Darfur, Congo, Rwanda and, before that, Bosnia. It is hard to contemplate man’s capacity for inhumanity without feeling despair and paralysis. The world usually pays attention only after the killing has spun out of control, when ethnic, religious and political divides are rubbed so raw that the furies are infinitely harder to calm. By that point, the United States and others are faced with the agonizing choice of either intervening militarily or allowing the killing to go on.
A new report by a task force headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Defense Secretary William Cohen offers some hope, arguing that it is possible to prevent genocide before it spins out of control. It offers practical policy suggestions — what Mrs. Albright calls a “mechanism for looking at genocide in a systematic way” — for the next administration. The report says that early warning and prevention are key and calls on the White House to create a senior-level interagency committee directed by the National Security Council to analyze threats of genocide and mass atrocities around the world and consider appropriate preventive action.
When initial signs of mass atrocities are detected, the task force would also require the intelligence community to do a full policy review and prepare a crisis response plan. The goal is to engage leaders, institutions and civil society in affected communities urgently, and at an early stage when talk and other help may defuse the situation. The task force urges the United States government to spend an additional $250 million annually on crisis prevention and response efforts, with a portion going to help international partners, including the United Nations and regional organizations, build their capacity.
It is hard to generate political will to fix a problem before it has crested. But if there is any doubt about the need for a new policy and structure, consider the Bush administration’s desperate failure in Darfur. Four years after President Bush declared the mass killings there genocide, the horrors continue. As many as 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million driven from their homes. With the region increasingly engulfed in interrebel warfare, a political settlement appears to be even further out of reach.
We hope President-elect Barack Obama and his top aides will seriously consider the report’s policy recommendations before they, too, find themselves grappling with such agonizing choices.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
In a recent editorial, the NY Times comments on a report by the Genocide Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, which calls for the prevention of genocide to be a top priority for the incoming Obama Administration.