Michael Abramowitz, a former Washington Post reporter and editor, is director of the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He was a member of the Working Group on the Responsibility to Protect, co-chaired by Madeleine K. Albright and Richard S. Williamson.
It’s the foreign policy doctrine that sounds like a Star Wars droid. It’s the argument that a former supreme commander of NATO, Adm. James Stavridis,thinks could be a basis for military action against Syria. And it’s the idea that Washington Post columnist George Willargues by no means justifies a U.S. strike.
The “responsibility to protect” — known in international-relations circles as R2P — is a straightforward, if often misunderstood, notion: Nations must protect their citizens from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and must take action to help other nations whose governments can’t or won’t protect their peoples.
It’s hard to see how R2P would not apply in the case of Syria, where more than 100,000 people have been killed, 5 million displaced from their homes, 2 million refugees sent fleeing and numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity committed, including with chemical weapons, according to independent human rights monitors and the United Nations. A recent study for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum concluded that genocidal violence against Christian, Sunni, Alawite and other groups is possible if the conflict escalates.