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Yesterday I raised some of the reasons to oppose intervention in Syria. Today I want to consider a complementary concern, the responsibility to protect. Since Wikipedia has already presented a good summary, I will draw on it for most of these quotes.

The responsibility to protect (R2P or RtoP) is a United Nations initiative established in 2005. It consists of an emerging intended norm, or set of principles, based on the claim that sovereignty is not a right, but a responsibility. R2P focuses on preventing and halting four crimes:
  • genocide,
  • war crimes,
  • crimes against humanity, and
  • ethnic cleansing,

which it places under the generic umbrella term of mass atrocity crimes. The R2P has three "pillars":

  1. A state has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.
  2. The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility.
  3. If the state manifestly fails to protect its citizens from the four above mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.

In the international community R2P is a norm, not a law, however it is grounded in international law. R2P provides a framework for using tools that already exist, i.e. mediation, early warning mechanisms, economic sanctioning, and chapter VII powers, to prevent mass atrocities. Civil society organizations, States, regional organizations, and international institutions all have a role to play in the R2P process. The authority to employ the last resort and intervene militarily rests solely with United Nations Security Council.
After a discussion of the history of the responsibility to protect, the article discusses it in practice:
In practice
Threshold for military interventions
According to the International Commission for Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) report in 2001 (which was not adopted by national governments), any form of a military intervention initiated under the premise of responsibility to protect must fulfill the following six criteria in order to be justified as an extraordinary measure of intervention:
  1. Just cause – Is the threat a "serious and irreparable harm occurring to human beings"?
  2. Right intention – Is the main intention of the military action to prevent human suffering or are there other motives?
  3. Final resort – Has every other measure besides military invention been taken into account? (This does not mean that every measurement has to be applied and failed, but that there are reasonable grounds to believe that only military action would work in that situation)
  4. Legitimate authority
  5. Proportional means – Are the minimum necessary military means applied to secure human protection?
  6. Reasonable prospect – Is it likely that military action will succeed in protecting human life, and are the consequences of this action sure not to be worse than no action at all?
Some readers will recognize in that list of six criteria some of the thinking used in Just War discussions.

1. No discussion needed here - clearly "serious and irreparable harm occurring to human beings" happened in the recent attack, and there has been no action by the Assad government to suggest that it would not happen again.

2. Motives are hard to read, but in this case I think the principal motive is to prevent human suffering. Others may disagree.

3. Final resort - I leave to other members who are more knowledgeable whether all other measures have been taken into account. Please leave your thoughts on this if you have information to share.

4. Legitimate authority - in principal this is the UN with a resolution from the Security Council. In Libya that resolution was obtained with abstentions from Russia and China. At present Russia has blocked action; perhaps that will change. If Russia remains an obstacle, how far does the responsibility to protect lie with each and every member of the international community? That is, if the UN is stymied does that responsibility in some measure devolve onto individual members such as the US?

5. Proportional means. We as private citizens don't know what means are being contemplated and can't judge of this in advance. The fact that President Obama sent Seal Team Six in for Osama Bin Ladin instead of bombs suggests that it is at least sometimes taken into account.

6. Reasonable prospect. How does one weigh this? We know what is hoped for, an end to the use of chemical weapons. How do we weigh the likelihood of that, and how do we balance that against other possible dire outcomes?


Under the norm of the responsibility to protect, I believe

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Comment Preferences

  •  How about a country that sends unmaned drones (7+ / 0-)

    that have killed hundrends if not thousands of innocent civilians.  Should that country be attacked?

    "When dealing with terrorism, civil and human rights are not applicable." Egyptian military spokesman.

    by Paleo on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 02:34:27 PM PDT

  •  Authority rests with Security Council (10+ / 0-)
    The authority to employ the last resort and intervene militarily rests solely with United Nations Security Council.
    End of story.
    •  I agree that formal authority lies there. Is there (2+ / 0-)

      ever in the international sphere the equivalent of "civil disobedience," of disobeying international law, in this case the veto power of the Security Council because a higher moral law is seen to apply? I am asking, not asserting. Both Russia and ourselves have blocked things in the Security Council.

      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 02:40:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes -- the Iraq war (Operation Iraqi Freedom.) (0+ / 0-)

        Which I would think would be a darned good example of why one shouldn't ignore the UN.

        The whole point of the UN is collective action and negotiations (which in the long run produce better outcomes for the flesh and blood on the ground than war even if the results are neither tidy nor satisfying.)   It makes no sense to use a United Nations concept to justify independent action.

        The UN is designed to prevent the great powers from ending up with a nuclear war.    The idea is that we meet at the negotiating table rather than the battlefield.   If we ignore the negotiating table, how else do we resolve our differences?

        I think many of us in the US (and I don't mean the author) are suffering from a serious case of "world's last superpower."   It is a delusion.

    •  if there, say, a genocide occurring, (6+ / 0-)

      and the UN SC were blocking action, intervention would still be warranted.

      I'd think the R2P framework contemplates exactly that scenario, too,  because the UNSC can authorize attack prior to the R2P.  ie,legitimate authority here must be something other than UNSC approval otherwise it would be superfluous.

      •  the problem with it is (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cotterperson, congenitalefty

        that it is absolutely not clear just what is a genocide, or

        war crimes,
        crimes against humanity, and
        ethnic cleansing,
        essentially it is politics that decides what gets termed so. Or, it is politics that decides what may be such a thing but politely gets not called so, so as not to have to act. So who determines whether Darfur was a case of ethnic cleansing? The US, or the government of Sudan? In the absence of the UNSC, this "overriding moral authority" boils down to "might makes right",


        the agreement among nations is practically universal and UNSC is only blocked because of single country vetos. That was actually the case in Kosovo. The UNSC vote went 12-3 for the intervention and it was the veto power alone that rendered it illegal, in the face of the opinion of nearly the entire globe.

        Very different from today.

    •  Practically speaking, the UNSC regularly abdicates (0+ / 0-)

      its responsibility.

      “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children” ― Chief Seattle

      by SoCalSal on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 06:56:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That is a major drawback. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama

      The veto power of only 5 nations, which have remained the pretty much the same all along, undermines the effectiveness of the Security Council and enables those actions which it should be dealing with. If it were more effective, military force might not be resorted to as frequently.

      Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

      by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 09:49:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Like some Episcopalians, I tend to be on the side (9+ / 0-)

    of Arab nations, and somewhat skeptical of Israel because, well, because. Not because I'm an anti-Semite, but because I am very concerned with the civil rights of ALL people. Even when they seem to be at perpetual war with one another.

    That being said, when I hear about gas bombs, I think of my Great Uncle George, whom I knew,  who had an eye shot out in WWI and also was subject to gassing. It's a difficult question.

    However, I like to look at my own family history: they fought in wars for the US, the UK, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. Where are we now when it comes to war?

    I think today's Gospel tells us a lot: "sit at the lowest end of the table, and when you have a banquet, invite the poor, the blind, the lepers, etc. etc. "

    I'm against war in general. I also detest injustice. I'm in a real conundrum.

    I resent that. I demand snark, and overly so -- Markos Moulitsas.

    by commonmass on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 02:36:46 PM PDT

  •  1. Do they have oil? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, poco, burlydee, alice kleeman

    2.  Are they an adversary of our adversary?
    3.  Can we do it on the cheap?
    4.  Is it OK with China?
    5.  Are they a current consumer of fine US based weapons systems?
    6.  How does it play in Peoria?

    It is a complicated matrix.  

    Reagan gave us Grenada and Panama on essentially the same premises

  •  R2P is, IMHO (10+ / 0-)

    The only strong argument in favor of intervention.  And it is a strong argument.  I am troubled by those who discount it without consideration.

    At its heart, its a simple argument.  If I see an old woman on the street being mugged and beaten, and if it is my ability to stop...shouldn't I do so?  Even if I have previously mugged and beaten an old woman myself, should I just ignore it?

    Now, as to why I oppose intervention.  As best I can tell, given the facts on the ground, we will make matters worse rather than better.  Whatever we do, we will destabilize the region, making future atrocities more, rather than less, likely.

    "Empty vessels make the loudest sound, they have the least wit and are the greatest blabbers" Plato

    by Empty Vessel on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 02:43:02 PM PDT

  •  Not reasonable (6+ / 0-)

    I will go out on a limb here and say that I would might support a full scale invasion with hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground


    it actually might have a chance to put an end to the slaughter

    whereas just bombing some for reasons of outrage or face saving has no chance of solving anything and thus couldnt make the R2P list.

    Thus, its either one believes R2P overrules illegality; then one has to go in all-out until the bitter end; And be it noted that in Kosovo Nato was quietly preparing a ground invasion when Serbia finally relented;

    Or one believes it doesnt - then one can only stand and watch (and of course help in civil ways) until the politics at the UN are aligned.

    But thats in the hypothetical. In fact, the current considered action fails already on Point 2. When is the US going to intervene in the Congo slaughterhouse? 2 million dead were estimates there already a couple years ago. And there are more humanitarian nightmares. In truth, the official reason given by the Obama WH is not R2P, but chemical weapons nonuse legalities. That is not R2P.

    •  You are right that there are other humanitarian (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cotterperson, marsanges, Onomastic

      nightmares. One of the problems with R2P is getting a grasp of how to see those in time to do the non-military interventions that that R2P sees as needed before military ones can be considered. R2P also only covers the big four; some very bad stuff can happen that is not covered by R2P in principle.

      You are also right that Obama has not claimed this under R2P - citizens can have a different reason for supporting a policy than the one stated by the government, though.

      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 02:54:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  would that it were that simple (7+ / 0-)

    the problem is that bombing may kill innocents, won't stop or slow assad, won't damage his military, won't destroy the chemical stockpiles, may spark a wider conflict, and will demonstrate yet again the impotence of superpower military might.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 02:45:38 PM PDT

  •  one look at the devastation (4+ / 0-)

    that we wrought on Iraq and that our outside sponsored "revolution" is wreaking on Syria makes clear that the US is not acting out of any "responsibility to protect".  The (many) hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees as a result of US actions in those two countries alone absolutely puts the lie to any clam of "good intentions" on the part of the US now.

    Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

    by Deward Hastings on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 02:46:33 PM PDT

  •  The Security Council is baked into this cake (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It can't be used as a justification for unilateral action.   The nations that have agreed to it (and I don't think that the US has) know exactly how the security council works.   They would not agree to it otherwise.

    The United States knows that it can veto any actions proposed against Israel -- who is at the very least committing war crimes and ethnic cleansing.   China knows that it can veto any actions taken against itself.   Russia knows that it can veto any actions taken against itself or its client states, including Syria.    Without this assurance there would be no doctrine.

    It may be moot, since I do not know if the great powers have signed on to this thing but the point is that the authority does not exist unless the Security Council agrees on action.    When you sign a contract that requires agreement of all three parts, you don't get to override it because you think that the other two are being unreasonable.

    So the pro war side can argue that as a general principle nations have a responsibility to protect, it cannot be used to justify military action when the security council doesn't agree.  

    Now as a general principle it is one of those things that sounds very good but in practice is really just another version of "might makes right."    One may be so shocked by an action that one's nation feels compelled to act, but don't pretend that there is any consistent moral principle involved, because there never will be.   In this case, the US is going to use lethal force against a bad guy who gassed 400 people, when just 24 years ago it did nothing (and in fact helped) a bad guy who gassed tens or hundreds of thousands.    

    The United States really is the last country with a moral right to stand on its high horse about weapons of mass destruction.

  •  It's complicated (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cotterperson, Onomastic

    If there was such a thing as a clear cut situation, then R2P makes sense, but it is far from clear what is going on currently in Syria.
    And it's not clear what can be done militarily in any case.
    Certainly, any limited form of attack, unless brilliantly planned and extremely lucky, is not going to do anything to deter Assad (if he's even the culprit) or any other dictator.
    Military means MUST be the last resort after ALL else has been tried and failed.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 02:55:18 PM PDT

  •  The responsibility to protect (4+ / 0-)

    was used as the justification for the bombing and invasion of Libya.  While arguably justified to protect citizens under attack by the government, it was also used as a shameless pretext for regime change., IMO.  It was a crass abuse of an important human rights doctrine.  

    Alas, the doctrine to protect has not been used in many other, less "strategic" places, like Sudan, where great good could have and could still be accomplished.  Would that there would be some consistency in its application in the name of, you know, human rights.

    I would like to see president Obama actually make a case under the responsibility to protect doctrine and show us how some kind of intervention would actually protect civilians.  If there is a justification for the use of force under existing U.S. or international law, let's hear it from the president or his designee.  He certainly didn't do it in his address yesterday.

  •  R2P is by no means a firmly (4+ / 0-)

    established and widely accepted principle of international law. It has yet to be codified into a formal treaty. So it lacks a firm basis for providing a legal authority. It does carry a certain amount of ethical influence in universal human rights circles and there has been enough discussion about it to develop the principles and criteria that are outlined in the Wiki article.

    The Obama administration has not really attempted to use R2P as a justification for their proposed intervention. The British government made a fudged attempt to use it. If one wished to apply it to an evaluation of the proposal it would seem appropriate to use all of the criteria, not just those that are politically convenient at the moment.

    It is my view that it fails on these tests. The proposed mean attack is being promoted as punishment not for prevention of future harm. There is no assurance that off shore missiles will be able to destroy the supplies of chemical weapons. It is also highly doubtful that missile attacks can be conducted without that delicate little euphemism,  collateral damage. This is not a humanitarian intervention. It is a geopolitical flexing of military muscle.

  •  This part: (5+ / 0-)
    "serious and irreparable harm occurring to human beings"?
    Thursday -- significantly after the gassing -- BBC journalists
    witnessed the aftermath of a fresh horrific incident - an incendiary bomb dropped on to a school playground in the north of the country - which has left scores of children with napalm-like burns over their bodies.

    Eyewitnesses describe a fighter jet dropping the device, a low explosion, followed by columns of fire and smoke.

    There is gruesome video at the link if you can stomach it.

    We will have more evidence soon

    Ban [Ki-Moon] spoke earlier on Sunday with Ake Sellstrom, head of the UN chemical weapons inspection team that left Syria on Saturday. Sellstrom is currently in The Hague preparing the analysis of samples and evidence collected at the site of the Aug. 21 attack.

    “In light of the horrendous magnitude of the 21 August incident ... the Secretary General asked Dr Sellstrom to expedite the mission’s analysis of the samples and information it had obtained without jeopardizing the scientific timeline required for accurate analysis.”

    The Sellstrom link is to an interesting piece in the LA Times about him. His evidence may help with this ghastly quandary.

    "Let each unique song be sung and the spell of differentiation be broken" - Winter Rabbit

    by cotterperson on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 03:14:13 PM PDT

    •  The best way out is to show (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      whizdom, cotterperson

      the rockets were fired from rebel held territory.  The claims Syrian government action I feel don't make much strategic sense as the rebels carrying out this outrage to attempt to force international intervention on their behalf.  

      I'm a 4 Freedoms Democrat.

      by DavidMS on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 03:25:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  that is what takes down R2P right away (4+ / 0-)

      the celebrated (or not) Kosovo case as "foundational" case for "R2P" based interventions in spite of breaking international law for them, had nothing at all to do with chemical weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction. Serbia used no unusual weapons save the weapons that are killing people already for years in Syria, guns, bombs, mines, artillery and so on. How then can a R2P case be claimed "now" for Syria - after a hundred thousand dead, these additional dead now invoke R2P?  

      And logically, it isnt so, they dont. Note that "WMD" is not at all occurring in the R2P reasoning list that Wee Mama has put up here. Its a totally different kettle of fish.

      And the US also doesnt claim R2P for its motivation to intervene.

      So I would say this "responsibility to protect" in the current situation is a propagandistic tool only. The would be interveners dont claim it, the intervention beneficiaries dont claim it, it is only a means to shore up political support amongst common folks.

      In practice, R2P is not useful as guidance for policy because no "fair" or "impartial" standard could ever be developed for its application, and every case may have ramifications that renders it completely impractical. It can never be more than "we intervene to protect those we happen to like whenever we think we can get away with it". So, its a recipe for return to raw power politics to the detriment of building an actual balanced international system with common binding rules. So I wish people would drop it, it is a chimera, a mirage that draws us towards war, not towards peace.

      •  Didn't Kosovo fall under genocide, because the (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Onomastic, marsanges, grover, cotterperson

        harm was directed at an ethnic group?

        Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

        by Wee Mama on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 03:39:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Don't think so. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          marsanges, Wee Mama

          The genocide convention has a very specific definition and test. It doesn't apply to anything but very extreme attempts to literally destroy an ethnic group.

          •  true (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Wee Mama, Lawrence, cotterperson

            it also wasnt used there, ethnic cleansing was. (And thats what it was).

            •  I'm not so sure. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Wee Mama

              The convention was adopted in the wake of the holocaust. That was the standard on which it was based. That was a clear, intentional and systematic attempt to wipe the Jews from the face of the earth. Ethnic cleansing is usually aimed at getting people to vacate a territory. That is what was going on in the Balkans. There were people who thought it amounted to genocide and other who did not. Since it never was turned over to the UNSC there wasn't any fully conclusive international determination of the matter.

        •  yes, ethnic cleansing (4+ / 0-)

          it was a textbook case for ethnic cleansing. Please dont get me wrong it did of course fall under R2P - in fact the entire R2P doctrine discussion arose out of the Kosovo and Yugoslavia experience (and Sierra Leone et al in the same time frame).

          but the current discussion doesnt fall under R2P. thats what I wanted to say. If R2P actually motivated anyone, they would have long had to intervene in Syria already. Maybe France can claim some element of genuine R2P motivation - they have called for intervention against Assad for quite some while already.

          But the current US centric discussion has got nothing to do with R2P - at least when the terms are applied that you put up. The current US discussion comes out of the WMD/nonproliferation complex that Bush has raised to American foreign policy shrine status. That´s the only thing I wanted to point out: we can talk about R2P doctrine here, but practically no one on neither side actually uses it to guide their policies, because it is simply impractical and leads into fatal contradictions.

          As a practical policy doctrine R2P was dead when the Bushies killed the concept of cooperative security through building the international community.

    •  More photos here of this napalm (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      bombing thing in Syria...

      OH, WAIT!  I got that wrong.  Damn me.  That's a photo of one of the survivors of the Battle of Fallujah, where we dropped white phosphorus incendiary chemical bombs on an urban city that was in revolt against our occupation..  "Whitey Pete" is our military's slang name for it.

      Maybe we should drop some Whitey Pete on Syria to teach them a lesson.  It's our responsibility to protect them!

  •  That's why Bush had to invade Iraq. (0+ / 0-)

    Responsibility to protect.  After he gassed the Kurds, and after Curveball reassured us that there were more weapons, and after Bush decided, as he later said, that "Saddam IS the weapon of mass destruction!" it was incumbent on us as the responsibility-to0protectors of the world, to invade Iraq and take control of their oil wells and occupy the country for ten years and torture their citizens who are suspected of resisting our occupation and set one tribe against another, everybody killing everybody else, because it's too complicated to figure it all out.

    Yup.  Bush was operating by established norms of procedure!  History will redeem him.

    •  No, Bush did not invoke R2P - he invoked (5+ / 0-)

      "imminent danger."

      We are all agreed here that Bush trumped up fake evidence for an Iraq invasion that was desired even before 9/11. However, that was a different president and a decade ago.

      I am trying to think through this particular situation. Intervention in Syria has been proposed: what grounds could justify that, and are the conditions for those grounds met? Bringing up other actions by the US are not relevant to this decision, although they may be relevant to how the decision is received in the larger world.

      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 03:44:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  He invoked just about everything, (0+ / 0-)

        including "right to protect."  They used every justification they could.

        And, really, wasn't it as justifiable as bombing Syria based solely on Right to Protect.

        I don't believe that we should get involved in other countries' civil wars.  It's not our job.  In the final counting, they won't appreciate it.  The people that ultimately win this war will either be Assad or people worse than him.  Either way, there will be many years, more than a decade, of ethnic slaughter ahead of them, just as there was in Lebanon.

        It's not within the realm of our power to fix Syria.  And I don't think that's what this is really about, anyway.  This is about face-saving.  David Gergen was on TV all day saying that Obama HAD to attack Syria because otherwise he couldn't make threats against other countries like Iraq and be taken seriously.

      •  Of course the past is relevant (0+ / 0-)

        Analogy:  The US is like a wife beater.   The 20th time or so that she shows up with a black eye, it isn't only the people at work who should be reconsidering whether it is really her fault.   (20 is a low number compared to violence committed by the US on nations in that region.)

        The people that humans are best at fooling are themselves.   We can rationalize anything; the hardest thing to do is to question our own rationalizations and wonder if the oh-so-logical choice is really just what we feel like doing.    (Hint: it usually is.)    You can see that in politics and on the Supreme Court.  

  •  Is there a responsibility to protect, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grover, tardis10

    at an international level, about U.S. and Afghan actions in Afghanistan?

    Would that responsibility extend to other nations taking military action against us? Should there be a requirement, that this could only be done through the Security Council?

    If responsibility to protect is to be real, and not be a fig leaf on strong nation actions according to their own interests, it would have to be used and invoked impartially and fairly, I think.

  •  The only "protection" bombing entails (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grover, tardis10, congenitalefty

    is the kind that goes

    Nice country you got here.  Be a shame if something happened to it

    You may think that. I couldn't possibly comment.-- Francis Urqhart

    by Johnny Q on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 04:19:56 PM PDT

  •  The RTP (0+ / 0-)

    Is no different than the Neocons "right" to promote democracy as some sovereign mission.

    They both lead to war.

    NO WAR.

    "When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, And the women come out to cut up what remains, Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains An' go to your Gawd like a soldier." Rudyard Kipling

    by EdMass on Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 07:29:34 PM PDT

  •  International Crisis Group Statement (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama

    Hi Wee Mama

    maybe you know the ICG, its a very well respected NGO in conflict prevention, its basically an elder statesmen club. Very influential. As chance has it they released a statement yesterday that directly relates to your diary here and so I want to point you to it. Its well worth reading in full and closely.

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