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Sovereignty, Choice, and the Responsibility to Protect

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It is commonly asserted that the chief obstacle to advancing acceptance of the responsibility to protect (RtoP) is the reluctance of developing countries to compromise their sovereignty. This paper argues, instead, that both developing and some of the more powerful developed countries have concerns about the implications of RtoP for their sovereignty. The former are more likely to be concerned about territorial sovereignty and the latter about decision-making sovereignty. Both sets of concerns were openly expressed during the debates leading up to the consensus at the 2005 World Summit on RtoP. That consensus was facilitated by the fact that the wording of the relevant provisions of its Outcome Document took both types of reservations about sovereignty into account. The paper argues that the recognition that countries of the North and the South tend to be more united than divided by their determination to preserve their sovereignty should facilitate efforts to achieve consensus on how to operationalise and implement the responsibility to protect.


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