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R2P and the Integrated Review

Executive Summary

This article argues that the Integrated Review and merger of the FCO and DFID offers an opportunity for Defence to reinvigorate and deepen its commitment to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (R2P).  It argues that R2P is beneficial for Defence as it contributes to national security objectives.  It helps to not only “protect our people” and “promote our prosperity” by reducing conflict internationally that could impact the UK but also helps to “project our influence abroad” by increasing our standing in the international community and by increasing the UK’s soft power in the face of increasing isolation.


The Integrated Defence Review and the merging of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, bring the three strands of defence, foreign policy and development increasingly into alignment.  This article argues that this should be seen as an opportunity and that those increased links should be taken advantage of. An integrated ‘global Britain’1, that wants to maintain its position in the international community needs a renewed commitment to Responsibility to Protect (R2P), across its full range of security, economic and influence capabilities.  Alongside preventative efforts, such as Defence Engagement, security sector reform and capacity building, it is paramount that there is a mechanism to respond to crisis situations as part of a broader international effort.

In Sep 18 Britain reaffirmed its commitment to R2P2 and in Jul 19 released a short note, which fell short of outlining a firm strategy3.  While this is a positive step, the UK and Defence can do better.  In the UNA-UK scorecard4, the UK scores Amber on both human rights and atrocity prevention5.  It must improve its commitment to R2P and the Integrated Review offers just such an opportunity.

What is R2P?

In the context of international norms, R2P is still young.  The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty developed R2P largely in response to failure to act in Rwanda, which resulted in up to 1 million deaths.  This was unanimously endorsed by all member states of the United Nations.  R2P is, in short, the emphasis of sovereignty as the responsibility of States to protect their own citizens.  If they fail to do so, the international community can intervene to protect against war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  The doctrine can be summed up by three pillars which underpin it:

  • Pillar I: A State’s obligations to protect all populations within its own borders.
  • Pillar II: The international community’s role in helping States to fulfil this obligation.
  • Pillar III: The international community’s responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian, peaceful or coercive means to protect civilian populations where a State manifestly fails to uphold its obligations.6

The most controversial of these is the third pillar, which essentially gives States the right to intervene if a State was in violation of Pillar I.  It is worth emphasising here that R2P encompasses a wide range of approaches, a toolkit including economic sanctions, travel bans, arms embargoes and other diplomatic means of which military intervention is the last resort.  Force is only to be used when all other measure have failed and is permitted only under restricted conditions.

Why the UK should commit to R2P

The 2020 Integrated Review brings foreign policy, development and defence closer together.  Although the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office are the UK lead for R2P, this represents a chance for Defence to demonstrate a stronger commitment and create a more robust plan.

Commitment to R2P helps achieve the three National Security Objectives as identified by the Strategic Defence and Security Review of 20157:

  1. Protect our people.
  2. Project our influence abroad.
  3. Promote our prosperity.

Commitment to R2P not only reinforces the message that Britain is still a global power, ready to commit to security and human rights internationally, but also has palpable benefits to the defence and security of the UK.  As David Cameron states: “These interventions are not just right morally – they are firmly in our national interest.”8

Protect our people

“The conflict in Syria and Iraq has shown how crises can trigger and accelerate instability across a region, and the challenges created by state failure or a lack of effective, publicly legitimate and accountable governance.”9

Mass atrocities are often indicative of much larger divisions.  In such a climate violence and crime can occur, with direct and indirect impacts on the security of the UK.  These include “regional instability, large-scale humanitarian need, mass migration and human trafficking, and exploitation of weak governments or ungoverned space by terrorist groups and criminals.”10  The National Crime Agency has also identified narcotic and weapon smuggling routes that either originate in or transit through countries experiencing conflict11.  The refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and the increase in asylum seekers and migrants attempting travel to the UK is also directly linked to conflicts in states such as Libya, Syria and Afghanistan12.  The security implications for failing to address large scale human rights abuses overseas may not be immediately obvious, but they are real.

Failure to identify potential atrocities and engage early means they are often left to fester, sometimes becoming so complex that by the time there is an international response, it is often too late to have a reasonable chance of success.  R2P is one way to reduce the chance of violence becoming so severe that it has the potential to impact on the security of the UK.  Diplomacy and less costly strategies are preferable, although they must be underlined with a clear willingness to follow through robustly with appropriate force if these means fail.

R2P should demonstrate that atrocities cannot be perpetrated with impunity, acting as a deterrent and making them less likely in the first place.  If all other measures fail to stop the perpetrators, then military intervention, if appropriate, should be used to halt the escalation of violence, meaning that there will be less risk of negative impact to UK security.

Project our influence abroad

Commitment to R2P can also enhance the UK’s soft power.  In recent years, soft power has been one of the UK’s greatest strengths, however this must not be taken for granted.  Events like the decision to withdraw from the European Union have affected the diplomatic power of the UK13.  The UK still sits at number 2 on the global soft power index14, but this represents a fall from the previous year when the UK held the top spot.  Recent studies have also concluded that states would be less willing to offer the UK financial help in a crisis15.  As mentioned in the introduction, in the UNA-UK’s global scorecard the UK only rates Amber on atrocity prevention and human rights.  As a proposed world leader, and the country Boris Johnson desires to be ‘enterprising, outward-looking and truly global Britain, generous in temper and engaged with the world”16, this isn’t good enough.  Defence has a role to play and also much to gain.

R2P represents a way for Britain to remain globally engaged and committed, an opportunity to become a leading power for atrocity prevention.  In concert with the “Global Britain’ strategy the current Government is pushing, R2P offers a positive way for the UK and Defence to engage internationally.

R2P doesn’t necessarily mean military intervention; however any strategy must be underlined by the willingness to use force if necessary.  The considered use of military intervention is a potent tool in the political arsenal and should be used, if required, to demonstrate Britain’s standing and commitment within the international community.

Promote our Prosperity

The contribution of R2P to the third security objective is perhaps less direct, but no less significant.  Although it is true to say that commitment to R2P may come with upfront costs (if it comes to military intervention), the intent of collective security is that it creates a more stable and more prosperous world for all. “R2P should be approached as a concept aiming to promote cooperation for peace and prosperity”17.  In 2017 it was estimated that conflict cost $14.3 Trillion globally, equivalent to 12.6% of global GDP18.  If even a small percentage of these conflicts can be avoided, the savings would be significant.  The estimated cost of conflict takes into account losses from crime and earnings as well as the direct cost of Defence spending.  Indeed, the cost of these conflicts, and the impact that they have on the global economy vastly outweighs the amount of security spending.

To put this number into some context, if the global cost of conflict were split equally between the 195 global states, it would still cost each state 73 billion per year in direct costs and lost earnings.  For a more reasonable comparison, between 2001 and 2013, the war in Afghanistan cost the UK £37 Billion19.  Whilst a staggering number in itself, it pales when compared to the annual cost of conflict globally.

Conflict and instability can also cost the UK in more palpable ways.  Unchecked violence can create large numbers of refugees and migrants as well as creating safe havens for organised crime, all of which can directly and indirectly damage the UK economically.  Instability and conflict inhibit economic development, damage trade and cause commodity price shocks20.

In the long term, “our prosperity and security is intertwined with peaceful development and security across the globe21”.  The increased working relationship of the three departments represents an ideal opportunity to strengthen this commitment and contribute to this aim.  Furthermore, the deterrent effect of R2P, if it is established as an international norm actually makes it less likely that costly interventions will happen.

A real opportunity for Defence

R2P encompasses a range of different options available to negotiators and decision makers.  Although this article is concerned with military action, it is noted that this is the tool of last resort, to be used when all other measures do not have a reasonable chance of success.  Early engagement is crucial to stop the situation descending into a place where it is too chaotic to salvage.  The use of force should be timely, but always used when all other possible means have failed.

While the economic and cultural influence of the UK remains strong, we are losing positive influence in the world.  R2P is not only the right thing to do in moral terms, but also for the security of the United Kingdom and for UK influence in the longer term.

This article has argued that the Integrated Review offers Defence a chance to commit more robustly to R2P as it offers means by which the three National Security Objectives can be pursued.  Both soft power and either the threat or use of military intervention can contribute to protecting our people, projecting British influence abroad, and promoting our prosperity.

What next?

There are three main points that should be considered for action.

Firstly, a commitment to R2P should be incorporated into the Integrated Review, and a joint strategy with the FCDO and MOD outlined.  The 2018 briefing note should be expanded into an atrocity prevention (and response) strategy as called for by The Foreign Affairs Select Committee22.

Secondly, robust indicators and warnings for impending atrocities should identified and tracked at the joint and defence level, alongside routine crisis identification and reporting.  This should not just be ad hoc, as the JACS is used23, but tracked in real time with regular updates provided to decision makers.  Suggestions for implementation include the analysis of previous atrocities to develop indicators and warnings.  These should be used to identify any likely scenarios of atrocities developing within Intelligence reporting and open source, including the rhetoric of leaders.

Finally, identification and early engagement should be prioritised.  Early engagement actually makes military intervention less likely.  Critically, military action is often used too late.  Kinetic action is to be used only as a last resort but must be timely for it to actually be of benefit to the population at risk.

Capt C
British Army

Capt C is a serving member of the British Army. She has an MA in Political Science (Human Rights) and has worked as a researcher in an international affairs and defence think tank.


  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/prime-ministers-statement-to-the-house-of-commons-16-june-2020
  2. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmfaff/1719/171902.htm
  3. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2019, “UK Approach to Preventing Mass Atrocities” https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-approach-to-preventing-mass-atrocities
  4. 2019, UNA-UK, “Global Britain Scorecard” https://www.una.org.uk/scorecard
  5. Note the UK also scores red for nuclear disarmament and arms trade.  Through a defence lens this is arguably less problematic as, while perhaps morally questionable, at least in the short term these areas are in line with National Security Objectives.
  6. ICISS, 2001, “Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty” http://responsibilitytoprotect.org/ICISS%20Report.pdf
  7. HM Government, 2015, “National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015” https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/555607/2015_Strategic_Defence_and_Security_Review.pdf
  8. Ibid
  9. Ibid
  10. Ibid
  11. NCA, 2019 “strategic assessment of serious organised crime, P.35  https://nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/who-we-are/publications/296-national-strategic-assessment-of-serious-organised-crime-2019/file
  12. UNHCR, 2019, “Global Trends 2019” https://www.unhcr.org/5ee200e37.pdf
  13. Jamie Smith, 2019 “UK Falls in Diplomatic Power Rankings Despite ‘Global Britain Vision’ (Financial Times) https://www.ft.com/content/1e3f241a-0fe1-11ea-a7e6-62bf4f9e548a
  14. Soft Power 30, 2019, “United Kingdom” https://softpower30.com/country/united-kingdom/
  15. The Independent 2020, “Hidden Cost of Brexit” https://www.independent.co.uk/independentpremium/voices/brexit-eu-polls-boris-johnson-help-trade-a9655146.html
  16. BBC News, 2019, “Boris Johnson: First Speech as PM in full”, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-49102495
  17. UN, 2009, “Delegates weigh Legal Merits of Responsibility to Protect” https://www.un.org/press/en/2009/ga10850.doc.htm
  18. UN OCHA, 2017, “World Humanitarian Data and Trends”, https://interactive.unocha.org/publication/datatrends2017/resources/WHDT2017_Final_Singles.pdf
  19. The Guardian, 2013, “Afghanistan War has Cost Britain More than 37Bn New Book Claims” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/30/afghanistan-war-cost-britain-37bn-book
  20. HM Government, 2011, “Building Stability Overseas Strategy”, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/67475/Building-stability-overseas-strategy.pdf
  21. Ibid
  22. UNA-UK, 2018, “UNA-UK Disappointed by UK’s Response to Foreign Affairs Committee Inquiry on Humanitarian Intervention” https://www.una.org.uk/news/una-uk-disappointed-uk’s-response-foreign-affairs-committee-inquiry-humanitarian-intervention
  23. JACS, 2017, “Guidance Note’, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/joint-analysis-of-conflict-and-stability-jacs-guidance-note

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