Implementing the International "Responsibility to Protect": A Sociological Case Study of the Institutional Practices of United States Department of Defense towards Operationalizing Humanitarian Intervention

William Roche

Advisor: John G. Dale, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: Johanna Bockman, James Witte

The Hub, #VIP 3
November 17, 2017, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


The concept of Responsibility to Protect was promulgated by the United Nations in 2001 to address the issue of military intervention in the case of gross and systematic violations of human rights by a state to prevent large scale loss of life. This issue reflects a greater international focus on protection of civilians’ to prevent future atrocities. My research examines how the key departments in the executive branch; the Department of State, US Agency for International Development and the Department of Defense have changed policy doctrine and procedures to incorporate the norms into US government practices between 2001 and 2016. To assess the extent the norms have been embedded I ask a series of questions: (1) What is the institutional environment in which the USG negotiates its mandates regarding the implementation of R2P? (2) How do the distinct institutional cultures of State, USAID and DOD shape and influence positions on military intervention into humanitarian crises? (3) What is the relationship between the DOD (and its various offices) and the other US departments and agencies as well as civil society (NGO’s) with which it works to implement R2P? (4) What processes, procedures and action has the USG implemented to help operationalize R2P? (5) How has the USG institutional action and thinking (focused primarily on DOD and DOS) changed over time, from the emergence of R2P through two US administrations?

These questions help discern the extent of institutionalization the R2P norms have been embedded in to the US government. To examine the issue I used a mixed methods approach. I examined what is written in the doctrine, policy and practices from the national level down to the operational level in the three departments, what is said through content analysis of over 6000 speeches by the President, and senior leadership of the three departments, and finally what is perceived by conducting over eight hours of semi-structured interviews with practitioners in the USG as well as the United Nations and Non-Governmental Organizations to get their perspectives. The key finding shows there has been a shift in USG particularly after 2010 illustrated by an increased development of formal policy, procedure and practice emphasizing protection of civilians against mass atrocity and humanitarian operations. These changes occurred over a sixteen year period and reflect increased emphasis by the two administrations. These normative changes place protection of civilians as a priority for the state reflected in sovereignty as responsibility. How the norm continues to develop remains an open empirical question.