Archive for October, 2021

Is the symbol for R2P in fact a warplane?

Saturday, October 9th, 2021

Amidst rising tension between Serbia and Kosovo (with some news sources calling it ‘the worst in a decade’), a familiar symbol rears its ugly head: the warplane. Fighter jets, troop transports and bombers have become so intimately linked with the precarious situation of Kosovo, that one rarely reads and article without one or the other being mentioned. Why is this? While answering that would take quite a lot more work than what can be afforded here and now, there are a few things that we can consider. Namely, the Western notion of R2P, or responsibility to protect, which was ushered in with the late 20th century discourse of humanitarian intervention, and its implementation (or experimentation?) in Kosovo.

In March, 1999, NATO undertook its first bombing campaign in the name of humanitarian intervention, that had not been sanctioned by the UN Security Council. While debates ensued over the legitimacy of the campaign in terms of ethical and judicial considerations, what I find more interesting, is what this tells us of how the Balkans are articulated.

R2P quickly became a key signifier in the humanitarian discourse centred around the war on terror, and the international role of the Western, liberal democracies. Consider how the ‘R’ in R2P stands for ‘responsibility’ and the fact that the American code name for the operation was ‘Operation Noble Anvil’. Both ‘Responsibility’ and ‘Noble Anvil’ signifies paternal duties- a stern but caring father who is forced to step in and break up a pair of squabbling siblings. Yet interestingly, does so primarily with the help of airborne violence. A violence which sees minimal risk for the ones commanding the tools of destruction, while exceedingly punishing the receiver of said violence.

While the discourse of humanitarian intervention and the responsibility it carries is slowly being overtaken by a more conservative notion of national interest and strategic realism, the symbol of airborne violence- the warplane and the havoc it wreaks- serves as a reminder that the dabbling of the West in playing the good cop internationally, rests upon a very uneasy foundation. A foundation which harks back to European colonisation. A foundation where Western notions of morality can be applied in praxis, arbitrarily, while the constant Other serves as the guinea pig.

Ejner Pedersen Trenter