily Yomiuri, 9 March 2011