Friday, April 21, 2006
This essay, by former COC staff member Matt Levinger, was part of a special issue of One World - an online magazine - on preventing genocide. In the words of the editor, Zarrin Caldwell, the essays in this collection are intended “both to examine what the international community has, and hasn’t, learned about stopping genocides once they are underway and the strategies being explored to prevent them from happening.”
This special feature was authored by Dr. Matthew Levinger, director of the Academy for Genocide Prevention at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The 20th century has been called the “century of genocide.” According to one estimate, more than 170 million people were “murdered by governments” between 1900 and 1999—over four times the number killed in the century’s wars. Although genocide is not a new phenomenon, the past hundred years have witnessed the killing of civilian populations on a wider and more systematic scale than ever before—from the Armenian genocide of 1915 through the slaughters in Bosnia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and elsewhere during the 1990s.
In the years ahead, continuing advances in weaponry, electronic communications, and information technology will make it easier to identify and annihilate target populations. Global population growth, along with the depletion of critical resources such as water, arable land, and fossil fuels, may intensify the potential for political and ethnic conflicts. Other factors such as pandemic diseases and extremist religious ideologies may further destabilize fragile political communities around the world.
But these worst case scenarios need not become a reality. Senior policy makers in the U.S. and other countries have increasingly recognized the importance of preventing violent conflict and genocide. And, we can respond more effectively to threats to global security in the 21st century by taking stock of lessons learned to date.
Most scholars today reject the notion that genocidal violence stems from ancient rivalries among ethnic groups. Instead, they argue that leadership elites reshape existing ethnic communities and stir up nationalist or racist ideologies in order to mobilize followers to their cause.
Most scholars today reject the notion that genocidal violence stems from ancient rivalries among ethnic groups.
Sometimes the leader’s motive may be to hold on to power in an unstable and perilous situation. With communism faltering across Eastern Europe in 1989, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic gave a speech commemorating the 600th anniversary of Serbia’s defeat in the Battle of Kosovo of 1389. The overwhelming public response to this speech was a catalyst for Milosevic’s political rebirth as a Serbian nationalist.
In other cases, the primary motive may be greed. Some analysts use the term “conflict entrepreneurs” to describe factional leaders who secure personal benefits by committing or sponsoring violence. Paul Collier, former director of the Development Research Group at the World Bank, argues that regions with a wealth of natural resources are more prone to violent strife than regions that are resource poor—both because the sale of resources can finance insurgent movements and because these resources are potentially valuable spoils of war.
Whether leaders act primarily out of fear or greed, their sponsorship of genocide and atrocities should be understood, at least in part, as an opportunistic act. They seek to thwart potential challenges to their power, and often to advance their personal status, by fanning the flames of ethnic violence.
Costs and Benefits
Given the role of some ruling elites in instigating genocide, an effective strategy to prevent genocide is one that raises the costs and reduces the benefits of genocidal policies. This may be achieved in part by carefully calibrated diplomacy, including the coordinated use of carrots and sticks. Governments can, for example, offer or withhold development assistance, impose targeted sanctions, publicly or privately condemn a regime’s behavior, or aid opposition groups. They can also use the threat of judicial accountability for leaders who instigate crimes against humanity. Recent events help make this threat more credible. In late March 2006, for example, former Liberian President Charles Taylor was arrested for his alleged role in crimes committed during a brutal civil war in Sierra Leone and the notorious Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga was delivered to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
In short, there are plenty of options for governments. The tendency to perceive the military deployment of “boots on the ground” as the only viable tool for humanitarian intervention can often dissuade policy makers from taking intermediate, non-military actions to prevent and mitigate genocidal violence. There are targeted, incremental strategies that can be used to maximum effect—such as the withholding of $1 billion in development and reconstruction assistance to Serbia until it extradited former president Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague in 2001.
Can Genocide Be Stopped?
There are cases, however, when preventive diplomacy may in fact fail and genocide is already underway. In this situation, the rapid deployment of effective peace enforcement is essential to halt and deter continuing violence.
Discussions about halting genocide once it is underway often revolve around how to generate “political will” on the part of governments to protect civilian populations. Andrea Bartoli, Director of Columbia University’s Center for International Conflict Resolution, points out, however, that the lack of political will is only part of the problem.
If a house is burning, Bartoli notes, one needs not only the will to put out the fire, but also a “system in place to move enough water to the fire when things are burning.” This system would mean having a fire response system, including a “911” network, emergency dispatchers, trained firefighters, trucks and rescue equipment, municipal water mains, and fire hydrants. Likewise, to prevent genocide, one needs both the will and the capacity for this task, Bartoli adds.
The absence of an integrated system for preventing and responding to genocide contributes to the sense of futility that policy makers often experience when confronted with mass atrocities. By and large, the record of the international community in peacekeeping and peace enforcement over the past half-century has been poor. Typically, the UN and other international organizations have deployed peacekeeping forces belatedly, if at all, with insufficient personnel, equipment, and logistical support, and often with an inadequate mandate to suppress violent attacks on noncombatants. This is the case in the Darfur region of Sudan today, where the African Union monitoring mission has deployed 7,000 troops with minimal equipment and logistical support. This mission has no formal authorization to protect civilians from attacks and patrols a territory the size of France.
Improving the System
The world does not presently have an effective international “fire brigade” to stop genocidal conflicts. Rather, the UN and other international organizations typically wait until after the conflagration has erupted before recruiting an ad hoc volunteer squad to fight the blaze. In lieu of not yet having a working “fire fighting” capacity, what can be done in the meantime?
Some 800 British soldiers in Sierra Leone succeeded in capturing rebel leader Foday Sankoh in 2000 and substantially reduced the level of violence in the country.
Despite the failures, the international community has been able to mitigate conflict in a variety of circumstances. For example, the deployment of 800 British soldiers to Sierra Leone in 2000 succeeded in capturing rebel leader Foday Sankoh and substantially reducing the level of violence in the country. Likewise, the UN preventive deployment to Macedonia of 1995-1998, the West African ECOWAS peacekeeping mission to Liberia in 2003, the 3-month deployment of the French “Artemis” mission to Eastern Congo in 2003, and the continuing presence of a small French and UN force in Cote d’Ivoire have all played a critical role in establishing a measure of stability in regions on the brink of mass atrocities.
These effective missions have been characterized by a clearly defined mandate that is credibly enforced. The key to success is not always in the overall number of troops deployed, but in the presence of at least a small contingent of highly trained and well-equipped troops from industrialized nations who have been willing to utilize armed force in order to execute their mission.
A 2003 series of conferences on atrocities prevention, cosponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. National Intelligence Council, identified several additional “best practices” in this field. Recommendations from these conferences included:
Creating effective mechanisms for sharing information and analysis on emerging conflicts among a wider range of interested parties, including donor governments, the UN, international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international corporations. If these various organizations develop a shared understanding of a given conflict, they are more likely to be able to implement consistent and coordinated policy responses.
Having the international community designate a single mediator so that parties to a conflict cannot “shop” for a better deal or play various donor governments and NGOs against one another. Likewise, the coordinated use of carrots and sticks can be a powerful tool for motivating peaceful conduct. If donor countries do not coordinate their policies, or if they fail to follow through on promises or warnings, such incentives lose their credibility.
- Building alliances with a wide range of stakeholders to a conflict, both locally and internationally. It may be possible for negotiators to engage local authorities—like religious leaders or traditional tribal rulers—to support the peace-building process. Neighboring states, regional organizations, and corporations with operations in the region may also be able to play a constructive role.
These recommendations may be modest, but they offer an effective toolkit of options for those in the international community seeking to prevent conflicts from escalating into genocide. Over the past three years, the U.S. government Discover worthy campaigns to stop genocide has also made significant strides toward developing an integrated approach to preventing conflict, such as establishing a new office in the State Department dedicated to conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction, for example. Other governments and international organizations, including the UN and the World Bank, have also dedicated increased resources to this challenge. These initiatives offer promising points of contact for NGOs and others dedicated to building a durable peace.
The views expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.