Tim Dunne is Director of Research, Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, the University of Queensland. He addresses the R2P debate in this post: R2P caught in the crossfire?.
I address each of his concerns: the 'hollowness of the concept', the 'narrowness of the applicability', and the problem of 'selectivity'. My aim is greater clarity about the grounds on which R2P is being targeted by its critics.
R2P is driven by a clear moral purpose which maintains that atrocity crimes — such as those committed in Germany in the 1930s, Cambodia in the 1970s, Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s — are preventable. Getting an agreement among the states and peoples of the world as to what atrocity crimes are and why they are uniquely abhorrent suggests the concept is far from empty.
As to its 'narrowness of applicability', again I find my views differ respectfully from Dr Shanahan. What is striking about R2P is the breadth of its applicability. As advocates make clear, including Kofi Annan, Francis Deng, and Gareth Evans, the core of R2P is that all sovereign states are bearers of the duty to prevent atrocity crimes from occurring.
Here are two brief thoughts in relation to the problem of selectivity. First, the 2005 agreement at the World Summit of the UN General Assembly (a follow-on to the 2000 Summit that agreed the MDGs) recognised that, while there was a need for 'timely and decisive action' to be taken by the international community, this would inevitably be considered on a case-by-case basis.
In other words, where it is clear that military intervention will do more harm than good, no right-thinking R2P supporter will advocate such a course of action. But although implementing a no-fly zone is politically and operationally problematic, a referral to the International Criminal Court of Assad and his cronies might be achievable.