The Responsibility to Debate?

The Philodemic Room

February 25, 2016

The Society gathered Thursday evening to debate Resolved: The Responsibility to Protect has lost its legitimacy. On the affirmation, Mr. Andrew Shaughnessy (COL ’16) of Kansas alongside Mr. Hunter Estes (SFS ’19) of Maryland, making his induction. On the negation, Mr. Alejandro Perez-Reyes (COL ’17) of Virginia with Mr. Dylan McCarthy (SFS ’19) of California.

Mr. Estes began by sipping delicately from his water bottle à la Mr. Rubio, then defined some key terms, including the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) as the responsibility of a state to protect its own citizens, then the responsibility of the international community to come to states’ aid or intervene to protect civilians when the state cannot. Mr. Estes focused on the mechanism of R2P, the United Nations Security Council, as fundamentally flawed, dominated by great power who puruse their own interests, such as the “Great Shirtless Man” Vladimir Putin. R2P often is used as a tool of political ends, not humanitarian goals, thus R2P loses its legitimacy because our institutions do not have the capacity to carry it out.

Mr. McCarthy provided a definite example of R2P in the Central African Republic in 2013, using that example to show how peacekeepers can help avoid genocide. He pointed out that conflicts that may seem to have nothing to do with eventually affect us, as in Syria, where our ‘red line’ on the use of chemical weapons was not enforced and intervention could have prevented some problems. Because we are all interconnected, we have a responsibility to make the world a safer place.

Mr. Shaughnessy took the stand to make a succession of jokes about Muhammar Qaddafi, the deposed ruler of Libya. He interpreted the debate as focusing on the question of sovereignty, whether other nations had a right to violate sovereignty to protect civilians. Ultimately, he argued that unilateral interventions are most effective outside the cumbersome framework of the UN, with strategic incentives to commit resources. R2P allows interventions to be more easily justified but without any strategic goals, leading to failures. “You break it, but you don’t buy it,” he maintained.

Mr. Perez-Reyes re-centered the question around genocide prevention, asking if a government could not stop genocide on its terrority, is it really soveign? He claimed that sovereignty is a charge of responsibility in an interconnected world. R2P thus is a moral and practical good. He implored the Society not to ignore the suffering of others and focus on how the mechanisms of R2P may not be perfect but have the capacity to do better.

Ms. Landau opened the floor speeches of the night by evoking the terrible suffering of the bomb test victims in the Marshall Islands, arguing “we are all out for ourselves,” in a world where governments do not even protect their own citizens. Mr. Smaliak called for abstention, saying R2P never had legitimacy in the first place, prompting Vice President Little to clarify that for the debate, at some point R2P was legitimate. Ms. Aleman pointed out that R2P is not a law but a norm, which she compared to Tinder in that its acceptance evolves over time. Mr. Grocki gave a wide-ranging speech supporting the affirmation while Mr. Tu congratulated his mentee, as well as Mr. Ellis and Mr. Fletcher on their ties, while praising how the world can come together to address problems like genocide. Ms. Hu countered Ms. Aleman by arguing that norms are not a justification for doing something, pointing out the lack of trust many people have for their governments. In response, Mr. Hinck, with Chancellor Ringwald graciously taking up once again the amanuensis book, argued that peacekeeping can help pause a conflict and construct a stable political system. He implored the society to consider the alternative to R2P, which should not be discounted even though we haven’t committed the resources to succeed. Mr. Willis maintained that the line between intervention and non-intervention was too arbitrary to have an effective system while President Thanki, despairing of the arguments on the affirmation, demanded that the Society consider the underlying ideology of R2P as critical to the debate.

Opening up non-member speaking time, Mr. Richard Howell (SFS ’19) brought up the dangerous use of R2P as a cloak for strategic interventions while Mr. Ben Zuegel (COL ’19) argued that perhaps R2P was used wrongly in the past but that doesn’t make the idea wrong, and pointed out that by regretting not intervening, we are acknowledging R2P’s inherent legitimacy. Mr. Rahul Desai (MSB ’16) maintained that the flaws in predicting, implementing, and rebuilding after intervention show the impossibility of R2P as a practice while Ms. Ellen Reilly (MSB ’19) pointed out that if we have such amazing prosperity in the US, we have the resources to stop genocide abroad.

Resuming member speaking time, Ms. Haag focused on how legitimacy requires credible commitments, asking if we really are protecting people because of our compassion or our interests. Ms. Hernick diagnosed the debate as a moral question disguised as a policy one, arguing that legitimacy comes from more than consequentialism, and that even though R2P is not our primary responsibility nor one that is always fulfilled, its legitimacy remains. Mr. Taft (COL’13) focused on the incompetence of the UN as a world government, asking if we should consider something a responsibility if it should not have been done ½ the time. Chancellor Ringwald emphasized the difference between unilateral and coalition interventions, citing how individual countries cannot be trusted to act benevolently, thus implying coalition-based interventions.

Mr. Graff, teased the negation, asking, “aren’t we the jingoists we pretend to be?” Speaking against his mentee, he examined the tradition of mentors speaking against their mentee, ultimately concluding that it represented a disavowal, a sign that the mentee deserves to enter the Society all on their own. “God Bless Philodemic.” Mr. Musgrave, bewildered as usual by Mr. Graff, focused on the principle behind R2P as inviolate, remaining despite its faults, and conveying legitimacy. Mr. Fletcher concentrated on R2P as a means against genocide, coming to the conclusion that in an international realm of anarchy, states only serve as a tool to protect themselves, nothing more. Chancellor Whelan, following his mentee, contrasted the practical and the moral, labeling R2P a high target but one we might be satisfied with only getting halfway to. Mr. Gonzalez, after considering both sides, argued that even if R2P is moral, it lacks legitimacy because no country respects it. Ms. Kurek, in a somewhat disjointed speech, emphasized the need for cooperation to prevent chaos in the international arena while Mr. Laposata closed the debate by citing how we cannot make credible threats constrained by Russia and China on the UN Security Council.

Returning to the stand, Mr. Perez-Reyes, bearing once more the heavy cross of moralism, emphasized that protection was at the heart of R2P. He maintained that “those who can, should,” protect people in harm’s way, regardless of the failures of its methods. He also underlined that legitimacy can be interpreted in many different ways, and R2P’s moral legitimacy remains despite its institutional failings.

Mr. Shaughnessy, making a joke about Mr. Qaddafi not suitable to be repeated here, refocused the debate as a question of effectiveness, of the specific mechanism of R2P for stopping genocide. Citing how R2P lacked strategic goals, it inhibits other interventions, and the UN itself suffers many failings during intervetions, Mr. Shaughnessy reiterated his conclusion that R2P does not sufficiently work to be considered legitimate.

Mr. McCarthy brought an actual graph to show his thanks to his mentor, Mr. Graff in a highly amusing and endearing moment. He argued that R2P served as a re-affirmation of a state’s sovereignty, of the one job the state has to protect its people, as exemplified by the failures to intervene in Syria. Morally, we ought to protect people in need, using R2P as a last resort mechanism to do so.

Mr. Estes closed out the debate by noting that “many things were said.” He recalled the realist school of international relations, using a simple playground analogy to show the consequences of international anarchy. Quoting a litany of realist icons such as Matthew Kroenig and Henry Kissinger, he labeled R2P an inefficient mechanism in a self-interested world.

The Society then voted to award Merrick points to the most eloquent speakers of the evening:

  • Mr. Shaughnessy: 5
  • Ms. Hernick: 4
  • Mr. Perez-Reyes: 4
  • Chancellor Ringwald: 2
  • Mr. Gonzalez: 1

This brings the current Merrick totals to:

  • Mr. Andrew Shaughnessy – 20
  • Mr. Alejandro Perez-Reyes – 8
  • Mr. Patrick Musgrave – 6
  • Chancellor Michael Whelan – 6
  • Ms. Anna Hernick – 5
  • Chancellor Madeleine Ringwald – 5
  • Mr. Samuel Kleinman – 4
  • Mr. Joseph Laposata – 4
  • Mr. Thomas Shuman – 4
  • Ms. Lauren Finkenthal – 4
  • Ms. Kathryn Li – 3
  • Mr. Kyle Rinaudo – 3
  • Sargent Ashley Burke – 2
  • Mr. Danny Graff – 2
  • Mr. Adam Gonzalez – 1

And, with a vote of 30 – 6 – 20, this resolution is affirmed!

The Society then inducted Mr. Estes and Mr. McCarthy – Congratulations to these new wonderful members!


Garrett Hinck

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