Advocates of the doctrine respond that military force is only one aspect of a broader theory, but force is inevitably central to any debate about humanitarian intervention. Providing food to a war’s starving victims in a permissive environment is something Americans do instinctively; sending their sons and daughters into conflicts that do not affect their vital interests is something else altogether. Moreover, the “responsibility to protect” is not just another euphemism for U.N.-style peacekeeping. Successful peacekeeping operations rest on the consent of the parties to the conflict in question, which obviates any reason for the “protectors” to use force, and dramatically reduces any risks even in providing humanitarian assistance.
In addition, while the “responsibility to protect” seems to present an alluring moral clarity, it dangerously ignores competing moral claims. The highest moral duty of a U.S. president, for example, is protecting American lives, and casually sacrificing them to someone else’s interests is hardly justifiable. Imagining a future tragedy of Holocaust-sized dimensions and asking whether we would stand idle even in its face may tug at our heartstrings, but emotion is not a policy. And let us be clear: Even the real Holocaust did not motivate U.S. war planners from Franklin Roosevelt on down. They remained entirely focused on the military destruction of Nazi Germany.