The European Union and the R2P Norm: A Marriage of Convenience

Sam Greet, University of Leeds, UK

Sam Greet is a final year undergraduate student in International Relations at the University of Leeds, with a year exchange at KU Leuven, Belgium. His main interests include the R2P, Terrorism Studies and China’s role in global power politics.

Abstract 

The European Union’s (EU) fulfilment of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) largely follows the logic of ‘marriage of convenience’. The Union’s bureaucracies have been committed – and somewhat successful – champions in developing the norm and its principles since the Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in 2001 and its inclusion in the subsequent UN World Summit Outcome Document (WSOD) in 2005. It has demonstrated considerable capacity in its ability to assist in the responsibility to prevent as well as employing more indirect coercive measures as an economic power. Yet, in practice, the disingenuity of its rhetoric shows the EU and its member states only deliver R2P when it is convenient to do so, based on matching pre-existing resource allocation to other normative pursuits or the foreign policy interests of both the EU as a whole and its individual member states. The EU can be seen to demonstrate inconsistent application and illegitimate inaction in delivering its R2P capacity, as well as bringing detriment to the norm’s development when its member states misuse its invocation for their national benefit. Whether in dereliction of its ‘special responsibility’ towards refugees on and beyond its borders, lack of prioritisation of mass atrocity prevention in South Sudan, continued aid support for Myanmar despite ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing, or its arms sales to Saudi Arabia used to commit war crimes in Yemen, the EU is a hollow R2P advocate. Until the R2P and its principles are genuinely internalised into both EU and member states’ priorities in the international arena, this marriage of convenience is unlikely to change.

Introduction

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) emerged as a solution to the flaws of humanitarian (non)intervention, and as an international norm has faced both its life and repeated ‘death’ (Reiff, 2011). Indeed, R2P has been conceptually developed, misapplied, not applied, praised and criticised. The European Union (EU) has played a prominent role in this process. ‘Fulfilment’ of R2P is judged based on coherent and repeated contributions towards norm development, implementation and legitimacy (henceforth consistency, Wheeler, 2000, p.305), with a wide range of case studies chosen to show trends in the EU’s R2P approach. The extent to which these efforts are fulfilled is benchmarked against the principles of R2P agreed at the UN, as well as by the standards publicly advocated for by the EU. Upon analysis, the extent to which the EU can be claimed to ‘fulfil’ its R2P becomes clearly limited to situations when the norm aligns with the EU and its member states’ existing domestic and foreign policies. Firstly, this is demonstrated through the stark contrast between the EU’s external norm championing and its limited internal capabilities and commitment. Secondly, disingenuous R2P fulfilment through ‘norm clustering’ is exposed when one compares the EU’s Responsibility to Prevent potential to case studies where they could tangibly deliver it. Lastly, illegitimate inconsistency in R2P action abroad, when challenged internally, reaffirms the conclusion that R2P fulfilment is a means to other ends rather than an end in itself for the EU.

The EU and R2P Norm Development 

International Norm Champion

The EU has been a key proponent of the R2P norm and its development since its inception in the ICISS Report (2001) and was a critical player in ensuring its provisions in Article 138 and 139 were included in the World Summit Outcome Document (WSOD) (UNGA, 2005)(Brockmeier et al., 2014, pp.436-439; Bellamy, 2009, p.60). The WSOD agreed on conditional sovereignty within the international community to prevent and react to four mass atrocity crimes: ethnic cleansing, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. This responsibility emerges from every state’s agreement to ‘responsible sovereignty’ (Pillar I) alongside the international community’s responsibility to support (Pillar II) – and if necessary, intervene (Pillar III) – if other states are ‘manifestly failing’ to protect their citizens, otherwise articulated as the ‘Three Pillars of R2P’ (UNSG, 2009). R2P has been and remains a ‘contested’ norm without definitive meaning (Welsh, 2013). The EU has been a prominent voice at the UN to try to develop and ‘cascade’ the norm internationally towards worldwide internalisation (see Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998, pp. 895–6 for norm development process).

At the UN-level since the WSOD, the EU pursued ‘high-level coordination’ for the seminal 2009 GA debate (Brockmeier, et al., 2014, pp.443-444); it was the first region to have its own ‘Focal Point’ to champion the norm (Ralph and Staunton, 2019, p.8); its member states are prominent in the ‘R2P Group of Friends’, and the EU and member states have consistently contributed to the UNGA debates, ‘Interactive Dialogues’ and UNSG ‘Annual Reports’ (ibid; Newman and Stefan, 2019). At the EU-level, the R2P has been repeatedly recalled across numerous documents (EU, 2016a; 2008; 2007; 2006; European Parliament, 2011; 2009a; 2009b, Council of the EU, 2008; European Commission, 2017) as a shared value and crucial objective the EU is ‘determined to make operational’ (EU, 2009). This is perhaps most notable recently in its inclusion within the EU Global Strategy (EUGS), where the union commits to ‘promote the responsibility to protect’ alongside other key normative judicial commitments such as ‘international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international criminal law’ (EU, 2016b, p.42). It has helped establish at least Pillar I as an accepted norm in that the question is now not if there is a R2P against the four crimes but rather what circumstances justify assistance or intervention (Bellamy, 2015, p.289; Powers, 2015, p.1274). If ‘rhetoric is action’ for norms (Franco and Rodt, 2015, p.50), then the EU has fulfilled its R2P through leveraging its diplomatic tools towards the norm’s promotion and continued relevance.

Between Rhetoric and Reality

Promotion of the norm has been an active EU foreign policy decision (Brockmeier et al., 2014, 431), because the spirit of R2P is in keeping with the EU’s pursuit of ‘normative’ and ‘ethical’ power perceptions (Newman and Stefan, 2019, pp.5-6; Manners, 2008; 2006). Its ‘constructive ambiguity’ (Shannon, 2000, p.294) and foundations as a ‘principled’ or ‘political’ ideal (Ercan, P. G. and Gu ̈nay, 2019, p.492; Betts and Orchard, 2014) – rather than an accountable legal obligation for any particular state or party (Welsh, 2019, p.54) – has allowed for easy EU norm acceptance and advocacy (Franco et.al. 2015, p.1006). ‘Internalisation’ at the EU-level refers to the bloc and its member states’ incorporation of the norm into its internal apparatus, decision-making, actions and reporting. Rarely does the EU’s R2P go beyond simple platitudes and reaffirmation of what was agreed at UN-level (Smith, 2018, p.3; TFotEUPoMA, 2013), with the European Parliament’s (2013) rallying cry for ‘consensus’ doing little to engender change towards genuine internalisation and implementation. The semantics of the EUGS committing to ‘promote’ the R2P norm alongside other laws is indicative of this agreement to endorse the norm in principle (EU, 2016b, p.42) but without a pledge to ‘deliver’ or ‘enforce’ it in practice. This is demonstrated by the absence of explicit reference to R2P in the 2019 EUGS report, which implies it is not a global strategy feature to which the EU is truly committed to convert from ‘Vision to Action’ (EU, 2019). Whilst the EU advocates the ‘never again’ discourse of R2P at the global level (Mogherini, 2018), it actively chooses to pursue ‘procedural’ rather than ‘substantive’ R2P outcomes when given the opportunity (Brockmeier et al., 2014, p.444). This erroneously fuels over-expectant R2P discourses (Gallagher, 2015a; Paris, 2014, p.579). Additionally, the EU has only pursued the norm’s development once existing UN power structures favouring EU member states were guaranteed (Brockmeier et.al.,2014, p.438). This demonstrates values-based ‘norms’ such as R2P serve as a useful foreign policy tool for Europe, yet not enough that it would risk changing the status quo it benefits from to see it fulfilled.

The contrast between external championing and limited internalisation (De Franco et al., 2015, pp.995-998; Wouters and De Man, 2013, p.17) has created the EU’s own external ‘capabilities-expectations gap’ between rhetorical support and the reality of what EU foreign policy is capable of (see Gallagher, 2015a, p.259; Hehir, 2012, p.88). In failing to properly integrate R2P strategies into key internal policy documents beyond simple ‘promotion’ and consistently failing to ‘live by example’ the EU, now 15 years into the norm’s existence, is continuing to undermine its potential to be a ‘credible international leader’ (Newman and Stefan, 2019, pp.3-4; Smith, 2018, pp.20-21). In expecting certain external norms to be upheld by others yet not genuinely seeking to deliver them themselves, the EU exposes the ‘double standards’ (Newman and Stefan, 2019, p.13) that emerge from its disjunction between normative projections compared to the practical reality a recurring trend in wider European foreign policy (Pace, 2007, p.1061; Diez, 2005, p.625). There is scope for defence of the EU in that it has a far too complex and conflicted foreign policy apparatus, as well as external pressures and internal member state divergences, to deliver R2P in a consistent manner (Fabbrini, 2014; De Baere, 2012, p.23). However, if this was the case then why does it continue to ‘unambiguously’ commit to the norm so explicitly (Carment et al., 2016, p.10)? Whilst norm localisation – its ‘mainstreaming into existing policies and resource allocation’ (Franco and Peen Rodt; 2015, p.46) – might ‘prune’ the EU’s available options (Acharya, 2009), it still has ‘enormous capacity’ to fulfil R2P (Evans, 2008; see Ercan and Gu ̈nay, 2019, pp.495-500; Smith, 2018, p.1,6-7 for tools available). In fact, international-level advocacy for R2P from the EU bureaucracies has continued despite member states’ failed internalisation of the norm and an internal ‘expectations vacuum’ (Newman and Stefan, 2019, pp.12-14; Gallagher, 2015a, p.260), with member states holding at best internal ‘ambivalence’ (Newman and Stefan, 2019, p.2) and at worst outright disagreement (Smith, 2018, p.4) over the R2P norm. One example is the disinterested case of Germany, which despite being the ‘core’ of the EU project (Bartlett and Prica, 2016), saw the R2P as a largely external norm project. Alongside China and Russia, Germany abstained from one of the most flagrant R2P cases in Libya (De Baere, 2012, p.9). Practical commitment to deliver the R2P has been slow and sparse, acted upon only when convenient (Dembinski et al., 2014, pp.368-370). The EU should be held accountable to the level of international expectation it espouses for itself and for others. As such, it is not fulfilling the R2P to the extent that its international support for the norm predicates it should.

The EU, Norm Clusters and the Responsibility to Prevent

The EU’s Prevention Toolbox

This is not to say that the EU has not taken any action to fulfil its R2P. Regarding Pillar II, we have observed an extensive role foreseen and in part delivered through its ‘Responsibility to Prevent’. Given its limited military instruments and NATO facilities (see Keukeleire and Delreux, 2014, Chapter 3), it would be unfair to judge the EU based on its unfulfillment of ‘rapid and timely’ intervention as this option is not readily available, agreed upon between member states or something the EU has only suggested it could deliver (Fabbini, 2014; Welsh, 2014, p.136). The EU Global Strategy, whilst not directly referring to the R2P norm, notes that ‘we need to collectively take responsibility for our role in the world’ (EU, 2016, p.3). Whilst largely in reference to their extensive ‘civilian power capacities’ in their ‘diplomatic’, ‘development cooperation’ and ‘trade’ tools (EU, 2016, pp.3-4), the EU recognises the combination of ‘soft and hard power’ it can offer for the delivery of global norms through their more structural, long-term military and civilian foreign policy operations (EU, 2016, p.4). This non-explicitly recognises its capacity to operate as Pillar II support of states’ security apparatus, in that it may not be able to intervene directly or rapidly, but it does have the military and civilian apparatus to support other states in their delivery of their own R2P should they request for assistance.

Both commentators (Smith, 2018, p.1; Brosig, 2011) and the EU itself (2018) recognises its primary tools and expertise centre on the delivery of prevention, mainly through ‘structural’ support i.e. in addressing root causes, ‘operational’ support i.e. early warning systems, and ‘direct’ efforts i.e. economic reward/sanctions (see Carment et.al., 2016, p.3; UNSG, 2013; Haugevik, 2009, p.352, EU, 2016, pp.28-32 for prevention tools). For the EU, ‘development, governance, civil society and human rights are all relevant to reducing the risk of atrocities occurring’ and sees its R2P in part fulfilled by the long-term work on these agendas (De Benedictis, 2015; De Baere, 2012, p.22). If the UNSG is correct that ‘development is the best prevention’ (UNSG, 2011), then the EU as the largest aid donor is fulfilling important R2P prevention work (Eggleston, 2014). The EU has also been a prominent supporter of the International Criminal Court (ICC), coined the ‘legal arm’ of R2P (Adams, 2019), as a method of prevention based on prosecution against impunity (Ercan and Gu ̈nay, 2019, p.500; Ford, 2010). Under a wider understanding of R2P action, the EU could be perceived to be fulfilling its responsibility to prevent quite extensively. However, the fact that these actions are rarely – if ever – framed under R2P auspices both hinders norm development (Newman and Stefan, 2019, p.7; Badescu 2014; 2011) and suggests EU ‘R2P’ is simply ‘reframing’ existing EU action (ibid, p.11; Barqueiro et al., 2016, p.37) rather than genuinely committing to specific mass atrocity prevention at the expense of resources, other normative pursuits or foreign policy goals.

The Problem of Norm Clustering

The extent to which the EU is fulfilling its R2P is characterised by a ‘norm clustering’ that groups its mass atrocity prevention with numerous existing actions (Staunton and Ralph, 2019, pp.1-6,17; Lantis and Wunderlich, 2018), most notably becoming synonymous with conflict prevention (Cuyckens and De Man, 2012, p. 111). This conflates the two despite the necessary responses (Badescu and Weiss, 2010, p.451) and risk factors (Ralph, 2014) differing significantly. This allows for easy if somewhat disingenuous ‘implementation’ of R2P without significant change in EU or member states commitments. Both within member states and the EU’s internal apparatus there has been ‘deep rooted suspicion’ over R2P’s added value beyond existing human rights, conflict prevention, governance and humanitarian work (Wouters and De Man, 2013, p.4,19; Cuyckens and De Man, 2012). This scepticism and failure to recognise the uniqueness of atrocity prevention, as well as prioritisation of other interests, has grave consequences.

The Rohingya in Myanmar have faced ‘slow burning genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ (Darusman, 2019; UNHCR, 2017, UN News, 2017), orchestrated by the military and enabled by the government. The EU pursues democracy promotion and development as their priorities in Myanmar, allocating 688 million in financial support for 2014-20 (EEAS, 2018b). Whilst in theory this is delivering structural prevention, this ‘norm clustering’ only serves to detract from specific mass atrocity action and fails to bring in ‘democracy’ in any more than a procedural sense (Adams, 2019, p.8; Southwick, 2015, p.150). The EU’s position stems from a strategic decision to prioritise norms of democracy (Adams, 2019, p.3; GCR2P, 2017) and other foreign policy gains (Staunton and Ralph, 2019, p.10; Haacke, 2016, p.819) over mass atrocity prevention, despite repeated warnings of the consequences (Green et al., 2018; Zarni and Cowley, 2014). Europe’s role in brokering the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh despite no guarantees of safety from further atrocity crimes (EEAS, 2017; Cappaert and Qu, 2018) and continued minimal conditionality on the aid it provides (Staunton and Ralph, 2019, p.12; Gallagher, 2015b) – despite recently withdrawing aid from Burundi on human rights grounds (Barbière, 2016) – demonstrates the EU’s inconsistent regard for its R2P. Its limited response through refugee aid, varying statements of concern and minor targeted sanctions (EEAS, 2018b) has been slow to materialise and came only after atrocities took place, illustrating that the EU has not truly committed to fulfilling its responsibility to prevent potential mass atrocity in Myanmar (Adams, 2019; Smith, 2018, pp.14-17).

In South Sudan, the outbreak of civil war was not prevented despite the presence of an EU civilian mission prior to its outbreak in 2013 (Smith, 2018, pp.19-20). Notwithstanding sustained warnings of ‘crimes against humanity’ and even fear of ‘genocide’ by both international and European commentators (UN Press Release, 2017; 2013; EU, 2016), an estimated 383,000 deaths were recorded (Specia, 2018). During the pre-conflict ‘peace process’, the EU and others had pursued technocratic and socio-economic driven norms of democratisation and state-building (Pantuliano, 2014; Khadiagala, 2014) that ignored the ‘profound legacy of long-term conflict’ (Clark, 2014; Young 2012), likely to return, and in turn failed to create a South Sudan that could truly bear its own ‘responsible sovereignty’ (Rossi, 2016, p.179). In response to the crisis, the EU took some steps towards its R2P, but most of its interventions called on those involved to act rather than doing so themselves (see Smith, 2018, pp.17-20). The R2P provides a platform to justify a continued EU foreign policy which deepens development dependency and asymmetries with weaker states abroad under the auspices of R2P Pillar II support, reinforced by rhetoric – although contested (Graubart, 2013; Branch, 2011) – that the norm is non-Western and of global consensus in principle (Carment et al., 2016, p.10; De Baere, 2012). Coupled with a reluctance to act on agreed normative principles such as R2P when necessary – or only doing so when it overlaps with existing priorities – this exposes the strategic interests that underpin the EU’s R2P (Barqueiro et.al., p.46; Paris, 2014, p. 572). The Atrocity Prevention Toolkit (EEAS, 2019) could represent a crucial breakaway for mass atrocity prevention away from the ‘policy paradigm’ or ‘norm clusters’ in which it has been ‘entangled’ (Cuyckens and De Man, 2012, p.111) and may represent a genuine commitment to mass atrocity prevention as an end in itself. However, until implementation of this toolkit is consistent, the case studies above show that the EU fulfils its R2P to the extent that it correlates to existing ‘norm clusters’ and priorities such as democratisation or statebuilding, rather than re-prioritising its foreign policy towards mass atrocity prevention.

The EU, Inconsistency and the Responsibility to Protect

Inconsistency in Action

The EU fulfils its R2P not just when it is convenient for the bloc’s normative identity and external activity but also when it serves the interests of its powerful member states. The case of Libya began as a rapid and resounding international community response to a genuine threat of mass atrocity crimes under Colonel Ghaddafi in 2011. This resulted in Resolution 1970, which ‘Recall[ed] the Libyan authorities’ responsibility to protect’ and member state enforced series of restrictive measures (UN, 2011a, p.1), before escalating into Resolution 1973 which invoked the international community’s R2P and permitted member state intervention ‘to take all necessary measures [. . . ] to protect civilians’ (Brockmeier et al., 2014, p.445, UN, 2011b, p.2). In some ways, the EU fulfilled its non-military R2P measures such as ‘asset freezes’, coercive sanctions and ‘travel bans’ effectively and rapidly to bring an end to the Gaddafi regime (see Wouters and De Man, 2013, p.24; Koenig, 2011). Yet, the lack of accountability within the EU foreign policy apparatus allowed for an ‘unchecked […] Franco-British directoiré to act on the EU’s behalf through the European Council (Fabbrini, 2014, pp.189-91) and alongside NATO, using ‘all necessary’ means to go well beyond the agreed mandate in pursuit of their self-interests for regime change (Spencer, 2012; Bellamy, 2011; Pattison, 2011). The partiality and selective protection of rebel civilians showed a flagrant disregard for genuine mass atrocity prevention (Haslett, 2014; Welsh, 2011). This prompted internal EU condemnation with a public statement of criticism against the British-French action from Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg (Castle, 2011, p.4), whilst external BRICS states such as South Africa repeatedly condemned the motives of their actions (UNSC 2011a; 2011b). In keeping with the UK’s inappropriate use of the ICCC report as ‘ex post facto humanitarian justification’ for invading Iraq (MacFarlane, Thielking, and Weiss, 2004; Evans, 2004) and Burma in 2008 by France (Brockemeier et al., 2014, pp.441-4), Libya demonstrates the risk of neo-colonial character emerging in R2P as a rearticulation of long-criticised humanitarian intervention (Jean-Robert, 2012). The UK’s reaffirmation of the legality of liberal interventionism (HoCFAC, 2018) and France’s continued non-R2P droit d’ingérence (Staunton, 2018, p.380) suggests these powers have not seen substantial change within their security cultures, nor genuine commitment to the R2P norm other than co-opting both it and the EU apparatus to deliver their long-standing foreign policy goals (Brockmeier et.al., 2014).

The responsibility to rebuild, initially part of the ICISS report, was omitted from WSOD. However, the EU’s lacklustre post-intervention support in Libya has fallen short of its own commitments to assist with ‘the reconciliation and the reconstruction’ of the country following R2P intervention (see Van Rompey, 2011, Georgieva, 2011), not to mention civilians at risk of human trafficking and wide-spread abuse (Gottwald, 2012). Instead, the EU has since prioritised non-R2P norms and foreign policy interests around security and migration (Coen, 2015, p.1051; Wouters and De Man, 2013, pp.25-6) whilst the population continues to suffer immensely (UNICEF, 2015). The Libya case evidences long-held reservations from non-Western states about the true character of R2P’s Pillar III (Morris, 2013; Murray, 2013, p.43) and the EU more generally as a ‘post-colonial power’ (Nicola ̈ıdis, 2015; Coen, 2015, p.1045). Thus, the EU is in part failing to fulfil R2P due to dominant member states co-opting it for their own foreign policy interests and the damage this does to norm development by delegitimising Pillar III (Dembinski et al., 2014, p.366; Hehir, 2011).

Legitimate and Illegitimate Inaction

There are cases of ‘legitimate inconsistency’ where the EU cannot be expected to take extensive action and fulfil R2P abroad based on ‘genuine cost-benefit’ analysis (Gallagher, 2015a, pp.272; Bellamy, 2015, p.137). To ‘deny the relevance of politics’ and its limitations on available actions (Weiss, 2004), especially when the power resides with an often divergent UNSC (Morris, 2015, pp.5-7), is to overstate the pragmatic expectations set out in the WSOD (Ralph, 2018, p.191, Gallagher, 2015a, p.267). The case of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a fair example, being both isolated from the international community and somewhat under the protection of China, a veto wielding UNSC power. The fact that the EU and its member states led calls for an R2P-focused Human Rights Council inquiry into the abuses taking place in North Korea (HRC, 2014), and that this report created behavioural change and restarted human rights relations between the EU and North Korea, is a notable EU R2P success when inaction would have largely been considered legitimate (Cohen, 2016). The complexity and heavily politicised case of Syria – despite overwhelming R2P relevance with extensive war crimes and crimes against humanity committed (GlobalR2P, 2019) – could be another legitimate case as it stands now, especially given its similar ties to vetopower Russia (Coen, 2015, Haslett, 2014, p.203). Yet, it was not always destined to be so complicated. Member states’ failure to internalise the principles of R2P whilst simultaneously using it as a means to justify other foreign policy aims such as ‘accountability’ and ‘regime change’ against Assad (Ralph, 2018, p.193; Gifkins, 2012, p.383) – especially given international suspicion of motives post-Libya (ibid, p.195 and above) – can be seen as a contributing factor to why the R2P failed so cataclysmically in the Syrian case. The EU and its member states restricted potential for genuine de-escalation of mass violence by isolating the more sovereignty-prioritising states who were fearful of further regime changes (Ralph and Gifkins, 2017). This gives further credence to the view that the EU’s R2P is only fulfilled to the extent that it matches existing priorities.

Situations of ‘illegitimate inconsistency’ are even more damaging to the EU’s R2P credentials, where ‘simple selfishness’ means they can neglect action or contribute to atrocities themselves (Gallagher, 2015a, pp.272; Bellamy, 2015, p.137). Simple disinterest produces illegitimate inaction and is a failure of EU R2P fulfilment. For example, the EU was unwilling to contribute to the Democratic Republic of Congo crisis in 2008 despite UN R2P-based request that was well within their means (Smith, 2008, p.4). Likewise, Member States have failed to pursue any of their own mass atrocity prevention initiatives individually (Brockmeier et al.,2014, p.444). In the aforementioned inaction in South Sudan, disinterest again undermined concerted EU delivery of the R2P in a case where it could have had great impact. Conflict of interest also creates illegitimate inaction. In the current civil war in Yemen, atrocities and war crimes are essentially ‘facilitated’ by the EU member states’ support of Saudi Arabia (Baron, 2016; OHCHR, 2019). Despite ‘condemnation’ (Council of the EU, 2018) and comprehensive financial aid (Alattrash, 2018) provided to Yemen, fundamentally the EU has failed to hold its member states accountable to their legally binding 2008 Common Position on arms exports (Oppenheim, 2019a) and to international humanitarian law, leaving this to national courts (Maletta, 2019). National interests, for both arms and non-arms trade and exports, have crippled the EU’s response to Saudi Arabia’s actions (Oppenheim, 2019b) and have meant the EU has not only failed to fulfil its R2P, but its main powers are actively contributing to the crisis. Similar criticisms against their self-interest have been levied against Europe remaining ‘silent’ over abuses by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (Hehir, 2013, pp.44-45). Likewise, the EU has failed to ‘name and shame’ Eritrea since 2016 despite ‘crimes against humanity’ taking place there (UNHCR, 2018), and continue to provide aid without conditionality because of the country’s role in Europe’s migration strategy (ECR2P, 2019). Likewise, the Kurdish population in Syria and Turkey face ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘war crimes’ by Turkish armed rebels as a result of the departure of US forces from Syria in October 2019 (Seligman, 2019; Roebuck, 2019). Key EU member states sell a plethora of arms to the country, and some public condemnation alongside an embargo on new arms sales remains insufficient for the EU to fulfil its R2P as long as old contracts continue to be delivered whilst atrocity crimes take place (Al Yafai, 2019). These cases exemplify an underlying challenge in EU foreign policy in that despite Lisbon’s apparent coordination of activity of member states (Fabbrini, 2014), these will prioritise their foreign policy interests (or disinterests) at the expense of the EU’s espoused goals or commitments, such as R2P.

The Refugee Crisis and R2P as Selective Foreign Policy

Whilst for the most part the EU is agreed to have a ‘unique’ role in R2P as a non-traditional, international proactive foreign policy acting region (Ercan and Gu ̈nay, 2019, p.491), it also has a mixed fulfilment of the norm internally and on its borders. The post-war formation of the EU and its guarantees of Pillar I for European states offers an opportunity for ‘region-to-region learning processes’ on how this may be replicated abroad (ibid, p.499; Wouters and De Man, 2013, p.10). Likewise, its enlargement and accession processes for new members were declared its ‘greatest contribution’ to R2P because it implements structural prevention by spreading EU values to neighbouring states and aspiring EU member states such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia etc. (De Baere, 2012, p.10). Its enlargement and accession processes help to internalise EU norms and standards into such nations, ensuring they have the safeguards and normative aspirations long-term to uphold Pillar I. Yet none of this work was done for the R2P norm. When its internal R2P is put under pressure, it is evident how little the norm is fulfilled, such as in the case of the EU’s response to the refugee crisis (Panebianco and Fontana, 2018, p.10). Whilst the WSOD and reports may not necessitate states take in refugees (Bulley, 2017), literature comprehensively suggests asylum and refugee protection represent a prudent and viable Pillar I and II avenue to fulfil R2P commitments as well as existing international humanitarian law (Panebianco and Fontana, 2018; Coen, 2017; Welsh, 2014; UNSG, 2009, Para.35;68; Barbour and Gorlick, 2008). The EU Agenda for Migration (European Commission, 2015) did not reference R2P directly, but acknowledged the ‘duty of protection’ and need for ‘solidarity’ for those fleeing abuse as well as states burdened with their immediate protection or arrival. The manifestation of Europe’s actions on this crisis demonstrate how other factors took and continue to take priority over R2P, with intense securitisation of refugees (Newman, 2017; Ralph and Souter, 2017, p.48); variation in the response of different member states i.e. Germany’s one million intake against Hungary’s mishandlings (Barqueiro, et al.,2016, pp.40-43); and an overall failure to live up to their ‘cosmopolitan commitments’ to human security and protection (Newman and Stefan, 2019, p.13; Newman, 2017, p.60). When one considers the fact that most asylum seekers originated predominantly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan (UNHCR, 2016), the lack of fulfilment is a dereliction of Europe’s ‘special responsibility’ to protect (Ralph and Souter, 2015). EU member states had a considerable direct contribution to the conflicts and creation of these ‘atrocity crime refugees’ and their failure to provide subsequent civilian refuge and protection suggests a lack of norm internalisation (Ralph and Souter, 2017Souter, 2014), especially as it is refugees who can be ‘at most risk’ of further mass atrocity crimes (Davies and Glanville, 2010).

This is not to say the EU did not fulfil its R2P in other ways for refugees, including comprehensive packages of financial, operational and political support for Middle Eastern and North African states, as well as efforts through the UN and international organisations (Bulley, 2017, pp.62-67). Yet this crucially remained a ‘downstream’ foreign policy agenda (Ralph, 2018, p.195; Barqueiro, 2016, p.994; Welsh, 2014), and has fundamentally been criticised as an ‘outsourcing’ of responsibility (Newman, 2017, p.60, Bulley, 2017, p.61) to ensure refugee burdens remain abroad. The precedence of other foreign policy objectives over the R2P is exposed by the Action Plan with Turkey, which poses serious questions over its ‘safe country’ status (Frelick, 2016) and, even worse, allows for potential refoulement of ‘irregular migrants’ back to the atrocities they fled to Europe to avoid (Bulley, 2017, p.66). This fits into a wider picture of an EU unwilling to bear the political costs of R2P compared to other domestic pressures and foreign policy interests (Coen, 2015, p.1047). In demonstrating ‘solidarity’ with states themselves through Pillar II and not refugees, the EU may be able to technically fulfil its ‘R2P’ through an ‘externalized politics of protection’ through state capacity-building (Panebianco and Fontana, 2018, Bulley, 2017, p.64; Haddad, 2010). Yet the questions remaining over the types of states this reinforces (Gallagher, 2015b) and lack of guaranteed long-term protection compared to what would be secured with asylum demonstrate that foreign policy goals around security, migration and terrorism are – and likely always have been – most important in EU decision-making, with the likes of R2P a normative commitment only fulfilled when convenient.

Conclusion

Judging the extent to which the EU fulfils its R2P is complex and multi-faceted. Its inability to always fulfil R2P is not necessarily a critique, as the self-interest with which it has been approached is both understandable and was predicted by the original R2P norm entrepreneurs (Evans, 2004). The EU has, in many cases, technically fulfilled the R2P in more ways than most, particularly in their structural prevention investment. Yet, this should not be confused with genuine internalisation of the R2P principle. What is worthy of condemnation is both the bloc and its member states’ willingness to claim to be supporting and fulfilling the norm at the UN-level whilst simultaneously failing to consistently deliver their potential for it. The R2P is utilised both for the ‘normative power Europe’ identity as well as pragmatically to excuse member states foreign policy exploits without remorse. Failing to commit politically, economically or conceptually to the necessary uniqueness of R2P at an EU-level means the EU has under fulfilled the immense role it could have, and claim to want, for R2P worldwide. Their co-optation of the concept does damage to the norm’s legitimacy and in turn, has and will continue to have real consequences for those suffering mass atrocities. When truly tested on its R2P credentials, the EU has failed to live up to its ‘own moral logic’ (Newman, 2019, p.59) and ultimately its R2P fulfilment is exposed as only delivered to the extent that it is accidental, convenient or useful to do so, demonstrating little to no sense of true ‘responsibility’ at all.

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