Brazil’s Responsibility While Protecting

Some people are gushing about Brazil’s challenge to the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine.

Brazilian diplomats have indeed come up with a twist, calling their own version of R2P “responsibility while protecting.” Those looking for new leadership and a more humane, empire-free and sexier version of the good old “humanitarian intervention” think that Brazil could “The One.”

The Canadian International Council has a new “In Depth” (!!!) piece on the issue. Its ends with a question that is beyond laughable: “With the economic and political decline of traditional Western powers, will Brazil lead the world’s police force in a new multipolar world?”

Let’s just mention two little problems that should give CIC’s deep thinkers a few clues to an answer.

1) Brazil has an extremely limited capacity to deploy serious forces on any significant scale anywhere in the world. Their mission in Haiti is the largest and most extensive venture they have engaged in since the Brazilian military’s excellent adventure in the Dominican Republic, in 1965, and it fully occupies them.

By the sad standards of this world, Haiti is much closer to a Club Med than to a failed state war zone. As a Brazilian military analyst who certainly prefers me not mentioning his name, the best thing about engaging in Haiti is that nobody can ask Brazil to go to the DRC, Sudan, or other really hot spots.

2) About 40,000 people are murdered every year in Brazil and in the country’s two main cities, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, at least a thousand are executed by the police. “Resistance to arrest” is also a major cause of death in most of the country’s large cities. Trials of policemen accused of such executions are exceedingly rare and condemnations even more so.

At home, in other words, Brazil neither protects, nor shows much responsibility when apparently trying to. And that is our candidate for global police chief…

So what should we make of the Responsibility while Protecting? Not much.

The original R2P is little more than a clever conceptual fig leaf to hide–barely–challenges to the sovereignty of smaller powers by the large ones that still dominate global governance institutions. There are good reasons for those who have little say in the decision to worry about entrenching a principle that could make intervention easier. Brazil’s modified R2P is just one way they have found to try to neuter R2P (if you can forgive the twisted mixed metaphors). Nothing more.

Jean Daudelin

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