Examining the impact of the 'Responsibility to Protect' doctrine on state sovereignty in contemporary international law

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Butler, Seán
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University College Cork
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The principle of state sovereignty is the cornerstone upon which international law has traditionally been constructed, in particular with regards to the twin principles of sovereign equality and the prohibition of external interference in the domestic jurisdiction of a state. The increasing importance of international institutions, most notably the United Nations (UN), in global governance has challenged this primacy of sovereignty, in particular with regards to absolutist ‘Westphalian’ conceptions of the principle, and consequently has posed questions regarding how this evolution has impacted the law’s theoretical foundations and fundamental precepts. One such challenge to Westphalian sovereignty is the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) doctrine, a ‘soft law’ norm that seeks to empower the international community to take action to halt or prevent atrocity crimes, including a provision for UN Security Council-authorised military action to be undertaken as a last resort. This thesis seeks to examine how R2P has impacted the contemporary functioning of sovereignty, particularly focusing upon the actions of UN-authorised forces in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya in 2011 and the international response to the Syrian Civil War (from 2011 onwards). It argues that the conditional variant of sovereignty central to the conception of R2P has, through a decoupling of governmental sovereignty from popular sovereignty, the potential to transform the international legal system from one grounded in the horizontality of the Westphalian structure into a more hierarchical arrangement of relationships between the UN, governments and the populations of states. The thesis further examines the impact of this shift upon the limits to UN Security Council power (in particular regarding the question of regime change) and the content of the right to self-determination, and analyses how this transformation is threatened by interpretative cleavages over the content of sovereignty between Western states and the so-called ‘BRICS’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
International law , Sovereignty , R2P , Libya , Syria , UN Security Council , Responsibility to protect , Humanitarian intervention
Butler, S. 2016. Examining the impact of the 'Responsibility to Protect' doctrine on state sovereignty in contemporary international law. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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