Monday 8 December 2008

Genocide Response for American Policy Makers

On the eve of the sixtieth anniversary of the Genocide Convention, a high level task force chaired by Madeline Albright and William Cohen, has issued a report entitled ‘Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for US Policymakers’. It includes many very helpful suggestions about preventing genocide – an objective, by the way, about which there is not really much controversy.
Using carefully chosen but nevertheless unambiguous language, the report entertains the option of unilateral US military intervention to prevent genocide.
I have been attending many Genocide Convention commemorations in recent days, and this is certainly not the first time I have heard calls for military intervention to prevent genocide even in the absence of authorisation from the United Nations Security Council. At a recent conference in London, I heard speakers explain that genocide in Darfur could be averted if only the US would send military helicopters and other ‘assets’.
Scary stuff. To paraphrase the Irish writer Brendan Behan (see photo), there is no human situation so miserable that can’t be made worse by the presence of the US military (Behan said 'by the presence of a policeman'). Sending the US army to prevent genocide seems like killing the patient to cure the illness.
Last year, the International Court of Justice issued an important judgment on genocide (Bosnia v. Serbia) in which it blamed Serbia for failing to exert influence on the Bosnia Serbs in order to prevent genocide in Srebrenica. The ICJ was not calling for Serbia to intervene militarily, to send helicopters, to establish no-fly zones. Indeed, I'm sure that if anyone had suggested that the Serbian military intervene in Bosnia in July 1995 there would have been sharp words (to say the least) from NATO. The point is that the kind of intervention the ICJ was calling for from Serbia was something other than military intervention.
The current debate about the 'responsibility to protect' vulnerable populations from genocide (and crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing) would be more productive if there was less sabre-rattling and more useful proposals concerning non-military forms of intervention.

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