Political Science TermPaper


States have the primary responsibility for their citizens and in situation where the governments are unable or unwilling to protect their citizens from genocide and crimes against humanity, the international community has a responsibility to act.
DFID—(UK Department for International Development)

The Responsibility to Protect Report refers to the responsibility of sovereign states to protect their own people from such harm – and about the need for the larger international community to exercise that responsibility if states are unwilling or unable to do so themselves.
International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty

These statements by the DFID and the ICISS are subject to various interpretations of the international system and of traditional international relations theory. The statements apply directly to the issues of state sovereignty, the role of international actors and the impact of Globalization.

MAIN QUESTION: Discuss these statements in the context of the genocide in Darfur. How do international relations theories relate to the issue of Darfur and the role/impact of the international community? How do they explain it? What framework works best in explaining the factors surrounding the genocide and the lack of international response? What theories appear to hold little weight in light of this case study?

You should include Realism/Neorealism, Liberalism, Constructivism, and Structuralism in your analysis.
Include a current event to support your thesis in your conclusion (it should be a current event addressing the current state of affairs in Darfur).


IR Theory and Darfur


On September 9, 2015, the New York Times reported that a counterinsurgency force supported by the Sudanese government had carried out two major campaigns of mass rape and killings in Darfur since early 2014 (Gladstone, The New York Times). Darfur is a western Sudanese region where many people, majority of then non-Arabs have been rebelling against the Arab-dominated government of President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir. The wave of killings and rape reported by the New York Times is the latest in a series of systematic crimes that have been committed by pro-government militias in the region since 2003. UN estimates indicate that about 300,000 people have been massacred and 2.5 million displaced in what is widely considered a genocide (Gladstone, The New York Times).


            A widely accepted notion in international relations is that it is the primary responsibility of states to protect their citizens. In situations where the state is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens from genocide like in the case of Darfur, the international community has a responsibility to act. As a corollary to this, the concept of Responsibility to Protect has emerged, whereby sovereign states are tasked with the responsibility of protecting their own citizens from harms such as genocide, and the need for the international community to assume that responsibility whenever states are unable or unwilling to undertake it themselves.

Although the UN has endorsed the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, often referred to as “R2P”, unresolved issues such as the role of international actors, the need to protect state sovereignty, and the impact of globalization remain a major hindrance to its implementation. Indeed, the R2P doctrine has been interpreted variously within the international system, and this may explain why the international community is yet to intervene decisively in the Darfur genocide more than a decade after it started. Against this backdrop, it is important for IR (international relations) theorists to explain these interpretations based on different theories. The most common theories in this case include realism/neorealism, liberalism, constructivism, and structuralism.


Under realism, the assumption is that all human beings are inherently inclined towards increasing their power. Based on this assumption, one should expect each state to be in a perpetual struggle to gain power over other states. Realists perceive politics as a struggle for power over people. This means that techniques of political action are determined by the strategies that sovereign states intend to use to acquire, maintain, and demonstrate their power over other states. Thus, the primarily aim of states in international politics is to protect their national interests such as economic strength and security. Realists argue that before intervening in a conflict such as the one affecting the Darfur region, states should carefully calculate the interests involved as well as the power available.

            In neorealism, focus is primarily on the anarchical nature of the international system. A state of anarchy is assumed to exist within the international political environment because it is not governed by any central authority. Consequently, sovereign states determine their foreign policies based on their national interests. This is considered a crucial requirement in a self-help system where each state has a responsibility to preserve its interests to ensure its survival. A state cannot expect another state to protect its national interests. In both realism and neorealism, success is a major determinant of a state’s power. The strongest states tend to be in a better position to preserve and reinforce their power compared to their weaker counterparts.

            One way in which one can justify the importance of realism/neorealism in regards to the interpretation of the R2P doctrine is by pointing out that national interests remain the greatest factor that motivates states to intervene in crisis situations than humanitarian concerns. For example, NATO intervention in Kosovo was arguably driven more by European states’ desire to safeguard their own security as well as U.S. ambitions to maintain its European hegemony than by humanitarian concerns. Similarly, NATO’s intervention in Libya was driven by concerns about the country’s potential to sponsor terrorism than by humanitarian concerns. NATO abused the mandate given by UN Security Council to protect civilians by pulling out of the country immediately after the killing of the country’s leader despite the violence that continued to affect parts of the country. The UN Security Council had authorized the creation of a No-fly zone in Libya exclusively to protect President Qaddafi from massacring citizens who were revolting against his government. On the other hand, NATO is yet to intervene in Darfur despite the worsening humanitarian situation there. This is because no such threats are posed to the West by Sudan.


In contrast to realism/neorealism, liberalism focuses on the protection of human rights as the rationale for intervention. Liberals argue that every human being possesses the right to liberty, whereby he can do whatever he thinks fit to preserve himself as long as he does violate another individual’s equal liberty. Under liberalism, one can interfere with another individual’s liberty only if one’s own liberty is threatened. The argument is often extended to mean that every state has a right to protect its liberty as well as a duty to ensure that other states’ liberty is not threatened.

            Liberalism also supports the idea of states cooperating for mutual gains while acknowledging that each individual or state also needs to seek personal gain. In liberals’ view, states and individuals share certain interests even as they seek to protect their respective interests. It is on this basis that liberals argue that cooperation at both domestic and international levels is possible. One of the most commonly cited examples of liberalism at work is the formation of international organizations.

            In liberalism, military intervention is justified by the need to protect the violation of civilians’ human rights like in the case of crimes against humanity and genocide. Even in these situations, military action should be taken as a measure of last resort. The theory also stipulates that such action should be taken multilaterally rather than unilaterally, and with the authority of the UN Security Council. Liberals impose this requirement based on the view that multilateralism is an excellent way of preventing great powers from promoting national interests at the expense of humanitarian objectives in humanitarian intervention.


            The manner in which the international community responded to the Darfur genocide when it started in February 2003 demonstrates the weaknesses of liberalism and the strength of realism. As the genocide got underway, U.S.-led forces were preparing to launch an attack on Iraq, citing the existence of weapons of mass destruction that could easily be used to murder innocent Iraqis or deployed in international terrorism. A group of Western nations led by the United States had formed a coalition to deal with a threat of terrorism that the Iraqi regime presented. No serious humanitarian intervention was needed in Iraq but the U.S.-led coalition forces ended up invading the country. In contrast, a genocide was taking place in Darfur and the Western nations did not advocate or spearhead any humanitarian intervention.

This illustration demonstrates that in many situations, individual states will choose to forego shared interests and instead to prioritize their individual ones. Moreover, liberalism promotes multilateralism as an excellent strategy for ensuring that great powers do not promote their national interests instead of focusing on humanitarian intervention. Yet the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq was essentially a multilateral arrangement by powerful Western nations with the objective of protecting their security and economic interests, but disguised as humanitarian intervention. For this reason, liberalism emerges as a weak framework for explaining the lack of motivation by sovereign states to intervene in the Darfur genocide as stipulated in the R2P doctrine. 


As an international relations theory, constructivism is based on the argument that sovereign states, just like individuals, operate in a world of their own making, where “social facts” are constructed by human actions rather than “brute facts” (Ruggie 862). In other words, constructivists contend that IR as construed today is a product of social and historical construction as opposed to the inevitable consequences of the characteristics of world politics or human nature.

Constructivism has been applied in the debate on whether the Darfur crisis fits the description of genocide. The preoccupation with the question of whether or not to label the crisis a genocide is a manifestation of constructivism. The international community has elevated the concept of genocide based on horrific social and historical events such as mass killings in Rwanda in 1994 and the deadly Kosovo crisis in 1999. A comparison has also been made between the Darfur war and the Congo war. It is argued that the Congo war is bigger than the one in Darfur but the latter has received a bigger response from international aid agencies simply because it was labeled as genocide (Miles 251).

Constructivists acknowledge the role of the media and diplomacy as avenues for public consciousness as far as genocidal crises are concerned. However, these avenues tend to provide contradictory answers to the important question of whether a crisis has reached genocidal proportions. For example, in early 2005, the UN Security Council adopted a position on the Darfur crisis, arguing that it had not yet reached the threshold of genocide. In some cases, U.S. diplomats sent mixed signals, with the Secretary of State and Deputy Secretary of State issuing contradictory statements on whether or not the Darfur crisis should be regarded as a genocide. Thus, constructivism focuses primarily on the manner in which genocide is framed. It seems that the international community was preoccupied with the Iraqi invasion, and thus it did not pay a lot of attention to the Darfur crisis. There was no social construction of the Darfur war was as a genocidal crisis that deserved humanitarian intervention.  


Structuralism is based on the view that human nature is not fixed; rather, it is driven by specific historical structures. The theory also promotes the view that there is a collective identity that influences human beings’ interests and understandings. In structuralism, there is no clear distinction between international and national realms. Human action is largely shaped by the wider social structure, and humans have the power of self-determination, and can, therefore, make their own history. However, external constraints inherited from the human past can play a role in shaping this history as well. The economic system is a major external constraint that influences human action. In terms of a historical assessment of the economic structure of the world, the emphasis is normally on the inherently exploitative nature of the capitalist system.

Structuralism can be used to explain the various factors surrounding the Darfur genocide and the absence of international intervention. For example, one may argue that the historical context of the Darfur region in terms of colonialism and economic problems, and uncordial relations among ethnic groups make genocide attractive at both local and national levels. However, the inclination towards genocide as a political strategy for the fighting ethnic groups does not explain why the international community is reluctant to invoke the R2P doctrine through intervention. Meanwhile, arguments relating to globalization may be posited, in which case of poor pastoral communities killing each other for political and economic reasons in remote parts of a poor third-world country may be dismissed as “irrelevant” to the current discourse of today’s globalized society (Shaw 54). 

An Assessment of the Theories’ Explanatory Power in the Context of Darfur

Realism is the best theory for explaining the situation in Darfur, the factors surrounding the genocide, and the lack of international intervention more than a decade after the crisis started. The theory explains that every decision by a state to intervene is driven by the quest for power as well as efforts to protect its national interests in an anarchical international system. In contrast, the other theories (liberalism, constructivism, and structuralism) hold little weight in explaining the Darfur genocide because they do not provide a compelling reason for the failure by the international community to invoke the R2P doctrine to resolve the humanitarian crisis affecting the region.


In conclusion, realism enjoys greater explanatory power than other theories in interpreting the contemporary phenomenon whereby the Responsibility to Protect doctrine is in place and the international community has failed to intervene in the Darfur genocide. Evidence of genocide in Darfur is publicly available and the humanitarian crisis is worsening. This is demonstrated by the news article published by the New York Times on September 9, 2015 reporting that a government-supported counterinsurgency force is stilling carrying out campaigns of mass rape and killings in the region. The failure to intervene has arisen because the situation in Darfur does not pose an immediate or long-term threat to the West.

Although the liberal view of the international community’s shared interest of promoting human rights is correct, it fails to explain why the West is prioritizing other crises that are of lesser magnitude such as the Iraqi invasion and the Libyan intervention. This situation is best explained through realism, whereby the shared interest of intervening to stop human rights violations in Darfur has easily been overshadowed by other crises that area of greater relevance to the West as far as the furtherance of security and national interests is concerned.

Works Cited

Gladstone, Rick. “Report Details New Atrocities in Darfur by Sudanese Force.” The New York Times, 9 Sep. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

Miles, William. Labeling “Genocide” in Sudan: A Constructionist: Analysis of Darfur.” Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, 1.3 (2006): 251-263.

Ruggie, John. “What Makes the World Hang Together? Neo-utilitarianism and the Social Constructivist Challenge.” International Organization, 52.4 (1998): 855-885.

Shaw, Martin. Genocide and International Relations: Changing Patterns in the Transitions of the Late Modern World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.

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