Contested intervention: China, India, and the responsibility to protect.

Author:Dunne, Tim

This article examines institutional patterns of leadership and followership in the UN Security Council with respect to the Responsibility to Protect principle. In a departure from existing literature on leadership and followership in international relations, which has hitherto been framed within a realist analysis, the article presents a constructivist account of leadership that sheds light on the strategies and scope of conditions for mobilizing international action to protect populations from mass atrocities. The article applies a theoretical innovation to case studies that examine strategies that India and China adopted in the Security Council to respond to the crises in Libya and Syria from 2011 to 2013. This integration of theory and empirics reveals a complex and layered account of factors that shape the Security Council's ability to exercise its Responsibility to Protect. In doing so, the article demonstrates that followership and leadership are relational practices that create or limit the possibilities for institutional action. Keywords: Responsibility to Protect, United Nations Security Council, India, China, constructivism, followership, leadership.


The ability of champions of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to mobilize the UN Security Council to halt or avert mass atrocity crimes has yet to be framed explicitly in terms of the dynamic interplay of leadership and followership. Yet as we argue in this article, the latter is a precondition for the former. Positing an interplay between leadership and followership is not some kind of abstract claim: the very structure of the Security Council means that leadership can be blocked by the actions of one permanent member using its veto power or several nonpermanent members acting in concert to deny the number of affirmative votes required to pass a resolution. Leaders and followers are thereby embedded in a complex institutional process that is structured according to membership role, prior substantive agreements, long-standing coalitions, and procedural rules.

Apart from being an optic through which to view the institution of the Security Council, the leader-follower dynamic in relation to R2P is an opportunity to evaluate how far human protection norms are vulnerable to rising-power revisionism. Will powerful countries such as China and India--which do not share many of the liberal individualist foundations of the human rights regime--be prepared to follow the initiative of liberal internationalist powers to pass robust resolutions in the Council against those regimes that engage in mass killings and other atrocities against their people? Understanding global power shifts requires more than adopting bipolar framings in which new world powers are represented either as compliant partners or spoilers--rather, we make the case for a constructivist analysis of the complex processes of adaptation and resistance among the major powers in the system. (1) The R2P agenda provides a useful way of evaluating these dynamics, not least because it poses a stark challenge for conceptions of world order that are broadly skeptical about authorizing robust accountability measures--such as sanctions, International Criminal Court (ICC) referral, or protective force--designed to compel the perpetrators of mass atrocities to exercise restraint.

The purpose of this article is to examine more closely institutional patterns of leadership and followership in the Security Council over Libya and Syria from 2011 to 2013. (2) Focusing on this period has two advantages: first, it enables a comparison to be drawn between the two champions of the Global South within the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) grouping--China and India--who both served on the Security Council at this time, albeit occupying different positions as permanent and elected members respectively. Second, the demarcated time period enables us to bracket the diplomatic shift that took place after the chemical weapons attacks on Ghouta in late August 2013.

As we argue below, leadership in the Security Council is exercised when one or more members of the Council seek to influence followers of their framing of a particular crisis and mobilize support for proposed measures to alleviate the problem. Followers then adopt a variety of different strategies on a spectrum ranging from active support to outright blocking; in the context of a divided Security Council, contestation may be coupled with a realignment in leadership and followership around an alternative framing of the type of situation that the crisis represents and the scope of legitimate responses. We might expect China to have greater capacity than India for both leadership and followership on human protection matters due to the structural advantage it possesses by virtue of its permanent membership on the Council. At the same time, given the long-standing skepticism on the part of China and India to interventionist doctrines, it is not surprising that neither has looked to exercise leadership when it comes to sanctioning coercive measures to prevent or halt mass atrocities. What we see in 2011-2013 is not leadership per se, but different strategies of followership. This is brought to the fore in the empirical analysis where we focus on how India and China conducted their diplomacy in the Council in relation to the atrocities perpetrated by Muammar Qaddafi's armed forces and President Bashar al-Assad's violent repression of Syrian militias seeking to overthrow the regime. The integration of the theory and empirics reveals a complex and layered account of their actions and, in doing so, reminds us that followership and leadership are relational practices that create or limit the possibilities for institutional action.

Leadership and Followership in International Relations

The existing literature on the leader-follower dynamic in international relations is relatively thin and has hitherto been framed within a realist analysis. According to this account, leaders are hegemons and so-called secondary states are followers. Such realist accounts address the question of how hegemons exercise leadership--either through inducement or coercion--to ensure less powerful states' strategic support or acquiescence, as well as investigate the strategies and motives for followership. Realism portrays leadership as a position fortified by material power and followership as a response to that power that is motivated principally by the interest to stave off security threats. The spectrum of response ranges from outright opposition (hard balancing), to resistance (soft balancing), neutrality, and accommodation (bandwagoning). (3) The extreme end of this realist spectrum, hard balancing, has little to say about leadership and followership since state agency is largely determined by the system's structure. However, the other responses represent shades of followership that are more or less resistant or complicit in the hegemon's dominance.

For realists, therefore, the value of analyzing power through a leadership and followership optic is to understand both the scope of conditions of hegemony and the strategies adopted by major powers and other secondary states to either buttress the hegemon's dominance or limit its room for maneuver. This realist understanding of leadership and followership lacks a conception of relationality: it is ultimately an account of hegemons, albeit informed by how other states sustain or challenge hegemonic leadership of the system.

Constructivism has so far had little to say explicitly about the leader-follower dynamic. Yet we argue that it has the conceptual resources to provide a different and richer account than realism. Constructivist accounts of leadership shift the focus from material conceptions of power to consider, instead, how standards of legitimacy shape statecraft. (4) The leader-follower dynamic is critical to the emergence and diffusion of the normative standards in the first instance, and once a sufficient consensus has been reached, norms "help to legitimize a course of action" and in so doing "become among the enabling conditions of its occurrence." (5) Despite the central role of leadership and followership in explaining normative change, relatively scant attention has been paid in the constructivist literature to the specific strategies that leaders and followers adopt in the process of norm legitimation. The absence of analysis of the strategies that states adopt to invoke norms in specific cases leaves the impression that leadership-followership matters in only the initial emergence of norms; we argue that constructivism needs to look more carefully at the leader-follower dynamic in relation to the process of norm consolidation and contestation. (6) In this sense, this article is a contribution to constructivist understanding of leadership and followership that provides insight into the resilience of normative orders.

Leadership, Followership, and the Responsibility to Protect

The story of how R2P became a framework for atrocity prevention and response is one that has been told many times. (7) In this article, we use the current Secretary-General's "three pillar" approach to R2P since our concern is with the implementation of the framework. Pillar I holds that it is the primary responsibility of states to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity; Pillar II notes that it is also the responsibility of the international community to assist states under stress to fulfill their protection obligations; Pillar III refers to the Security Council's responsibility to take "timely and decisive" action when states are "manifestly failing" to protect their populations. Actions that are permissible under this third pillar of the framework can include noncoercive means such as diplomacy and humanitarian assistance and coercive measures such as...

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