Using the new R2P to boost popular engagement could take numerous forms. It could mean more pressure on governments to hold elections with an even playing field for all candidates. It could mean developing tools to allow minorities or other excluded groups to participate more fully in political debate or gain a fairer share of resources. It could mean liberalizing laws governing media or civil society. It could mean respecting rights to free speech, assembly, and religion.
These are already common refrains from the United States and other democratic powers. However, the Responsibility to Participate would bring the international community together coherently behind them, using a standardized set of tools to be applied when stability is under threat. Just as R2P has done with humanitarian intervention, the new doctrine would make conflict prevention through participation a distinct item on the global agenda.
Shortages of participation and accountability are amenable to a range of tools far more palatable than military ones. Diplomatic pressure, sanctions, and targeted foreign aid (or the withholding thereof) can all have an effect. Countries such as Russia and China would undoubtedly see these steps as thinly disguised Western interference. But these ideas stand a chance of attracting global support if packaged more coherently as an alternative to outright violations of sovereignty. This would build on successful lessons of the past, such as the effort to secure a re-run of the bogus election in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution of 2004 or the pressure applied to President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal to step down in 2012.
To be sure, the Responsibility to Participate raises the question of why leaders would agree to reforms that would empower their citizens at their own expense. Many surely would not.
But there are grounds to hope that others would. By definition, the doctrine would come into play when governments are under pressure. Although leaders such as Syria's Bashar al-Assad, Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, and North Korea's trio of Kims still get away (at least so far) with repression and violence, more and more rulers are facing trial -- or, like Muammar al-Qaddafi, a violent death at the hands of those they once oppressed. The Responsibility to Participate would provide a framework for increasing accountability and freedom, allowing leaders who oblige to stay in office. It would function, therefore, as a way to avoid such fates.