Shahram Akbarzadeh and Arif Saba: ‘UN paralysis over Syria: the responsibility to protect or regime change?,’ International Politics. Published online May 4 2018.
Publication year: 2018

The Syrian conflict, now in its eighth year, is a bitter example where a sovereign state and the international community have manifestly failed in their responsibilities to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes. What factors have prevented the international community from fulfilling its obligation under the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to save Syrian civilians? This paper argues that the contradiction between the protection of civilians and regime change has undermined international confidence in the principle of R2P and tarnished it as a tool for US foreign policy agendas. This argument is developed by a review of R2P’s conceptualisation followed by examining its implementation in Libya. This study concludes that the conceptual confusion and the Libyan experience have broken the international consensus on R2P and paralysed the United Nations in dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Syria. More specifically, the UN Security Council’s disagreement over the means to protect Syrians has made R2P itself an impediment to its operationalisation.