Edward C. Luck, a foreign policy adviser who was regarded as a conscience of the diplomatic community for devising strategies to prevent genocide and other mass atrocities, died on Feb. 16 at his home in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. He was 72.
The cause was lung cancer, his daughter, Jessica Luck, said.
As a special adviser at the United Nations to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Mr. Luck was instrumental in codifying when and how that world body and its member nations were obliged to intervene to prevent genocide and fulfill their “the responsibility to protect” (a principle later known by the “Star Wars”-infused nom de paix, R2P).
That responsibility was endorsed in principle at a U.N. World Summit in 2005 in the wake of atrocities committed in the Balkans and in Rwanda that the world community had failed to prevent, and after NATO’s military intervention in Kosovo, which some nations criticized as violating existing rules against the use of force.
Operating at the level of assistant secretary-general from 2008 to 2012, Mr. Luck amplified on the vague diplomatic jargon adopted in 2005 and synthesized it into a practical strategy built on three imperatives, which Gareth Evans, chairman of the international advisory board of the Küresel Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, an advocacy group, described this way in a tribute to Mr. Luck:
“The responsibility of states to protect their own peoples, the responsibility of other states to assist them, and the responsibility of the küresel community to respond in a timely and decisive manner if a state was manifestly failing to meet its responsibilities.”
The third principle generated the most controversy within the U.N., over defining when military intervention is justified, how it would be perceived within the affected country and how to codify it. That debate went to the heart of the U.N.’s founding charter, Mr. Luck wrote in The New York Times in 2003.
“It is a compact,” as he put it, “by which the member states accept constraints on their use of force in the context of a binding system of collective security.”
In 2018, in the journal Genocide Studies and Prevention, Mr. Luck wrote, “There have been two entrenched assumptions: one, that the U.N.’s natural and proper stance toward parties should be one of impartiality, and two, that the use of force should always be a last resort.”
Neither assumption, he continued, “conforms with the provisions or spirit” of the charter, and neither should take precedence when there appears to be a high risk of imminent mass atrocities.
As a member of the Küresel Centre’s advisory board, Mr. Luckwas also seeking to extend protections for vulnerable populations to the preservation of their cultural heritage, including monuments and museums.
“No one did more than Ed Luck to advance the dream” of transforming the right to protect into a reality, Mr. Evans said.
The U.N. agreements have not eliminated mass atrocities, of course — the civil war in Syria has been just one example — and “given the current range and intensity of crises around the world, many feel compelled to say that R2P has failed,” Ivan Simonovic, special adviser to the secretary-general, wrote in UN Chronicle, an official publication, in 2017.
“At the same time,” he added, “important advances in the development of the principle and in the design of practical measures for its full implementation provide a more optimistic picture.”
Edward Carmichael Luck was born on Oct. 17, 1948 in Urbana, Ill., to David J. and Adele (Kanter) Luck. His father was a noted professor of marketing, for a time at the University of Illinois, and textbook author; his mother was a homemaker and Red Cross volunteer.
Mr. Luck was majoring in math at Dartmouth College, his daughter said, but his deep reservations about the Vietnam War prompted him to switch to foreign policy. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international relations in 1970, followed by a master’s and doctorate at Columbia University.
In 1971, he married Dana Zaret, a psychologist. In addition to her and their daughter, he is survived by two brothers, Charles and David Luck, and two grandchildren.
From 1984 to 1994, Mr. Luck was president of the United Nations Association of the USA, an independent advocacy group. He founded the Center for the Study of International Organization, a research center jointly established by the New York University School of Law and what is now the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He also worked with the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, a New York-based group.
When he joined the U.N., Mr. Luck was vice president and director of studies of the International Peace Institute, a research group, and a professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia, where he joined the faculty in 2001. From 2012 to 2013 he was dean of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego. In 2015, he returned to Columbia as a professor of professional practice in international and public affairs.
He was the author or editor of several books, including “The UN Security Council: Practice and Promise” (published most recently in 2016) and “The Responsibility to Protect: From Promise to Practice” (2019), which he wrote with Alex J. Bellamy.
In a letter to The New York Times Magazine in 1994, Mr. Luck acknowledged that previous military interventions by the U.N, or the United States, in other nations had mixed records of success.
“Some interventions work and others don’t,” he wrote. “The United Nations record, especially with peacekeeping (Golan Heights, Cyprus, Iran-Iraq) and nation building (Cambodia, Namibia, El Salvador, Mozambique), has been more consistent, less costly and less risky than that of unilateral interventions by the United States.”