Have you read this production of mine from 2008? An extract:

Recently I was a Harvard-sponsored seminar at which issues of international ‘humanitarian intervention’ and the Right to Protect were discussed.

I recalled seeing signs as one entered Harvard Square: Cambridge is a Domestic Violence-Free Zone.

I said that if you were walking down the street near Harvard and saw a man beating his wife/child/dog brutally with a stick in his front garden, you were morally and maybe even these days legally obligated to intervene to stop the violence.

Thus we long ago moved on from the idea that the ‘sovereignty’ of one’s home was a shield behind which seriously illegal acts could proceed uninterrupted.

So if it is unacceptable to brutalise one person in one’s own garden, why is it acceptable to brutalise millions of people in one’s country without fear of being stopped?

Enter the Right to Protect (R2P), the idea (a) that states do have exclusive sovereignty over their own internal affairs but also (b) that that sovereignty is qualified: other members of the international communty may intervene to stop massive crimes against a population when that population’s own government is either taking part in the mayhem – or is powerless or unwilling to stop it.

Sounds ok?

In principle, yes. In practice, no one trusts anyone else so basic motives are questioned.

Those governments making the case for an intervention to protect a beleaguered population from oppression will tend to be seen in many parts of the world as Western do-gooders bent on reasserting long-lost hegemony. The more so since, almost by definition, any intervention will have to be forceful to stop the oppression.

Those governments arguing against any intervention can end up defending the indefensible. Showing scant regard for freedom and democracy in their own country, they end up in substance siding with gangsters and warlords rather than their victims. Which is why insistence that the ‘UN route’ be followed is unconvincing. Too many undemocratic hypocrites taking part in the decision.

All of which leaves moderate, reasonable people like us in a dilemma.

On the one hand, when it comes to environmental we they are told that we all live in one big Global Village and that we have responsibilities accordingly. Urgent action is needed now to stop huge numbers of people dying in the future because of climate change.

On the other hand, what about sizeable numbers of people dying now because of corrupt governments, warlords and gangsters? What of our responsibilities towards them?

Yet aren’t these problems all just too … far away? Doesn’t Afghanistan show the folly of such Western/international interventions? Why should we be the world’s policeman? We can’t even sort out puny Kosovo.

And so on.

The current reality is that the Obama administration from the top down has nothing much to say on all this, other than that it is all very difficult. True enough. European leadership is uncertain and uneasy. So if you’re planning significant war crimes or genocide any time soon, the prospects for doing so successfully are quite good.

Here is a powerful essay by Richard Just which looks at these questions both as they apply to Sudan and generally. The middle section is perhaps mainly for Sudan experts, but the opening and closing sections give a firm, energetic and honest account of the policy and other realities in this most problematic of all foreign policy areas.