MICHAEL ABRAMOWITZ: Good morning. My name is Mike Abramowitz. I am the director of the genocide prevention program here at the Museum and we’re thrilled to have you all here this morning for what we think will be a very interesting and provocative discussion about an incredibly important subject which is the prevention of genocide today and into the future. I’d like to just take a quick moment to thank our partners; I’d like to thank the Council on Foreign Relations for being our partner with this endeavor. I’d also like to thank CNN for being a partner. And I’d also like to single out Palantir Company which is one of our corporate sponsors for this event. Thank you all for your cooperation.
I would like, in particular, to thank Mark Penn and his team at Burson-Marsteller including the CEO, the new CEO Don Baer, and Jeremy Tunis. This project really arose from a conversation that Mark and I had about a year ago about a major pro bono contribution that Burson wanted to make to the Museum to help us spread our message about preventing genocide. And so we’re deeply grateful to Burson-Marsteller.
A couple of housekeeping items. The Secretary of State, we’re thrilled to have her with us today. She will be arriving in, I think, about a half an hour. And I would ask you after she makes these remarks, I would ask everyone to please stay in your seats to allow her to leave the building. I would also—you’ve all ready been asked to turn off your cell phones—but if you can do it without noise, we do encourage you to Twitter about this event. We have a hash tag up there: #endgenocide.
One of our goals is really to be a force multiplier to get the message out about what’s happening in this room and the conversation out into the blogosphere. Encourage people to watch us on the webcast, encourage people to watch the rebroadcast of the webcast. So you are welcome to do that. And with that I think it’s my great pleasure to introduce Jim Lindsay who’s a Senior Vice President and Director of Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a distinguished expert on foreign policy in his own right. Jim, the floor is yours.
JAMES M. LINDSAY: Thank you very much, Mike. It is a great pleasure to be here. On behalf of Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, I would like to thank the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for hosting today’s symposium. Thank everybody in the audience for coming. And also thank those of you who are joining us via webcast. The Council on Foreign Relations is honored to be partnering with the Holocaust Museum on today’s event, the prevention of genocide and other mass atrocities is an important focus of CFR’s work, especially the efforts of our Center for Preventive Action, which is ably led by my colleague Paul Stares.
Given CFR’s interest in preventive action, we are very pleased with the focus of today’s symposium. Work on genocide and mass atrocity often focuses on what could and what should have been done to prevent past tragedies. Such work is very important, but it is equally important to look forward to identify potential new challenges and crises so that we can prevent the next tragedy. Today’s panels are going to attempt to do just that. They will focus on preventive strategies and especially on innovative approaches such as the use of social media and other new technologies. Our hope is that by combining a forward-looking perspective with a technology-oriented approach, the discussions we’re about to have will yield new ideas about a very old problem.
It is my pleasure now to introduce our first speaker, Mark Penn. Mark is the worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller and CEO of Penn Schoen Berland. Very shortly, he will take up the position as corporate Vice President for Strategic and Special Projects at Microsoft. Mark, of course, is well known to all of you as someone who has served as a strategic—senior strategic advisor—to numerous political leaders ranging from Tony Blair to Hillary Clinton. He was the White House pollster under President Bill Clinton for six years. He has also been a long-time supporter and friend of the Holocaust Museum. And this symposium is possible, as I think as Mike pointed out in his remarks, because of the generous support of Burson-Marsteller. Mark is going to be presenting eye-opening findings on a new poll on American attitudes on the issue of genocide. So please, join me in welcoming Mark Penn.
MARK PENN: Thank you, and let me also thank the partners: the Holocaust Museum, CNN, our sponsors. And also let me thank the entire team at Burson Marsteller and Penn and Schoen that helped pull this off.
First, when we came up with the idea of doing a poll on genocide, I think the basic concept was one of those Jay Leno type polls. You’d ask people had they heard of the Holocaust and they would all say “no.” And what was genocide, and they would think it was some new drink you tried. And even in today’s pop-culture, reality-show-TV-world, what we actually found in the poll of a thousand Americans, conducted by phone, was the opposite: that there is a combination out there of knowledge, information, idealism, and realism that really, I think, set the standard for defining how strongly America should act in the face of mass atrocities and genocidal actions.
And I am going to share with you, pretty unvarnished, what the poll findings are so that you can see for yourself. First, as I said, it’s a thousand interviews, done by telephone (these days we have to get a quarter of them by cell phone because a quarter of households don’t have phones or land lines), and done by the standard random method of the US population.
So key findings: people believe that genocide is—continues to be—possible and also preventable. And that the US has a strong role in preventing genocide, and particularly, both on the military side and on the side of education, in order to prevent it from developing. State-sponsored genocide is probably the largest fear, and Americans support involvement in Syria, but with a coalition, and you’ll see how these findings are illustrated through the poll.
We first asked people, “Can you define what genocide is?” Destruction of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group. Fifty-five percent of those under 35 identified it correctly. As you can see, the next definition, which people are talking about extending genocide to, virtually any mass killing of civilians was second, wide spread human rights abuses or war crimes, third or fourth. But essentially, people knew pretty well what genocide was. They knew what kind of persecutions that could lead to mass killings that they defined quite well and that young people did an even better job of hitting the definition correctly.
What came to top of mind: the Holocaust, Africa, Rwanda, Hitler. Those were really the four or five things that really came to top of mind when you asked them, what do they associate with the word genocide?” If you asked those under 35, very similar: Hitler, Holocaust, Africa. And if you take a look at those over 55, perhaps a more complex map. There are memories, you see: Africa, Holocaust, Rwanda, Syria, Sudan, World War II; so perhaps a slightly more complex picture—they have slightly longer memories as we go back into the poll findings. There will be more older people who remember things that happened in Cambodia, for example. But nevertheless, as we go through this poll, the level of knowledge, what it’s about, where it happened, [is] significantly higher than we expected. Nothing to take on Jay Leno, everything, I think, to take to the President of the United States.
Can genocide still occur today? I think the first question is, “Why are we here? Why are we here on a conference to help prevent future genocides?” We are here because 94 percent, probably one of the highest unified numbers I’ve received in any poll lately in a very divided country, agree genocide is very much of a concern and could occur today.
“Do you think it is preventable?” Sixty-six percent believe it’s preventable. It means that with proper education, with strong deterrence, with diplomatic and military actions, sanctions, with other tools, it’s possible, two-thirds believe, to prevent it.
And what’s causing genocide? Power and politics: #1, ignorance: #2, religious and ethnic differences: #3, intolerance: #4. What was most powerful through this poll is the concern that state-sponsored genocide is on the rise. And that when you think of what a state can do with its enormous military power to ravage a civilian population, I think that is becoming an increased concern here and an increased concern in terms of what people think we should act on.
Again, the principle reason genocide occurs? Because military or political leaders order or encourage the killing of people: 63 percent.
Which are the reasons that people become concerned? Moral principles, sympathy for victims. Thirty-nine percent said we should become concerned because it’s in the national security [interest]. But when we asked people, “Do you think it is in the US national security interest to respond in the event of genocide or mass atrocity?” 71 percent said that it is now in the national interest, 23 percent said it wasn’t. Among young people 18-29, 77 percent said it was in the national interest. But even if we go to the over 55 [age group]: 69 percent. Genocide and fighting genocide is principally a consensus issue in this country these days. Far removed, I think, from twenty or thirty years ago when I would hazard that it really wasn’t.
“Do you think that the US should prevent or stop genocide or mass atrocities from occurring in another part of the world?” Sixty-nine percent—consistent finding. Americans think international bodies have the most responsibility. So they want to turn international bodies, they want the countries involved with the conflict; they don’t want the United States to go it alone. That means that fighting genocide is not strictly a military problem, it’s not strictly an economic problem, it is first and foremost a diplomatic problem. The ability to martial international coalitions is absolutely critical.
Again, “How effective do you think the international community is at protecting civilians from genocide?” Right now, most people say “not effective,” 55 [percent]. And so the international community has a ways to go in proving that it can form effective, consistent, collective action in the minds of most Americans.
Do you think they have confidence in the effectiveness of the International Criminal Court? Uh, no. Only 34 percent have confidence in the International Criminal Court. Interestingly 46 percent of young Americans have confidence in the Court as a key organization fighting genocide.
Were people familiar with the United Nations’ “Responsibility to Protect” plan? No. I was told that 21 percent said they were. Usually I say 21 percent are familiar with a ham sandwich if I just ask them. So that is kind of the lowest level of prompted awareness that you get. And so I’d say there is pretty much no real awareness.
Americans [are] most likely to think the US should engage when there are large scale human rights abuses or government killings—not a surprise—the bigger the event, the more likely people think the US should be involved, and particularly when the government itself is responsible for mass civilian deaths.
But an important question: “In your opinion, which military strategies are most effective in stopping genocide?” Multilateral actions was #1, military action facilitated by international bodies was 2, unilateral action only third, and very few people opted out of the question. So very few people said, “None of these.” And I think it tells you very much what they are looking for, which is strengthened international bodies to fight, to fight genocide, with strong US participation.
“Do you support or oppose the US taking military action to stop genocide or atrocities?” This, I think, is probably the most significant finding in the poll. Because it’s not 20 percent, it’s not 30 percent—78 percent said they’d support military action. What their attitude is, is if mass killings are happening, people have to step in. We just can’t stand idly by. This is a public that wants education, it wants preventative measures, but it is also willing to act when confronted with atrocities. Should there be Congressional approval? Sixty-nine percent say “yes” and younger Americans [have] an even stronger belief that Congress should approve it. We asked them, “In general, what do you think are the top foreign policy issues?” Afghanistan was #1, the EU economy will be disappointed that they were #2, but human rights, terrorism, Mid East, and you’ve got China and Iran. Syria by itself was at around 10 percent with North Korea. But genocide was also in there around 13 percent, and human rights was in there at 22 [percent]. So 22, 35, 45: you have an enormous constituency that is touching on human rights, genocide related issues, as being extremely important ones.
What about Syria itself? “Thinking about the past and more recent international conflicts, how convinced are you that the US should have taken military action in Syria?” Fifty-five percent are convinced, 24 percent convinced US should not take it. That’s about 2:1. So again, I see this poll from a political point of view. I think presidents have sat back and they’ve said, “You know, we would have wanted to intervene but we didn’t think the national interest definition sustained it,” or, “We would have wanted to intervene but we didn’t the public would support it.” And the biggest, I think, finding in this poll, is in an internet society, in which virtually anything that happens anywhere can be captured and transmitted on a cell phone, that fundamentally that is changing the calculus of public support for action. It brings atrocities not even into the living room, as we would have said 20 years ago, but right into the palm—right into your very being—and I think that has a profound effect on the notion that you just can’t act afterward, you have to act before and you have to act during.
So, if again you go back to Syria: helping refugees to flee violence, 63 percent, freezing trade except food and medicine, 59, sending US ground forces, but only as part of an international force, 55, Sudan, 56, airstrikes a lower number, ground forces alone, 38. And it shows you the difference in approach, the willingness to get involved, the demand to get involved and the demand to get other countries to get involved with us. Only 6 percent said, “No action.”
Again, if you now look at Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, and Libya, about 6 in 10, whether we took action, or failed to take action in any of these areas, about 6 in 10 now say that they would have supported action or do support the that actions we’ve taken. Pretty much universally across the board. So, “How familiar are you with genocides?” Ninety-one percent were familiar with the Holocaust, 73 percent with Syria. Universally, pretty strong knowledge. Older people were more familiar with things that happened in a greater time period. Everybody, young, old, had about the same remembrance of the Holocaust in the 90s. It was, in fact, a pretty strong finding: Armenia would be the least known. The victims of genocide: often religious and ethnic groups. Education: what do you think about education about the history can prevent future genocides? Seventy-six percent agreed with that. Education and tolerance was the biggest non-military solution to the problem.
So let’s do a recap. Ninety-four percent believe that genocide is very much a concern and could occur. Sixty-six believe it’s preventable. Seventy-eight percent support US military action. Most say, “Let’s have not unilateral, but multilateral action.” And seventy-six percent believe that education is the key.
So, this is a poll about people saying, “Get involved.” They are saying, “I understand what is going on, I see it more than ever, it’s in the national interests. I don’t want to hear that our country has hung back.” They want an aggressive, multilateral, educational—and if necessary even military—action when mass atrocities and genocides occur, especially when they are sponsored by state governments against civilians.
MICHAEL ABRAMOWITZ: We don’t have time for questions, because the Secretary is here. Thank you, Mark.
SARA J. BLOOMFIELD: Good morning. I’m Sara Bloomfield, the Museum’s Director, and it’s a great pleasure to welcome all of you here today and to thank you for all of the work you do on behalf of the people who have been victims and hopefully the victims that you will help protect in the future. People often assume that when the Nazis came to power they immediately started killing Jews. And then they’re surprised to learn that the mass murder of the Jews did not begin for another eight long years. These were years of escalating persecution and isolation, but for the most part relatively little violence compared to what would follow.
Of course, in hindsight we recognize many pivotal moments that today we would call precursors to the Holocaust. For example, who could have known that the Nuremberg laws in 1935 would start out as a definition of citizenship and end up as a death sentence? But that was a pre-Holocaust world.
Today, we cannot claim innocence about human nature or where decisions can lead. The Holocaust reminds us that the unthinkable is always thinkable. A failure of imagination is no longer an excuse. This institution teaches not only how and why the Holocaust happened, but that it did not have to happen, and that is the big challenge, how to put that knowledge into action. And that is the challenge that brings us here today and also animates our keynote speaker.
It was almost 20 years ago when Hillary Clinton first came to the Museum. In fact, she was one of our very first visitors having been here for the dedication. On that cold, rainy April day in 1993 our thoughts were with the murdered Jews of Europe. To the extent that anyone was thinking about the State Department, it would have been in connection with its utter failure, many would even say its refusal, to help the endangered Jews of Europe, even when it so easily could have done so. Today’s State Department under Secretary Clinton’s leadership sees preventing genocide as a priority. The State Department and other parts of the administration have taken seriously the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, putting in place tools and structures that can help our government do a better job in the future. Such reforms don’t attract attention, but they can save lives. Specifically, the Secretary has initiated the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review that explicitly commits the State Department to, quote, “strengthen capacity and affirm commitment to preventing genocide and mass atrocities.”
Secretary Clinton, it is our honor to welcome you back to this institution today.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, and it’s a tremendous honor for me to be here on this occasion for such an important conference. I want to start by thanking Sara for that introduction, but much more than that, for her life’s work. She’s been involved with the Holocaust Memorial Museum since it was just a plan on paper. And she’s been here every step of the way shepherding it to the extraordinary heights it has assumed as a learning, teaching experience for 1.7 million people every single year, the vast majority of whom are young people.
And I also want to thank Dr. James Lindsay, senior vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Mr. Michael Abramowitz, the director of the Committee on Conscience here at the museum. And as a point of personal privilege, let me also thank my longtime friend Mark Penn for doing this important research, and also Dr. David Hamburg, who – I don’t know if David is here, but David and I have been talking about these issues for longer than either of us care to remember, and much of his work and his thinking has been incredibly important.
Now, this gathering is yet another example of what the museum does so well. It brings us face to face with a terrible chapter in human history and it invites us to reflect on what that history tells us and how that history should guide us on our path forward. As Sara said when we were walking in this morning, human nature did not dramatically and profoundly change in 1945. We still struggle with evil and the terrible impulses and actions that all too often result in atrocities and violence and genocide. But I want to thank the Committee on Conscience for bringing attention to contemporary cases of extreme violence against civilians.
Let me begin by acknowledging that here in this museum, it’s important to note that every generation produces extremist voices denying that the Holocaust ever happened. And we must remain vigilant against those deniers and against anti-Semitism, because when heads of state and religious leaders deny the Holocaust from their bully pulpits, we cannot let their lies go unanswered. When we hear Holocaust glorification and public calls to, quote, “finish the job,” we need to make clear that violence, bigotry will not be tolerated. And, yes, when criticism of Israeli Government policies crosses over into demonization of Israel and Jews, we must push back.
Here at this museum and in the work that many of you do every day, we are countering hatred with truth. Thanks to the museum and institutions like it and scholars and academics and activists around the world, we have accurate histories. We have memorials and archives that record the stories of those who survived and those who did not. And because we know what happened, our call to action is that much clearer and compelling. Bringing that dark chapter into light helps clarify and sharpen what we mean when we say “never again.”
But despite all we have learned and accomplished in the last 70 years, “never again” remains an unmet, urgent goal. At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, we have seen campaigns of harassment and violence against groups of people because of their ethnic, racial, religious, or political backgrounds, and even some which aimed at the destruction of a particular group of people, fitting the definition of genocide. The Khmer Rouge slaughtered those suspected of having a high school education or other supposed enemies. Saddam Hussein massacred Kurdish communities in northern Iraq. Entire villages in Sudan were wiped out by government-supported militias.
So in April, President Obama came to this place right here to underscore this Administration’s commitment to stopping the mass slaughter of civilians. He laid out a broad vision, declaring that fighting atrocities “must be the work of our nation and all nations.”
So today, I want to talk about our strategy for preventing and responding to these crimes and the specific steps we are taking, because we have seen the cost of inaction. In Rwanda, 800,000 people in a country of 7 million died in the 1994 genocide. I remember being in Rwanda with my husband when I was First Lady, listening to story after story from survivors about the loved ones they had lost and the horrors they had endured.
The world waited until the massacre at Srebrenica before acting in Bosnia. It took the stories of men and boys summarily executed by the hundreds in refugee camps, of women and girls dragged into fields and gang-raped by soldiers, of infants murdered because they would not stop crying. And yet we’ve also seen how decisive action can make all the difference.
Two years ago, I visited Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. When I arrived, throngs of men and women were lining the streets, clapping and waving flags and holding signs that said “Thank you America.” What the United States and our NATO allies did there more than a decade ago may not be fresh in the minds of every American, but I can assure you they certain – those memories are certainly fresh in the minds of the people of Kosovo. During that time, families lived in fear that they would be dragged from their homes, loaded onto trains and trucks to ethnically cleanse communities. If we had failed to intervene when we did, who knows how many faces would have been missing from those crowds?
So we do have a moral obligation to confront threats such as these, because they are violations of our common humanity. And as the poll you’ve just heard about shows, the American people share this commitment and believe we do have a responsibility to act. But it isn’t just the morally right thing to do. These crimes undermine stability in countries and across regions. They spark humanitarian crises and send refugees streaming across borders. They reverse economic progress and stymie growth for generations. They create bitter cycles of vengeance and retribution that can scar communities for decades.
President Obama was clear when he stated that preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest as well as a core moral responsibility. So if a government cannot or will not protect its own citizens, then the United States and likeminded partners must act. But let me hasten to say this is not code for military action. Force must remain a last resort, and in most cases, other tools will be more appropriate through diplomacy, financial sanctions, humanitarian assistance, law enforcement measures.
The Administration has acted on this commitment. When the Qadhafi regime threatened a massacre in the city of Benghazi, we forged an international coalition to stop the assault. When Laurent Gbagbo violently clung to power in Cote d’Ivoire, we worked with UN partners to prevent the killing of innocents and to pressure him to relent. Now, he is standing before the International Criminal Court. When the Lord’s Resistance Army escalated its attacks against civilians and its brutal work of turning children into soldiers, we helped governments throughout Central Africa increase their efforts to go after the leaders, including Joseph Kony. And we continue to work with international partners to end the ongoing violence in Syria and usher in a democratic transition.
Now, why we have acted in these cases to try to stop violence, to contain events that could create even more terror may not be a hard question to answer. But the questions of exactly when and how to act are difficult. The fact is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every situation requires a tailored and careful response. And today, I want to discuss a few specific practical steps that we are taking to combat genocide and mass atrocities, and I want to highlight two core ideas.
First, we are putting new emphasis on prevention, and second, we are seeking to expand the range of partners contributing to this cause because no one country can be effective alone. Let me start with prevention. You want to stop atrocities before they start. How do you know what to look for?
Well, genocides and mass atrocities don’t just happen spontaneously. They are always planned. Genocides are preceded by organized, targeted propaganda campaigns carried out by those in power. Extremist leaders spread messages of hate often disguised as something else – a song on the radio, a nursery rhyme, or a picture book. The messages filter down. Those in power begin to dehumanize particular groups or scapegoat them for their country’s problems. Hatred not only becomes acceptable; it is even encouraged. It’s like stacking dry firewood before striking the match. Then there is a moment of ignition. The permission to hate becomes permission to kill.
I remember going to Bosnia shortly after the Dayton accords were signed and meeting with a group of Bosnians. And one Muslim woman told me that when the violence started, she asked a neighbor whom she knew well, “Why are you doing this to us? Why is this happening?” She said that their families had known each other for many years, they had celebrated together at weddings, they had mourned together at funerals. And her neighbor replied, “We were told that if we don’t do this to you, you’ll do it to us first.”
The United States and our partners must act before the wood is stacked or the match is struck, because when the fire is at full blaze, our options for responding are considerably costlier and more difficult.
There are responsibilities for this effort now across our government from the intelligence community to the Defense Department to the Treasury to the State Department. And at the center of our work is our core asset, our diplomats and development experts.
First, we are making sure that our officers serving in at-risk countries are trained to understand the warning signs, to provide accurate assessments of emerging crises, to take the first mitigating steps. That might mean engaging governments and their supporters. It might mean talking to local media about growing violence. It might mean supporting those who are countering propaganda.
Second, we are putting technology to work advancing our prevention efforts. Because technology has changed the way we can detect and respond to mass atrocities. Until recently, it not only might happen, it did take days or weeks before outsiders knew about violence in a remote location. But now, a bystander with a cell phone and a YouTube account can show the whole world exactly what is happening.
So we are developing our own technological innovations. Our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor is working on a project to detect when governments use malicious software to target protestors and then warn those being targeted. We also want to educate citizens about the risks of certain types of electronic communications and the availability of more secure alternatives. And as President Obama announced here in April, USAID is partnering with Humanity United on a tech challenge to identify new, high-tech innovations that will aid this cause.
Third, we are enhancing our civilian surge capacity. We already have personnel trained to analyze conflicts and defuse potentially violent situations. Now we will be using those personnel to focus on atrocity prevention. We have deployed our Civilian Response Corps to countries such as South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, and Kyrgyzstan. We hope to train new teams to assess conditions on the ground, work with local governments to detect signs of impending atrocities, work with the local civil society and others who are representing populations at risk, and make recommendations to American officials on what we can do to prevent conflict. The new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations will deploy these personnel to address potential atrocities and empower citizens to learn how to resolve conflicts themselves.
Fourth, we’re deploying new tools through our National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security because women are often the first to know when their communities are in danger, and they are often the first to suffer. So we’re working with women at-risk in areas where they are to make sure there are early-warning systems responsive to sexual and gender-based violence. For example, we have supported a project in the DRC to build a community alert network to protect civilians, including from conflict-related sexual violence.
Fifth, we can directly pressure those who organize atrocities and cut off the resources they need to continue their violence. We can target sanctions against groups using information technology to further human rights abuses as we’ve done in Syria and Iran. And those responsible for such crimes will not find safe haven in our country because our government will now deny entry visas to anyone responsible for or suspected of planning or committing a mass atrocity.
Lastly, we want to deter atrocities by making clear that those who commit these crimes will be held accountable. Our work over the last three administrations to bring Milosevic and Mladic and Karadzic to justice for their crimes in the Balkans is a testament to that commitment. Our message to perpetrators must be that we do not forget, and there will be consequences.
But that brings me to the second part of our approach. We need to expand the circle of partners who can help prevent and respond to crises, because a problem of this scale takes the skills and resources of governments, the private sector, and civil society, all working together. It starts with a robust diplomatic effort. And we have to strengthen our ties and our cooperation with likeminded governments and organizations, because if more countries are looking out for warning signs and training their diplomats on prevention techniques, we will all be more responsive. I applaud the African Union for their increased attention on the crises across Africa and of ECOWAS for responding effectively to the violence from Sierra Leone to Cote d’Ivoire.
We’ll also be stepping up multilateral engagement to bring a greater focus on atrocity prevention. We’re working to strengthen the U.N.’s core peace and security tools. Under our leadership, the G8 Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping Experts Group is focused on training and supporting peacekeepers to better identify and respond to violence that can and all too often does evolve into atrocities. To succeed, however, peacekeeping and special political missions will require the right resources, an understanding of the situation on the ground, strong leadership and personnel, and most importantly, the political will of member nations to back up these missions. That is often the most scarce commodity.
We’re expanding our connections with the private sector because companies that respect human rights foster an environment in which atrocities are less likely to occur. And when they do, the private sector must send a strong message by refusing to do business with those responsible. Banks should refuse to finance the sale or purchase of oil from such countries. Jewelers should refuse to traffic in blood diamonds. And there are numerous examples of how economic pressure can get the attention of leaders when all of the other efforts have not.
We also need to do more to support civil society. And I started the first-ever Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society around the world because we want to be in an emergency response mode with civil society groups that are standing up against violence and harassment.
We’re putting our elements of this strategy – prevention and partnership – into action through the Atrocities Prevention Board that President Obama announced here. Now, it might not be obvious that creating yet another government board will address a problem as entrenched as this. But the fact is a body such as this can drive the kinds of institutional changes that we envision. It can help galvanize efforts across our government to focus on prevention, to ensure that all our tools and resources are being put to good use. And it will give us an organizing principle, if you will, because it is difficult. There is so much information coming into this government on a second-by-second basis, and making sure it gets pulled together in one place where people can assess and analyze it and then suggest actions based on it is a challenge. So the board is the organizing entity that forces every part of the government to say, “This piece of information might be of use to the board. I better make sure it gets there.”
I particularly want to acknowledge our Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Maria Otero, who has represented the State Department so well on this board.
Now I understand very well that as much as we are doing to try to get ahead of these terrible events, we are clear-eyed about our challenges. How do we bring along countries that are reluctant to get involved or ensure that we don’t make a bad situation worse or provoke even more violence? So we have to approach this work with a large dose of humility and understanding.
But one thing must be noted: All nations have some influence and leverage that they can put to use if they are so engaged and focused. Even if nearly every country in the world takes a stand, we have seen recently how one nation or a small group of nations’ obstruction can derail our efforts. That has been the challenge we have faced in the UN Security Council over our efforts in Syria.
As the Assad regime continues its bloody assault on its own people, despite crippling sanctions, condemnation, increasing political pressure, they have found support, primarily from Iran, Russia, and China. More than a hundred other nations and organizations have made clear that Assad must step aside in order for a transition to begin. And we are supporting the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center, which is compiling evidence of serious abuses and violations of human rights. We’re supporting the UN Commission of Inquiry, which is gathering evidence about the crisis. We’re sending a message to the Syrian regime and making clear that there will be consequences for their actions.
But I have to say that we are also increasing our efforts to assist the opposition. This is a very complicated and difficult set of circumstances on the ground, and yet we know that the sooner it ends, the less violence there will be and the less chance for extremism to take hold. But it will be unfortunate if, indeed, the Assad regime and those around them decide that it’s an existential struggle for them and they will maintain and even increase the level of violent response.
We think about and worry about and work on these issues all the time. And if it were easy, we wouldn’t have to do things like have Holocaust memorials or atrocity prevention boards. But we are struggling with some of the deepest and most difficult impulses of human beings to protect themselves, to obtain power, to dehumanize others in order to enhance their own position and standing. And we have to do everything we can to keep pushing forward humanity’s moral response and effective efforts.
I want to close, though, by saying that not every mass killing is announced by the explosion of mortars or the exchange of gunfire or concentration camps. They aren’t always cases of governments slaughtering their own people. There are slow-motion crises that develop over time and don’t capture daily headlines and are even more difficult to address, like the use of rape as a weapon of war. In the eastern Congo, it’s estimated that 1,000 women and girls are raped every day, and it is a deliberate strategy used in the conflict there to dehumanize, to marginalize, to break the spirit of people. Or take the dehumanizing brutality in North Korean prison camps. They, I’m told, were joined by Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in one such camp, and has made it his life’s work to bring the world’s attention to the conditions in his country. Or take the horrific problem of infanticide or, as it is rightly called, gendercide – families killing their own infant girls or allowing their baby and toddler daughters to die because their societies value only sons.
Now, whatever form atrocities take, however society explains, rationalizes, even tries to justify, we must be committed to preventing and ending all of these actions that truly dehumanize all of humanity. Now we have laid out our course for turning our commitment into action, but we recognize the plan we have laid out leaves many questions to answer, many ideas still to be formulated, and innovations to devise. But I am convinced we can make progress together. We have, in our lifetimes – those of us of a certain age – seen evil and hatred overcome. And in the tragic history that surrounds us here in this museum, we also see the stories of the heroes – the men and women who did the right thing, even when confronted and threatened by evil. And we’re inspired. We’re inspired by their courage and their resolve, what drove them to try to save a life.
That resolve continues to grow stronger. If one were to look at the great sweep of history, one has to believe that we can together overcome these challenges, that there will slowly but inexorably be progress. And at the root of that must be our resolve, and that resolve must never fail so that we can say and mean it, “never again.”
Thank you all very much.
MICHAEL ABRAMOWITZ: I would like to introduce the moderator of our first panel, my former colleague and friend from the Washington Post, one of this town’s great reporters on intelligence, Dana Priest, please, give Dana a round of applause and she will introduce the rest of our panel.
DANA PRIEST: Hello. So glad to be here. Mike is a great colleague, was a great colleague and remains a great colleague. So I’d like to introduce our other panelists as they join us. First, we have Christopher Kojm who is the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. So he’s usually under wraps but he’s come out today to talk to us about the future, which is the subject. And we’re talking about the future not just because we can, but because obviously maybe it can make a difference in preventing future genocide and mass casualties.
We have Peter Schwartz next to Chairman Kojm. And Peter has been a great friend of the Museum and helping it think about its future and direction it should go. And he also happens to be a founder of a super computer technology firm that he’s explained to me is just a mega giant in its field and he’ll talk to us a lot about technology.
And then we have Tim Snyder who is a professor of history at Yale University. And who has written extensible on environmental impact or the environment’s impact on creating genocide, scarcity of food and things like that. And his latest book is titled Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. And I also, doing my homework just read this fascinating piece that’s not very—from 2010 in the New Republic—called “The Coming Age of Slaughter” which is an eye opener. So we’d like to start with Chairman Kojm and he will give a 10-minute synopsis of some of the things that they are looking at for the first time. And then follow up with a conversation. And after an hour we hope to open it up for questions. So thank you.
CHRISTOPHER A. KOJM: All right, thank you, Dana. Thanks for the introduction. And it is a pleasure to be here. And I do want to thank the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Council on Foreign Relations Center for Preventive Action for the invitation to speak. And I also do want to recognize at the outset the important work by the Committee on Conscience and the work it has done focusing on cases of extreme violence against civilians. At the National Intelligence Council we too look over the horizon at factors that could contribute to instability, to the outbreak of conflict, to mass atrocities and genocide.
The National Intelligence Council under the direction of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, is charged with providing strategic assessments on future threats and trends as well as opportunities to senior policymakers. As Secretary Clinton just noted quoting the President, preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a quote, “core national security interest,” end of quote. Therefore, we have been directed, directed by the President, to work on the first ever National Intelligence Estimate on the global risk of mass atrocities and the prospect for response by the international community. The timeframe will focus on the period out to the year 2018. National Intelligence estimates are comprehensive undertakings and represent the best information and analysis available to the intelligence community and draw on research, analytic approaches, and our best trade craft, and insights from experts both inside and outside the government. We will do our very best to meet the task we have been assigned, to support our policymakers, to provide them timely information and to help them make the best possible decisions.
The study of genocide and mass violence suggests that the factors contributing to such horrific violence do not suddenly appear two weeks or two months before an event happens. As Secretary Clinton noted there are slow motion crises that develop over time, long before videos posted on social media go viral. We at the National Intelligence Council can identify factors. We often refer to them as “drivers” that over time can lead to increased risk. We believe that monitoring such drivers will enable Secretary Clinton and the Atrocities Prevention Board to more closely monitor risks, and develop initiatives to address root causes earlier and to break a cycle that could lead to the unimaginable. Long range analysis of risks can lead to a reexamination of assumptions under pending policies and help us in thinking ahead. We want our analysis to inform government budget cycles which requires anticipating future requirements. Our analysis can identify opportunities for where assistance or U.S. actions can help mitigate risk and reduce the potential for such events to occur. Prediction of when and where violent conflict will erupt is among the toughest challenges that analysts and governments face.
The National Intelligence Estimate is part of a broader effort and process aimed at early identification of risk factors. We refer to it as “indicators in warning,” identifying a risk that can lead to mass atrocities. We work continuously at trying to refine and improve our effort to identify risk including those triggering events that then cascade into crises leading to violence and massive atrocities. The study of the past embodied in this museum and informed by some of the world’s brightest scholars, researchers and advocates, some of whom are here today, will help us think about the future. In past mass atrocities contributing factors have included, but most certainly are not limited to: rule by authoritarian or hybrid political regimes, underdevelopment and economic crisis, state policies of discrimination against groups within societies, and conflict within bordering areas. Other factors include the recent outbreak or high risk of violent or regime-threatening stability, a history of ethnic conflict, prior loss of territory or authority and persistent intractable conflict between groups.
Yet, we must remain open to the possibility that the past is not necessarily a predictor of where and when mass atrocities will occur or the means by which they will be perpetrated. They may involve nation-states, but could also occur between non-state groups. Looking to the future, it will be important to understand trans-boundary risks that do not fit neatly within the classic nation-state map of the world. In this regard the National Intelligence Council is currently working on a document called “Global Trends 2030.” It is the fifth in a series that began in 1996 to take a look at what the world may look like in the future. We will complete that report towards the end of this year.
In that regard, we see a growing nexus among energy, water and food issues. Demand for resources is very much on the upswing owing to an increase in global population from 7.1 billion today to about 8 billion by 2030. And there’s a concomitant call on resources. Demand for food could increase by 50 percent as emerging middle classes shift their diets in the direction of meats and away from grain. Energy needs will also sharply increase. Nearly half of the world population will live in areas with severe water stress. Many of these same countries will have limited natural resources, water and arable land. And they will also have disproportionate numbers of young men as high population growth rates continue in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and parts of the Middle East. These factors all taken together increase the risk of interstate and intrastate conflict. Most intrastate conflicts will remain in the form of irregular warfare, but the spread of precision weaponry may change the character of some of these conflicts.
We also study demography and it helps us to look over the horizon. There is some good news looking out to 2030: global deaths from communicable diseases are projected to drop by more than 40 percent. So people will be living longer lives. But other aspects of demographic change are more complicated. We will see increased trans-border migration and not just to the developed world but to emerging economies and nations as well. And the urbanization of humanity currently near 50 percent will reach 60 percent by 2030. The point here is that rapid political and social change may drive increasingly serious deficits in governance. And we know from our study that societies moving from autocracy to democracy have a track record of instability. And some 50 countries fall into this major risk group. However, the upside is that economic progress also increases the capabilities of governments and can improve their ability to govern.
Next, I want to talk to turn to technology and Secretary Clinton has touched on that. And I know my colleagues on the panel will as well. The Holocaust Memorial Museum and Harvard’s Carr Center have examined the role of satellite imagery analysis, the use of un-manned aerial vehicles and innovation in the use of information and communications technology. As Secretary Clinton noted, these technologies can be used for early identification and warning, shaping global opinion, and mobilizing local, regional and global responses. And, of course, these technologies, as well, also provide us useful intelligence. These technological capacities are not the sole province of governments. Innovative uses are coming from many quarters, multilateral organizations, NGOs and even individuals who want to make a difference. These important efforts and capabilities will add to our ability and provide a better picture for early warning. Imagery on analysis, more broadly geospatial analysis, is a sophisticated art of interpretation. And by complementing it with other sources of information we can help our policy customers reach far better and form judgments.
While there is much reason for optimism on the technology front, it is clear that technology also will pose new challenges—ethical, legal, moral—challenges for warning, sharing of information and international response. For example, if people use social media platforms to share videos and observations of violence on the ground they will have an increasingly difficult time assuring anonymity and their video may provide openings for perpetrators to identify, detain, and do worse. We will face challenges in authenticating videos. And with analytic questions on the size, severity and scope of the threat that cannot instantly be gleaned from a YouTube video posting. The characteristics of communications technology use, well-known and seen today, multiple and simultaneous action, near instantaneous response and feedback loops, and mass organization across geographic boundaries, increases the potential for potential outcomes, the potential for early warning and early action. But also increases the potential for discontinuity and shocks. The application of communications technology also will give governments an unprecedented ability to monitor their citizens. How these uses of communications technology play out is one of the important topics we will be addressing in the National Intelligence Estimate. Thank you and I look forward to our discussion.
DANA PRIEST: Well, I have about a dozen questions but I’m going to put them all off and turn to Peter who’s world, who is of the technology world, and ask you do you have the same view, different view of technology? And are there other drivers or considerations that we might want to think about in this discussion?
PETER SCHWARTZ: Thank you. And let me just offer my thanks to Sara Bloomfield, Mike Abramowitz for having me here. I consider it a profound honor to be a part of this panel. I take it very personally. I was born in a DP camp in Germany in 1946. My mother survived Auschwitz. My father was a slave laborer. So these issues are very personal from my point of view and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to participate and contribute.
I want to touch on three things briefly in response to what Chris said: the first on technology, second on the role of international institutions, and demography. Technology, I think, it is undoubtedly the case that governments who wish to use technology against their people can do so. But I think it is almost unequivocally the case today that the polarity of technology has shifted from big central systems to the individual: the availability of the cell phone camera, the ubiquity of that technology around the world I think radically increases transparency. And even when we think about things like drones and so on—I have my own predator. I built it myself. It has an eight-foot wingspan. I live in the people’s republic of Berkeley. I can make sure there are no atrocities in my neighborhood. And I fly it around. I take pictures of my friend Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired and he has his own predator and tries to catch me in my hot tub.
But the point is that multibillion dollar systems were the tools of governments. Today for $800 an activist can build a predator, can look at things that otherwise would not be seen. And I think radical transparency almost always favors the individual in that respect. And I think that is the world that we are moving towards and that technology is enabling. Yes, there are the downsides that I think Chris Kojm mentioned. I don’t want to diminish those. But on the whole, I think, the polarity has shifted from the central state to the individual in that regard on technology.
I think demography, as Chris mentioned, is another key factor here. I think one of the historical mistakes that sociologists made was to assume 30 or 40 years ago that we were becoming more secular, that religion would have less sway in the future, that as we became more scientific and so on that faith would be less significant. And that turned out to be a fundamental mistake. That, in fact, religion is more powerful today, more consequential, with much greater impact, more adherence and so on. And religions come up against each other. And Secretary Clinton put it very eloquently when she said the permission to hate becomes the permission to kill. When religions hate each other, we find killing in mass numbers. And you can see fully predictable today at least two major instances coming right on the horizon.
The first is, of course, obviously in Afghanistan where the United States intends to pull out, rightly, understandably from a military point of view in roughly 18 months from now. And we can be absolutely certain on the day that our troops start to come out that the women of Afghanistan will be profoundly threatened. Young girls who went to school, women who worked with us will all be vulnerable to the Taliban. And you can see mass killing in vast numbers coming right there in front of us. What are we going to do about it? I mean the only thing I can imagine is putting large numbers of civilians on the ground, not military, but civilians to prevent the killing. I don’t know if that’ll work but I think that is where we can see one coming right ahead of us.
And one that is beginning to emerge, where all of the slow motion forces that Chris referred to are underway today and that’s in Nigeria. One example of mass killing that was not on the list which I saw personally when I was in the Peace Corps was Biafra and it’s coming again. You can see it right now. The ten-degree line across Nigeria with the Muslims in the north and the Christians in the south. They’re burning churches. They’re killing each other already. You can see it coming.
And I don't know that anybody is even taking that one seriously. So the population growth of Nigeria, the intense confrontation of the Muslims and the Christians there are leading inevitably to mass killings. So I think that’s a second one we can already see coming.
And then the final point I would make is the role of international institutions. If you contrast the first half of the twentieth century with the second half the first half 180 million people died in war. In the second half, it was 20 million. Now that’s a pretty terrible number but it’s a whole lot better. And what’s the difference? It’s the role of the international institutions, the United Nations, the Security Council, the IMF, the World Bank, NATO, all of these things that prevented international conflict from carrying out vast amount of killing. Today, we in the United States no longer support those institutions. People no longer support the United Nations. We didn’t sign the International Criminal Court. Just last week the Republican Party said we won’t sign the Law of the Seas. All of these things that have helped ensure relative peace and stability and prosperity we no longer support in this country. So this is something our leadership can do right now and that is to revive support for the international institutions that we created, we set in motion, that have assured peace and prosperity for the last 50 years and today that we are backing off from.
And an example where we can see it playing out right this moment, because we don’t have good tools for dealing with it, is the so called war on drugs. Fifty-thousand Mexicans have died in the last few years because we have a war on drugs. It’s a war on people. It’s not a war on drugs. Let’s be very clear. No drugs are dying. People are dying. And we’re using just as many drugs this year as we used last year and the year before. So let’s be very clear about that. The war on drugs is a war on people on the people who are producing it. And that is a form of atrocity as well. We have to end the war on drugs as well.
DANA PRIEST: Okay. Thank you very much. Tim Snyder, first I have to ask you, do you have your own predator? And if you don’t want to answer that… You’re a historian. Let’s just stay on the topic of technology for a minute, is there something about the history of technology that applies to the discussion we’re having today?
TIMOTHY SNYDER: Very much so. The history of technology is right at the center of the history of the Holocaust. And if we want to understand what I think is the most important connection we could possibly draw on this conversation, that is the connection between the Holocaust as it actually happened, as an event in history, to the future of humanity we have to be able to see certain kinds of technical problems and certain kinds of technical solutions. I very much agree with much of what’s been said. Think about the technology that you associate with the Holocaust. You probably think of the gas chambers at Auschwitz and Zyklon B. You probably don’t think of bullets, even though they killed far more people. You probably also don’t think of the internal combustion engine, even though that technology killed far more people than Zyklon B.
The reason that we don’t think of the technologies that were actually important in the Holocaust is because they are too close to us. We displace them from us because they’re a part of our daily lives. Many of us have shot firearms. All of us have used internal combustion engines, most of them use them every day. So what we do with the history of technology in the Holocaust is we put it in a nice box and we keep ourselves out of that box. We look at that box perhaps through Plexiglass, but we don’t realize that we, ourselves, are in that box. So the fundamental point I want to make about the history of the Holocaust is the point about responsibility and I’ll come back around to what I mean by that.
What’s happened in the last 25 years is that the Holocaust has shifted from being a subject only of memory and commemoration to being a central subject of history. That may seem like a strange thing to say but it’s true. When this museum was founded, the Holocaust was not a central subject of European history. You could read histories of Europe after the war. You could even read histories of the war which didn’t mention the Holocaust at all. Because in the last quarter century we have moved it to the center of historical discussions, we now have a much more serious account of how it happened and why it happened. And what I’d like to stress is that a serious historical explanation of the Holocaust, a historical explanation which involves causes is extremely useful for the future. If we can identify what Chris has called “drivers” in the most significant example of mass killing, then we have some purchase on trying to prevent similar things from happening in the future.
So what do we know about the causes of the Holocaust that we might not have known 20 or 30 years ago? The first of them is the fundamental significance of war. And this is one reason why, I think, one has to be cautious about the default way of thinking about genocide prevention, which is that we wait for it to happen and then we fight a war. Pretty much every instance of genocide has involved that argument. Hitler’s Holocaust involved an argument from genocide prevention, namely something worse is going to happen if we don’t kill the Jews. So one has to be very careful about that kind of argumentation because it will always be used no matter what is happening. One has to have careful protocols. I think the Secretary was quite wise to speak of force as a last resort. What we know is that almost all episodes of mass killing, the Holocaust is the central example here, happened in times of war. And if not of war, then of civil strife or this internal situation which leaders call a war, use war as a metaphor.
So the second thing that we know about the causes of the Holocaust, which I think is extremely relevant, is that the Holocaust began in a zone of state destruction. As Sara mentioned at the very beginning of her remarks, Hitler was in power for eight years before the mass killing of Jews began. A couple of things had to happen before the mass killing could start, one of them was the war itself, first against Poland, then against the Soviet Union. Another was the destruction of state power and its displacement by something else. One of the things that is now at the center of the study of the Holocaust which was generally ignored is that where the killing actually began, not the ghettos, not the concentration camps, but the killing, where the killing began, was a place where states had been destroyed both by the Germans and by the Soviets, in a dark zone of double state destruction. Now, this has immediate implications for how we think about the future of mass killing because it means that sensible policies which are often derided, such as nation and state building, or the rule of law, are intensely and directly relevant.
The third cause of the Holocaust which may be a bit unfamiliar, which is now central to its academic study, is something that you might call de-globalization. So we think that there has only been one globalization. I mean one of the nice things about Americans and twenty-first century people in general is we think everything is new, right? But there was, in fact, another globalization, very much like our own. We didn’t have instantaneous communication then, but people were probably better informed about their lives than we are. There was less obesity. That’s the other thing I noticed. This globalization was—the less obesity points can become really serious in just a second—this globalization was in the 1880s, 1890s, until the First World War. Global trade then was increasing very quickly. Almost everything we see about our globalization was happening then. And then it stopped. It stopped with the First World War, with the Great Depression. The Holocaust was the bottom point of this de-globalization.
What de-globalization leads to are desires for re-globalization on a regional basis which goes under the old fashioned name of “imperialism.” What Hitler was trying to do was to take a de-globalized world and re-globalize it in Germany’s favor, eliminating enemies, building a colony, and so on. So what this means is that globalization is something that we’ve had before and we’ve also seen it collapse. And its collapse was one of the fundamental causes of the Holocaust, again, clear recommendations for policy flow from that.
The fourth thing, and the most important thing, I think, and the most unfamiliar cause of the Holocaust is ecological panic. Ecological panic having to do, and here I’m agreeing with both speakers already, ecological panic having to do with fears about food supplies. When we think of Germany in the 1930s we think of a hypermodern country. Germany in the 1930s—and it was—it was the most developed country in the world. But Germany in the 1930s was not self-sufficient in food. They counted calories because they didn’t have enough of them. The entire scheme of controlling Eastern Europe, the world homeland of the Jews, had everything to do with controlling land which was fertile. That was the primary imperial objective of the Nazi regime. Now, the reason why I refer to this as a panic is because in the 1920s and 1930s people didn’t know what we know now and take for granted. In the 1920s and 1930s when Hitler was writing Mein Kampf when Hitler speaking about Lebensraum, when Germany was going to contest Easter Europe as its own empire in order to control that land, people did not know that in the 1950s and 60s, hybrids, pesticides, irrigation and other technology were going to solve the food crisis in Europe. They didn’t know that an oversupply of food was going to become the problem in just a few decades. They didn’t know that. So there was a gap when the Holocaust was possible between the 1920s and 1950s. After that it becomes unthinkable for purely technological reasons. It could only happen during this interval of ecological panic.
Now, is this good news or is this bad news? Well, in one pretty obvious way it’s bad news because you, I and everyone on planet earth are now living through a next moment of ecological panic which goes under the heading of “global warming.” Now, when I say that it’s a panic just to be very clear about this, I’m not saying that it’s not true. People are panicking for very good reason. The reason though that it’s particularly relevant to this issue of mass killing is that it opens this window which will last as many decades as we choose for it to last between fear of uncontrolled access to food and water, and the technical solution which hopefully eventually is going to come. So we are now in a situation like the beginning of the twentieth century where we’re not sure where food is going to come from, right? If you don’t know what I’m talking about look at the drought pictures in the Midwest, check what food prices are right now. We’re entering into this moment. And whether you believe what I’m saying or not, in a way is irrelevant, because the Chinese are quite convinced. And they’re all ready acting in such a way as to prevent this problem by buying up land in Africa, and even ironically enough buying up land in Ukraine which was what the Nazis saw as their breadbasket. So we’ve entered into this moment of ecological panic. Global warming will itself almost certainly directly cause mass killing, but it will likely indirectly cause it as major states such as China and also the U.S. try to control access to food and water in the decades to come. That’s the bad news.
The good news would be that all of the things which led to the Holocaust were preconditions. You had to have all of them. Antisemitism was, of course, a critical precondition to a Holocaust. You can’t imagine the Holocaust without antisemitism. But the Holocaust happened in 1941 and not some other time because of these other preconditions: de-globalization, environmental panic, destruction of states and war. If you can head off any one of these things you’re making mass killing much less likely.
The other reason why this might be good news is that a lot of these things are sound policy, in general, right. So foreign policy that works against war, for the rule of law, for globalization is probably a sound foreign policy anyway. And the gap between sound foreign policy and genocide prevention might be rather small, as Secretary Clinton has already suggested.
The final reason why this might be good news is that technical solutions are in large measure up to us and subject to national policy. It’s hard to control other people’s ideologies. What you can do, though, is invest a lot more money in fusion. That’s a relatively easy policy decision to make, or in other sorts of alternative energy which will then have a solid, and I think probably decisive, long-term impact on reducing the likelihood of genocide.
Let me just close with one final observation to try to bring this home. There was a Russian-Jewish writer called Vasily Grossman, one of the most important chroniclers of the Holocaust. When he arrived at Treblinka and wrote his report about Treblinka he began with a remark. He said, “I’ve seen here a technology.” He meant the gas chamber. “I’ve seen here a technology which theoretically could kill every man, woman and child on the face of the earth within a finite time.” The technology he had seen was the internal combustion engine.
We have to all own our connection to these technologies. We have to all think about the little role that we might play for good or for ill in all of this. Because the chief moral lesson of the Holocaust is not the easy lesson that we ought not to be victims. If you and I are victims we haven’t done anything bad. It’s also not only about the perpetrators. The major moral lesson about the Holocaust is about the bystanders. The people who might have done something small, one way or the other, and didn’t. When it comes to heading off ecological panic and these other preconditions to mass killing that’s where we all are. Thank you.
DANA PRIEST: Are there places, let’s take your paradigm, are there places now where there’s been enough ecological, environmental depredation and enough re-globalization to begin to have drivers of mass killings already showing up?
TIMOTHY SNYDER: Yeah. I mean, if Chris takes questions at all this is also a question to Chris because there are projections about water usage. But I would say that the two major African cases that we have in the late twentieth and the early twenty-first century, Rwanda and Darfur, both had an awful lot to do with resources. And with Africa, in general, we have to keep in mind that it isn’t just the Africans competing with the Africans over resources. What is already happening is the Chinese—and we’re going to come in and do this too, everyone is all ready doing it—the Chinese and others are going to try to control African fertile land and African water. And the headlines of that will be, “Africans kill Africans.” But the reason why it’s going to happen is because of this, what you’ve just rightly called, I think, this re-globalization, imperialism under another name which is almost certainly is going to happen with climate change.
PETER SCHWARTZ: If I can add one to that, and I don’t want to put Chris in an uncomfortable place. But one can see—I think the point that he made about the nexus of energy, food and water is exactly right. And one of the places where you can see this most profoundly playing out is in Asia where every major river system has one source, namely the highlands of the Himalayas. And whether it’s the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Yangtze, the Yellow, but the one that worries me the most is the Mekong. Mekong goes through six countries beginning in China. So as the Chinese are already damning those rivers, Laos just wanted to build a dam to make electricity. Well, we’ve slowly stopped that. But what happens when the climate change reduces the amount of water? The Chinese need all of that water for irrigation and the Vietnamese who grow the rice, the Cambodians who grow the fish, the Thais who live off the river, the Burmese and so on, all depend upon the Mekong. When the Mekong begins to dry up do the Vietnamese just die? Do the Thais just die? Or is this a source of conflict with China? And you can just see it coming. And the risk is very great. The salt line is all ready moving up the Mekong from the reduced flows. And the consequences of that are fully predictable. And I think it’s a perfect example of the risk of mass death and conflict that comes from precisely that nexus that Chris was talking about.
DANA PRIEST: And are you looking at those same factors?
CHRISTOPHER A. KOJM: Absolutely. On the question of water, it was really at the direction of Secretary Clinton that we did extensive work on the water question, some of which is in an unclassified form. And Peter has spoken quite eloquently to many of the issues that we have been seeking to address. I think the point here that has been made by both my colleagues is on the mark, that questions of security, how nations view their security do have a resource availability as a significant driver that informs state behavior. I think it’s also important to note that in this post-1945 world we have had an international order, an open international system, an open trading and financial order. And all the countries in East Asia that Peter has referenced have prospered enormously under and through participation in that international order. Hundreds of millions of people in China, in India and throughout East Asia have been lifted from poverty.
We face the projection and you know many dire things can be said about how the world will look in 2030. But we are looking in the world of 2030 where we will be reaching 50 percent of the world’s population for the first time entering the middle class. That’s never happened in human history before. And those, again, picking up on the factors that Tim has mentioned, that’s an enormous contribution to stability in the international system and order. I don’t want to, again, say the challenges we face, the strains on international institutions that suited us well for many decades are under increasing stress, that’s quite evident. And the international order has to adjust to a change in power relations, to ensure that these international institutions can provide the stability role, the fundamental drivers of stability. And I think as Tim has eloquently stated, it took, really kicking out all the supports in the international order for mass atrocities and genocide to become possible. And our policymakers, and we in our work in supporting them, the work we do is meant to help keep those supports and the international system in place and to support policymakers who are striving to ensure an open international order, ensuring access to resources through markets and not through land grabs, or what have you, or resource grabs.
I think the final point I want to make on this comes back to the question of energy that we haven’t touched on quite as much. And, again, we see here where changes in technology are having profound effects in energy markets. And they happen slowly but they’re composite changes over time, both in green technologies, in natural gas production, are helping to reshape the international order. And so as much as we see threats and there’s ample topics to worry about, there are also drivers in the international system that are contributing to stability.
DANA PRIEST: Do either of you see those positive sides, overwhelming the negative side yet?
PETER SCHWARTZ: Well, I think Chris’s point that he just made is quite critical and it goes back to what Tim said earlier when the German people could not imagine how productive food production would become. Only a few years ago we believed we were running out of oil and gas, well we aren’t any more. Technology has advanced rather dramatically to, in fact, increase. The world is awash with gas and soon will be with oil. The same can be down with water. And that is the problem I mentioned of the Mekong. If the Chinese were very efficient in their use of water and the Vietnamese were very efficient in their use of water, why the conflict opportunity would be much less. Similarly in energy. We have lots of alternatives in energy so that, in fact, if we push the frontiers of technology on the supply side and on the efficiency side, then we are going to reduce some of the potential for conflict. So I think technology can be a very powerful lever in that respect on the positive side.
DANA PRIEST: Tim.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: Yeah, it goes both ways. I mean my whole argument goes both ways. When genocide is prevented, then you don’t have genocide, right? So you don’t see it. I mean our notion of genocide prevention is the bad guys are about to do something wrong, we come in and stop it. That’s really, really hard to stage manage frankly. The genocides that have been prevented were the ones that we don’t know about because they were headed off by changes in technology. They’re invisible. A prevented genocide is a genocide that we don’t see. You’re not going to read about a genocide that didn’t happen in the New York Times. And I would say, and this is the other side of my argument, the green revolution of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s in the developing world, but also probably more importantly in the developed world, the green revolution of fertilizers and hybrids and pesticides—these things which never get mentioned in conversations about the Holocaust—that probably prevented tremendous genocide, because it made the kind of thinking that Hitler and Stalin indulged in about control of territory being necessary to preserve one group at the expense of others seem incoherent. Seem incoherent. The Europeans like to tell us that they learned from the Second World War. They learned an awful lot more from fertilizer and from hybrids and so did we all, thank God, right? So the argument is that technological transformations can prevent, and indeed almost certainly have prevented, genocides.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods because as history moves on you face different kinds of resource crunches. And in some unfortunate ways, China is similar to Germany in the early part of the twentieth century. It’s a very rich and ambitious country which does not itself control the resources that it needs, not just energy resources, but it has water problems. It gets a lot of its fresh water from glaciers which are going to be gone. I mean not quite by the end of this conference, but they’re going to be gone very, very soon. It has relatively little fertile soil. These are natural resources which the Chinese leadership are quite aware they don’t have. And they’re all ready making provisions for what they’re going to do about that. That is worrisome.
And the final thing I wanted to say about technology is that I really think the atmosphere is a qualitatively different thing. It’s possible for us to desalinate water. It’s possible for us to find oil. It’s possible for us to process shale gas. What we cannot do is generate for ourselves another atmosphere. There’s only one atmosphere. It’s not a resource like other things. What it is is a kind of multiplier of other resource problems. So global warming is not a resource crisis like water or food is a resource crisis. It’s a multiplier of other resource crises which is why the chief technical challenge in my view has to be getting the global warming under control because the global warming causes problems but it also causes this fatal thing: unpredictability about the resource future. And it’s that unpredictability which opens the ecological panic in which I’m afraid is going to lead to mass killing in the decades to come.
DANA PRIEST: Well, on that note, we’re going to start to take questions. We have microphones somewhere. There, the woman with the red shirt. And you want to come down here? Here’s a question right here. But as you do, let me just ask you quickly, the National Intelligence Estimate, which they are working on now, will be used by policymakers in what way?
CHRISTOPHER A. KOJM: Well, our policy customers are avid readers of what we produce. And what we endeavor with every estimate is to really set the stage, to help policymakers understand, “What are the forces at work? Where do we see trends leading?” And most importantly, “Can we help point the way to positive policy action that can amplify the opportunities and to mitigate the risks?”
DANA PRIEST: Thank you. Sir?
AUDIENCE MEMBER : Thank you. I appreciate the discussion about ways to avoid conflict and the global trends relating to that. But I’d like to shift the conversation just a little bit to a more down to earth immediate everyday kind of global trend that Samantha Power wrote about in her Pulitzer-prize-winning book on genocide in the twentieth century when she observed that everyone is opposed to genocide but no one wants to do what it takes to stop it. And it’s not hard to see the parallel with the often expressed concern by the United States about genocide in Sudan—especially Darfur, which we’ve all heard about—but now the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile state and the lack of action by the U.S. to stop the Government of Sudan from committing more mass atrocities. Secretary Clinton very briefly noted this as the problem of political will. So the global trend I’d like you to speak to is the problem political will. And we have a real test case with Sudan. So what should the U.S. be doing on Sudan, to avoid becoming a chapter in Samantha Power’s next edition of A Problem from Hell?
DANA PRIEST: So is political will a driver to preventing genocide?
CHRISTOPHER A. KOJM: Well, sure. Governments make decisions. They all do. They all choose priorities. Political will is a crucial factor in international behavior.
PETER SCHWARTZ: I think this is really a quite critical issue. I can remember so clearly when the mass killings were under way in the former Yugoslavia—Serbia, in Kosovo, and Bosnia and so on. As someone who had experienced it very personally I found it painful to have no personal alternative, nothing that I could do as an individual other than to support the right kind of political action by my own country and eventually we got around to doing I think the right thing. I think the challenge here is that all the institutions that we have are the product of nation-states. And states are concerned principally about their sovereignty. And that becomes the fundamental issue that we face in Sudan. It is the issue that we faced in Rwanda. It is the issue we face, again, and again. And I think the challenge we have therefore is to build a framework of security beyond the nation-state. Can we create institutions, say, to replace the Security Council which we see its frustration, even as we speak, with respect to Syria. Can we devise—and I frankly don’t have a good answer to how—but can we devise institution whose political will is not dependent upon the nation-state’s ability to act and challenge the sovereignty of other nation-states?
DANA PRIEST: Now, has that ever been, can we think of an example of that?
PETER SCHWARTZ: Well, the Law of the Seas is a potential example of that, but again it’s under the United Nations framework. So the answer is, I don’t think we have a good institution. The role of NGOs, I think, has been critical in this respect. I mean people like Amnesty International and so on I think have done a spectacular job, Witness, Global Witness, Human Rights Watch, all of those. And maybe it is, in fact, in the framework of NGOs as they learn how to collaborate, work together and become more effective, that really provides a counter pull to the nation-state and some framework of that but that’s pure speculation on my part.
DANA PRIEST: Tim.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: I’m not sure the question is really more down to earth, honestly, because the moment when it becomes a question of political will it’s probably too late. Even if you have political will at the critical moment it’s probably all ready too late anyway for all sorts of reasons. By the time it’s a question of political will, you’re all ready in a state of exception where even if you did absolutely the right thing within the capabilities that you have you’re probably not going to stop the episode of mass killing. I mean, forgive my pessimistic historian’s reading, but that’s pretty much what every case in the history of genocide says.
So I think in order to prepare the way for political will which is this exceptional thing, you have to think about the long term structures and ask what’s politically possible in the short run to make the long run more—to make the long run less murderous than it’s very likely to be. It seems to me that there is much more political—there’s a lot of political room for change in energy policy, not as much as I’d like, but probably more than there’s going to be for military intervention when the time comes. The changes in public opinion are remarkable. And the Secretary’s speech today was extraordinary. But nevertheless, I would emphasize if what we’re going to count on is political will, we’re all ready in a tough position. And the notion that we have of genocide is being like one critical moment after another that demands decisive action. That’s heroic. It’s Hollywood. We like it. But in the long run it’s not the way to prevent genocide. In the long run, the way to prevent genocide is to keep the moments where we need political will as few and as rare as possible.
DANA PRIEST: Chris, did you want to add…
CHRISTOPHER A. KOJM: Yeah. I just wanted to pick up on Peter’s point which I think is really exactly on the mark. That we’re in a world of diffusion of power. The nation-state and its authorities are changing. The role of individuals through social media and the power of technology has increased. The role of NGOs has increased, the role of corporations… So you see many more international players who really matter and make a difference in international affairs. And yet, at the same time, institutions have nation-state members. Nation-states still really do matter and make a difference. So we’re in a transition to a different world and we’re not quite sure what that world will look like. But it is certainly correct that governments alone, even acting in concert, really their ability to shape international behavior has diminished over the past generation. And so how to harness individuals and a wide variety of nongovernmental institutions to work in concert with governments—that’s really hard going forward. So I’ll leave it at that.
DANA PRIEST: Okay. We have another question up there.
AUDIENCE MEMBER : Thanks very much. Thank you for holding this panel today. And this discussion on genocide has covered a lot of issues that bring up one question. And I’m glad that the general historian raised the comparison with Germany and China because I’m here to talk about the 13 years of persecution of Falun Gong in China.
DANA PRIEST: And do you have a question about that?
AUDIENCE MEMBER : I do. I do have a question because there has been a number of senior statesman that have identified the genocide going on with Falun Gong in China. Not only from torture in labor camps but also from the organ-harvesting, where they estimate numbers of 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners that have died from that. And I’m just wondering these are senior statesmen David Majors, who has represented Canada at the UN, the International Criminal Court, David Kilgour, former Secretary of State, Vice President of the European Parliament, Edward McMillan-Scott, has represented Falun Gong in China at the UN Genocide Convention. So I’m just wondering, all of the things you’ve talked about state, genocide, propaganda, hate against a group, what can you see can be done about that?
DANA PRIEST: Who would like to answer that question? And does it need the…
PETER SCHWARTZ: Can you repeat the question because I’m not sure I actually got the question to be honest?
AUDIENCE MEMBER : I’m sorry. I’ll repeat the question. It’s just that all of this discussion China has been so little mentioned and yet this is a huge atrocity of human right crime of great proportion. And it’s a genocide against a group of people in China. We all want China to be a better place. And it’s a crime against Chinese people. So I’m asking what can you see can be done, with all of the strategies, this has been going on for 13 years. What can you see can be done with a country like China?
PETER SCHWARTZ: Well, again, I point to transparency as an important part of the answer. One of the great issues is Tibet and what happens to the Tibetan people. I think almost no one believes that the Tibetan people as an indigenous group will survive the next 50 years. That Tibetan culture will be wiped out in China. Tibetan history will disappear in China. And finding the ways in which to change that, I think, is very difficult. Having said that, I think the various efforts by particular NGOs to highlight and to focus on how profound the impact is, is probably one of the only weapons because we are not going to invade China. We are not going to convince China to do otherwise. I think China will have to respond to pressure from the world as it becomes a genuine global player in that respect. But I would only add one other thing in that respect, and that is we have to clean up our own act. I mean let’s be clear, I mentioned the war on drugs. When you look at the incarceration rate in the African-American community that we don’t want to face at home, that is another form of, I think, atrocity that’s simply because politically no politician will get up and end that war and say gee, it’s a crime that we lock up a disproportionate amount of our population. Until our moral credibility increases it’s very difficult to hold others morally accountable.
DANA PRIEST: Tim, did you want to add anything to that?
TIMOTHY SNYDER: Implicit in Chris’s remarks—I don’t you know, perhaps he wouldn’t expand them in this way—is a distinction between internal and external factors. In general, democratic-rule-of-law states are less prone to this sort of behavior than authoritarian states are. Getting from one to the other is a pretty big problem. When we think about the future of genocide over the next few decades we have to recognize we’re still dealing with a world in which some of the major powers are authoritarian. Which means that the factors then become not internal but external and we have to be concerned about global warming and how the Chinese are going to react to it. We can’t assume that China is going to become a nicer place. We have to work on the assumption that it’s the place that it is and then think about what we can do. And partly that has to do with our own energy policy. For example, not letting the Chinese have more fusion physicists than we do which is the current situation, right?
And it also has to do with keeping up something which Secretary Clinton mentioned and which Peter has just mentioned in a different way as well and that is treating human rights language as normal. We’re not going to change China in the short term, maybe not in the medium term. But if our diplomacy treats the human rights language which has come out of the Holocaust directly as normal, that will eventually have some kind of effect. And I think it would be a mistake to make concessions on that front pretty much no matter what. But I think Peter’s point is quite right. You have to sort of follow a Hippocratic principle here. First, do no harm. Let’s make sure that you’re not doing any harm. That’s not only good in and of itself, but it also sets a kind of example. And there are institutions, and I would count the International Criminal Count as one of them, where we simply cannot say that we’re meeting that standard.
AUDIENCE MEMBER : Thank you.
DANA PRIEST: We have time for one more question and I think there’s someone over here. Yep. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE MEMBER : You’ve all talked a lot today about security structure and technology as key focal points of genocide prevention. But I was wondering if I could switch gears a little bit and ask about a genocide that’s all ready happened—the 1915 genocide of the Armenians—and if its recognition—what kinds of conflicts or issues could that possibly create, if it is eventually recognized by the United States?
DANA PRIEST: We saw in the poll that that got the fewest percentage of recognition by people polled. Tim.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: Okay. So one of the things that struck me about Mark Penn’s fascinating and really provocative poll results was that on the genocide one you had the Holocaust with over 90 percent, and then you had a bunch of stuff which just happened, some of which is maybe genocide, some of which isn’t. But the great historical examples of mass killing besides the Holocaust aren’t really there. And, of course, Armenia is one of them. And the general point I would make is that we need to see that mass killing, mass atrocity are a central feature of modern history. That the Holocaust is the clearest example and it’s an unprecedented example because it’s the only time that a state saw to eliminate an entire group physically. But that the whole fabric of modern history is full of instances such as this. When we recognize that, when we see it, so to speak, as natural, then we’re in a better position to try to change the nature of things I think. Seeing, knowing about Armenia, in that sense, is extremely important. Knowing about Armenia, knowing about the famine in Soviet Ukraine, knowing about the whole series of imperialists and post-imperialists episodes of mass killing in Africa—these are all very important to seeing history in the way that it has to be seen.
The label of genocide or not for me is a little bit less important because it seems to me that a lot of the episodes of mass killing that are important for us to understand, like, for example the Great Leap Forward famine in China. I think it’s very important to understand that we have a continuity of regime in China between one which starved 40 million of its own people to death and one which is still in power now and facing these global resource issues that we’re talking about. If you want to think about this seriously we have to know that the same regime that starved 40 million of its own people is in power. If you want to evaluate what the Chinese are likely to do in the world of global warming that’s a historical fact we have to know. Though I would say we have to know about Armenia because we have to know about this broader history of the twentieth century. That’s how I’d see it.
DANA PRIEST: I think we do have one more question. I think you were on. You just need to speak a little louder.
AUDIENCE MEMBER : [inaudible]
DANA PRIEST: Thank you.
PETER SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, this is a profound dilemma. You know, how do you help in the midst of a situation like that? I think the fundamental issue is basically that sense of compassion for humanity, for people who are starving and dying. And I think you can’t withhold food because governments will abuse the use of that food. Having said that, it is a real dilemma. Dilemmas don’t have a good answer. There isn’t an either/or outcome of that. And I think the reality of conflict in those kinds of situations inevitably creates those kinds of dilemmas. We face that even with the Holocaust. The argument was, “Gee, well it would better to stay in the bombing campaign against the Germans than to try to take out Auschwitz.” Well, whether that was the right answer or not that was an argument that was made. And so I think this issue always creates those kinds of dilemmas. And where I come down in the end is I think you have to treat people—you can’t let people starve in that respect because you want to undermine the governments that are, in fact, doing the harm.
DANA PRIEST: Tim.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: The question is a really important one because the implications go beyond central Africa. It’s a general truth about recent history that famine is political. That was an important finding of a very important book by Amartya Sen, which was largely about capitalist cases, but it’s also true of the non-capitalist cases. It’s true of the Soviet Union in 1933. It’s true of China in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Famine in general is political. It has a very important political component. And we need to understand that because it reminds us that famine is a central element in this history that we’re talking about, the history of mass killing. The deprivation of people, of food when food is actually present, in one way or another, is a central element of the history of mass killing. And we need to know that because unfortunately the politics of food is going to become more, rather than less, intense in decades to come.
So what I would think about your question is that a government that will abuse food aid is also a government that will abuse the food that’s already in a country. So if a government is going to starve its citizens it will do that with the food that’s already there as well as the food that’s provided. And so it’s a deep, dark dilemma with no easy answers. But what I would say is that the politics of food is something that we have to have front and center in the early twenty-first century because we know from an abundance of examples that it was crucial to the politics of mass killing in all of modern history.
DANA PRIEST: Chris.
CHRISTOPHER A. KOJM: I think Peter and Tim have spoken eloquently to the dilemmas that policymakers face. And we, through our support for them, really try to help them work through those questions and come up with the best possible decisions on really hard questions, so thank you.
DANA PRIEST: Okay. I’d like to close by thanking our panelists, and they’ll be here for a little while, but we have a second panel after a short break. So thank you.
MICHAEL ABRAMOWITZ : I would like to, just a short thing, we’ve had a lot of very distinguished guests here in the audience today. I would like to thank Congresswoman Jackson Lee was here for much of the session. So I just want to recognize her. And I’d like to invite the panelists to come up for our final program. And I have the great honor to introduce someone who really does not need any introduction, but we’re turning this hall into the Situation Room for the next hour. Please welcome Wolf Blitzer.
WOLF BLITZER: Well, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen for showing up this morning. This looks like it’s CNN versus the world over here. So Arwa and I are going to try to do our best to make sure that all of you learn something and all of us learn something that hopefully in an hour or so when we leave we’ll be able to walk away and say, “You know, we’re a little bit smarter than we were before this panel.” So I want to get right into the conversation. And Arwa Damon is here. All of you who watch CNN most of you get basic cable, I assume, so you know Arwa Damon’s one of our most courageous, fearless, brilliant reporters. She really has done an amazing job for all of us going back to the war in Iraq in 2003 and before. She is really brave, a lot braver than I am. She stays there. She’s covered war for a long time. I don’t know how she does it, but she does it. And she looks beautiful in the process. So it’s a great thing to be able to do. Right now, she’s based in Beirut but has been a lot of her time covering what’s going on in Syria. Earlier, she was in Egypt during the Tahrir Square and what was going on there and Libya. Wherever there’s a hotspot in the Middle East, Arwa is there and we’re really fortunate to have her at CNN. So let’s give it up for Arwa Damon. And she will be in the Situation Room later today for those of you who are interested, 4 p.m. eastern.
Strive Masiyiwa is the founder of Econet Wireless. He’s a Zimbabwean business man. He now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, because of obviously what’s going on in Zimbabwe. But he’s really been courageous in what he has done in Africa, throughout all of Africa. Econet is the only African-based company with a telecom license in the United Kingdom. He serves as its chairman. He moved with his family to Johannesburg in 2000. That’s where the company is now based. He was the publisher of the Daily News —Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper until it was shut down in 2003. He’s a very, very courageous business man. He does very important things for people, not only in Africa, but around the world. And so let’s give it up for him as well.
Sarah Sewall is the founder of the Mass Atrocity Response Operations Project at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. She advised President Obama on foreign policy. Her expertise is on using military force to oppose mass atrocities. No easy challenge to be sure. In 2010, she led a seminal study for the U.S. military on efforts to reduce civilian casualties. She directed the Obama transition’s National Security Agency review process. In 2008 she helped put really good people in charge of various national security projects in the Obama administration. During the Clinton administration she served as the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance. Earlier, like so many others who worked their way up in the executive branch of the U.S. Government, she served in the legislative branch of the U.S. Government, as a Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to then Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. Sarah, thank you.
And Richard Williamson is here, a senior nonresident, as opposed to a resident, does that mean you don’t have an apartment at the Brookings Institute because you’re a non-resident? Is that what it says?
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Just an office, a home in Chicago.
WOLF BLITZER: Okay. Good. He’s a senior nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution and a major foreign policy advisor to Mitt Romney who, by the way, later today is going to be delivering a major foreign policy speech. I’ve gone through the excerpts that have all ready been released. For those of you who are interested in national security and foreign policy and want to hear from Mitt Romney he goes into some specific details on the eve of his big trip to London for the Olympics. Then he’s going to Israel. Then he’s going to Poland in the coming days. So this will be a major speech and sets the tone if he were to be the next president of the United States what he might be doing. And I know Richard Williamson is one of the senior advisors. He previously served as a Special Envoy to Sudan in 2008 and 2009. He’s an expert on human rights, multilateral diplomacy, nuclear nonproliferation, post-conflict reconstruction, all of which means he’s a really, really smart guy. As part of the Bush administration he served as Ambassador to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs and as Ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. He also served in both the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations as well and we’re really fortunate that he joins us here at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum today. So let’s give it up for Rich.
One of the amazing things in the Arab Spring that we’ve seen and in other revolutions that have come up around the world in recent years is the power of social media. And, Arwa, I want to start with Arwa, because she’s really sees it up close and she sees what’s happening with social media whether on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube. And we get a lot of information that is broadcast around the world thanks to social media. So the question to Arwa, the Arab Spring, what’s happened in Egypt, in Libya, in Tunisia, elsewhere, now in the front lines in Syria, how big of a role, Arwa, has social media played in giving the opposition a voice?
ARWA DAMON: Well, I think it’s fair to say that social media is very much the opposition’s lifeline in a number of these situations—bar Egypt where the media was actually present and we were able to witness it firsthand. When we look at Libya and Syria, had social media not existed, a lot of what was taking place there would have just happened inside a dark hole. If we remember back to February 17th last year when the uprising in Libya began and demonstrations in Benghazi broke out, how did we find out about them? There was a complete and total Internet blackout. The only reason why we found out about what happened is because a young man born in 1983, a very young father, was brave enough to set up cameras in the square in front of the courthouse. Somehow managed to have the knowledge to be able to establish a satellite two-way and two days after the demonstrations first began was broadcasting them to the world. Had that not happened, who knows what would have then transpired in Libya, in Benghazi.
And, of course, when we look at what’s happening in Syria given all of the media restrictions right now, if social media did not exist, if those brave activists did not literally crawl out on their stomachs to get that one shot of a tank because they need to prove to the world that Assad is not abiding by a ceasefire, we would not be where we are right now. That being said, we’re not exactly where we need to be when it comes to the debate and the solution for Syria. But had social media not existed, you could almost be guaranteed and assured that the killings would have by far surpassed what they’re surpassing right now.
WOLF BLITZER: Strive, you play a major role in all of this. Describe from your perspective how one person having a cell phone, for example, one person with a cell phone can make a difference in challenging an authoritarian regime.
STRIVE MASIYIWA: Wow, that’s a big one. Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate in this important discussion. Perhaps I would answer you with a bit of an anecdotal story. You know, I come from Africa as you know, and one of the most successful revolutions has been the telecommunications revolution. In 1994 when the first cell phone licenses were being issued in the world less—70 percent of the African people had never heard a telephone actually ring. Today, over 660 million Africans have a cell phone, almost 70 percent now own one. And today what we’re also witnessing is already more than 20 percent of the African people now have access to the Internet via their cell phones. And over 60 percent of those who have access to the Internet are on social media. That is the primary use of the cell phone to data service capability today. And I’ve often sat and wondered, what impact this would have been if this is where we had been at the time of the Rwanda genocide in ’94? Would we have been able to stop that genocide? I cannot say to you, Wolf, what one man with a cell phone can do to prevent a genocide. But I believe that the fundamental shift is that access to telecommunications, as opposed to access to information, is moving towards a fundamental human right. Thank you.
WOLF BLITZER: Thank you. And let me bring Sarah into the conversation as well. Social media, it’s had an enormous impact, I think, all of us recognize right now. And what’s a going on in North African and the Middle East and elsewhere has been so powerful and it’s been obviously aided by what the social media, all of the new media. But it’s not just the social media, it’s the old media as well. It’s satellite and cable television. Whether, in the Middle East there’s a lot of Arabic satellite and cable television networks that are reporting what’s going on, people see what’s going on. Obviously, radio, newspapers; there’s a lot of old media as well. Here’s the question to you. Are we, given the fact that the Soviet Union—and I was there in Moscow when it collapsed in 1991 and 74 years of communist rule went down rather quickly relatively speaking—there was no social media, Sarah, at that time, as you know. There was the BBC, the Voice of America, there was CNN. There was Xerox machines and copying machines, stuff like that, faxes. There was no Internet. So here’s the question to you. Are we overemphasizing what social media does today or has it been as powerful a factor in the change, in the revolutions that we’ve seen unfold?
SARAH SEWALL: To be honest, Wolf, I’m not sure I know the answer to that. I think the point I would maybe raise here is that social media connects people to the transparency that I think is really critically important both for understanding what’s going on in a country, for raising awareness of an international concern about how to respond, and for actual evaluation of the tools that are ultimately employed to respond. But neither old media nor social media answer the question of, “How do you actually affect the decision-making of response?” And, you know, in our earlier panel I think Tim very compellingly talked about all of the structural reasons why if we have a globe of plenty and if we have good governance everywhere we’re unlikely to have genocide. But I think much of the discussion of activism and social media and old media today has more to do with these incipient genocides. So for me one of the more important questions regardless of the form of media, is what do you do with the awareness, and how do you link the potential for global action to galvanize change. And that, I think, relates to a discussion we may have later on in the panel about tools and options. But to me that’s really where I see the need for a focus.
WOLF BLITZER: And, Rich, same question to you, but if you’re a despot, if you’re an awful dictator killing your own people right now, how worried should you be because of this revolution in social media?
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: I’ll echo some of the points Sarah raised. The social media is certainly changing the capacity of response to repression. But I think we should be very careful not to blend together a discussion of injustices—bad things happening, even mass killings—with ethnic cleansing and genocide which are of a different nature. I agree with Professor Valentino of Dartmouth that if you look at ethnic cleansing and genocide in the last 110 years, invariably it’s powerful people trying to deal with difficult problems and a willingness to open the gates of hell to solve it. And by opening the gates of hell they feed off the conditions that were discussed earlier, ethnic tensions, rivalries. But in the end the 17,000 that have died in Syria are not because of global warming or bad governance. It’s a bad guy willing to do things that we find inconceivable to stay in power. And the result is you have to address those bad actors to deter them, and respond vigorously. And that requires more than activity. Taking Syria to the U.N. Security Council is activity with no chance of progress. Russia has a client in Syria; its last foothold in the Middle East; its only port to the Mediterranean. It’s not going to give that up. So they’re either going to veto it—and if they do China joins them. Or they’re willing to vote for a totally meaningless resolution. Or they’ll vote for a resolution after it’s all ready tipped and Assad is on his way out. So by focusing diplomatic effort by going up there with this silliness is a way to divert attention to really dealing…
WOLF BLITZER: So what’s the answer? So what would you do?
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Well, I think you should have aid, 16 months ago and we just 3 weeks ago began to work with the opposition. Sixteen months ago it started and it’s just weeks ago we coordinated with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey to help arm the opposition. It’s 16 months ago and we still aren’t being more proactive to try to change facts on the ground. I think we should have been in trying to work with the opposition, trying to find the moderate leaders, trying to help them solidify and organize. We should have helped give them the weapons to prevail because look, Wolf, it was March a year ago when al-Khatib, this 13-year-old boy was taken from a demonstration, two weeks later he’s left on his parents doorstep wrapped in plastic and a blanket. And beyond that he was mutilated from head to toe, his ears cut off, his genitals cut off, stuck in his mouth, his body burned, decomposed. You know, I think by then we knew Assad was going to be a bad guy doing bad things to stay in power.
WOLF BLITZER: All right, well, Arwa has been inside Syria. And she’s seen a lot of this up close, unfortunately. Go ahead, Arwa.
ARWA DAMON: I have. And I just want to sort of extrapolate the conversation to this notion, though, of bad governance because there are those who would argue that the very existence of the Syrian regime is a byproduct of bad governance when it comes to the global community. Let’s not forget that every single dictator that has so far been toppled, every single dictator continues to commit these atrocities against their own people has at some point in time been supported by the U.S. and by the West. So given that factor, does America need to change its strategy when it comes to supporting certain dictators and certain governments? Today it’s Syria. Tomorrow it could very easily be Saudi Arabia, other nations in the Gulf that have been long time U.S. allies. So how is America going to change its strategy when it comes to who and how it supports who it is supporting?
WOLF BLITZER: Sarah, that’s a great question. What’s the answer?
SARAH SEWALL: Well, I think Secretary Clinton’s point about the confluence between a strong foreign policy that supports good governance and does all of the right things or maybe it was Mark Penn’s point—gosh—the problem with the things being recorded—media. But the point that was made earlier in the conference about how a good foreign policy is the same thing as genocide prevention, to some extent that’s true. And to some extent the problem is that there is a lack of understanding in how we go about actually achieving things with a good foreign policy. Because we think a good foreign policy is rule of law, and working with our partners, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re thinking about the places where we’ve made calculations based on national security that we have either a different set of interests or a different set of constituencies that lead us to make the kind of alliances with bad rulers.
So I guess the point that I would make is that as we think about foreign policy decisions we need to recognize that there’s a difference between having the right impulse in your foreign policy and being able to actually deliver results. So, for example, if we talk about how we’re doing governance-building in country X, whether or not we sent X-number of State Department people—and I don’t really know how they were trained or how effective they’re going to be—is a different question about whether or not they’re having the results that we want them to have. And I think we too often in the United States concentrate on our intentions and the process that we use as opposed to necessarily, objectively evaluating the results that we use. And this gets back to, you know again, Chris Kojm, with all due respect to the National Intelligence Council, they’ve got a huge problem in trying to identify what are the precipitating factors that are actually going to matter in this case at this time. Because the real mystery about all of these drivers is that they exist everywhere across the world all of the time. And most of them don’t result in actual genocide.
And so trying to sort out the wheat from the chaff in terms of what is it that has to occupy our attention? What’s a long-term foreign policy concern? What’s a short-term potential crisis? And how do you actually take steps? And I think Secretary Clinton’s point about being in concert with other people is really vital because any steps that we take are infinitesimal and have to be joined with a broader strategy. But we don’t necessarily know the right levers to pull and we’re not very honest about their results.
WOLF BLITZER: I’m going to bring Strive into this conversation in a moment, but I want Rich to just follow up. And I want to make sure that I fully understand what you’re saying. You would take, if you had your way in Syria, you would take decisive Libya-like military action, cruise missiles or bombings or embargos, arming the rebels, all that kind of stuff that the U.S. and the NATO allies did in Libya to get rid of Gaddafi, you would do similar things in Syria, even without a United Nations Security Council Resolution authorizing it?
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Well, a couple points. One, you went far further than I prescribed in my comments. It’s like debates in the Oval Office. The Secretary of Defense always says when you say, okay, we should go deal with putting a ship outside the port of Sudan or taking out one helicopter, then the Secretary of Defense comes back with a plan for 500,000 troops on the ground which, of course, is dismissed. And so he wins. There’s no more action taken. What I was talking about are far different than that. And this is really important. There’s a menu of options available diplomatically…
WOLF BLITZER: Even without Security Council?
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: …economically and militarily. And among the military ones in the case of Syria would have been helping the opposition organize, help identify moderate forces. Have others or us help train and equip them. All of this is far short of what happened in Libya. And looking at trying to create safe havens. Turkey and others who have a greater interest, who are interested. And I do feel it’s okay—I think that President Clinton was right in going to Kosovo and not letting Moscow veto our effort to protect and end ethnic cleansing. So yes, I do feel you can take other multilateral coalitions. And I think Mark Penn’s survey identified coalitions. It didn’t say necessarily the U.N. And I think that you now have with the Arab League already being more forward leaning a potential group that you could put together to have a coalition for action.
WOLF BLITZER: Okay. I didn’t want to put words in your mouth, that’s why I wanted you to clarify exactly where you stand on it. I understand that now. Strive, let’s talk a little bit about Africa right now because there’s been amazing changes over these years. I was in Rwanda in 1998 when Bill Clinton was there and he basically apologized to the people of Rwanda and Burundi for the genocide that occurred. About 800,000 people were slaughtered within a few months, really, mostly by machetes. And he knew about it. He knew. He was in the Oval Office. He knew what was going on. Everyone in Washington knew what was going on. And the world was silent and didn’t do anything about it. And he later came to Rwanda and he was just there this past week, once again, and he basically apologized. And said his deepest regret as President of the United States was just sitting on the sidelines and not taking action when the U.S. and the international community could have taken action and maybe stop this or stop some of it. Here’s the question, it’s still going on today, isn’t it, in parts of Africa?
STRIVE MASIYIWA: Yes, that is true.
WOLF BLITZER: And the world is basically silent.
STRIVE MASIYIWA: That is also true. I wish I could—but I think there is a fundamental difference from back in ’94. The President may have known but most of us didn’t. I think the big difference with the technologies that are there today is many ordinary people are empowered to speak, particularly the victims. You see with YouTube and social media today that it’s not just about the specialists and those who have access to a higher level intelligence that know, but ordinary people around the world because of the Internet. And also the victims themselves, the technologies today, it’s becoming easier and cheaper for reports to come through about what is happening. And I think that whilst we can always debate about what actions should be taken or could be taken, what options are available, that is always a major debate between people, and we can agree or disagree about what can and cannot be done. But I think it’s a big step forward when the victims themselves can speak out, can call out and talk to the media in ways that were not possible. We were talking earlier on with Arwa about the fact that she’s talking to people who are on the ground, who are saying, “We are being bombed.” That wasn’t possible before. And, I think, perhaps that just adds something as a new dimension for us to consider.
WOLF BLITZER: Because Arwa, you know, we spend a lot of time, as we should, on what’s going on in Syria, for example, right now. But we, I’m talking about the international news media, we don’t spent a lot of time talking about what’s going on in Africa, right now, in certain parts of Africa, whether it’s Sudan or Congo or elsewhere. And I wonder as someone who’s covered war and you’ve been in the middle of it for a long time now-—she’s a lot older than she looks. As somebody who has been in the middle of it and watching all of this unfold tell us—she’s not really—tell us your perspective, on why we cover certain stories the way we do and we ignore other studies the way we do? It’s a serious question.
ARWA DAMON: I think it’s a fundamental failure on our part that we don’t push for more coverage in places like Africa where we do know that certain things are taking place. I think even as news outlets we have a vision of what we want to be. We have certain ideals but we also end up being driven by what we think the public is interested in that’s not necessarily correct. You know, constantly we are trying to fight for certain stories to get on air, not to bypass the Africa conversation but I can give an example out of Iraq. By 2007 we would keep hearing—and it wasn’t just us, it was throughout—“Oh, America doesn’t want to hear about the war in Iraq anymore. Americans have war fatigue.” And that’s where you have this responsibility to fight back and say, “I don’t care that America has war fatigue because America bears a responsibility for what’s happening in Iraq and that’s why we have to keep reporting it even though everyone is tired of hearing about the daily death toll. These are human lives that we’re talking about.” And, I think, we do need to make more of a concerted effort to bring that kind of passion and that desire to pull stories out of regions in Africa, out of regions in Asia that are not being adequately or properly covered. And I think that’s our responsibility as journalists. But it is also the public’s responsibility to push our various news organizations to turn around and say, “We want to know about what’s happening.”
WOLF BLITZER: I totally agree. But there’s another issue and I want Sarah and Rich to get into this because both of you have had extensive experience working for a president of the United States, a democratic president and a republican president, and I’ll start with you, Sarah. How much responsibility does a president or a secretary of state or a secretary of defense have in educating the American people about the slaughter that continues in various parts of the world? And forcing, in effect, the news media, like us, to pay attention and let the world pay attention?
SARAH SEWALL: I don’t often hear from the news media that they need to be forced by the President to cover issues.
WOLF BLITZER: Because if the president, I say this because if the president of the United States goes into the Oval Office or into the East Room of the White House and delivers a primetime address…
SARAH SEWALL: Right, no I take your point.
WOLF BLITZER: …saying that hundreds of thousands of people, men, women and children are being killed, right now, we would take that speech live. I can assure you every television network would take that speech live and it would be a source of enormous amount of interest and we would send reporters and production crews to that part of the world and do the best we can to cover it. So the question is, yes, we have a responsibility in the news media but how much responsibility as a president or a secretary of state, or a secretary of defense, [do they] have in focusing the world’s attention on atrocities and genocide?
SARAH SEWALL: Well, I think, you know, every president and every serving cabinet member has a different personal sensibility, a different history, a different set of values and a different understanding of their responsibilities. And this president, one of I think his, I think his signal strengths and contributions, is to say, you know, “This a central feature of my vision of what it means to be America. It’s a central feature of my vision of what it means to be leading the world’s greatest nation is that we do have this moral responsibility and it is a national security interest.” And I think it’s quite remarkable, the extent to which he has made genocide prevention a signature issue for the nation at this moment. Different presidents and presidential candidates will have different views on this matter. So I think, in part, it just depends. I think it does get harder over time in the sense that I think there is a normative culture and set of expectations that build over time. I think the creation, as Secretary Clinton was talking about, of the Atrocities Prevention Board becomes a signal way of both forcing the system to bring these issues up and it becomes a piece of the institutional architecture that’s hard to dismantle for a future administration. So I think there can be a progressive building, but ultimately I do think that these are questions that different leaders come to with different senses of commitment to. And I think we’re headed in a very positive direction now under President Obama.
WOLF BLITZER: Rich.
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Yeah, I want to be careful because I don’t really want to be partisan because I think both the weaknesses and the better impulses exist probably in every president and are bipartisan. I do think the responsibility is not solely for the head of state. I think in the Sudan case we saw an incredible proliferation of activists because of new media. When I became the President’s Special Envoy to Sudan I changed my e-mail a couple of times and had almost a million e-mails from different activists. Thank you very much, don’t do it again. But it had an impact and reach out to Congress. You also had NGOs who played a big role in Amnesty International, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch. There was a public Congress.
But ultimately the President has a unique bully pulpit. And one of the things that made it easier for me is every six weeks—first, any time I wanted to talk to the President I could. And every six weeks we had an Oval Office meeting where the press was allowed in. And so the President had a platform to keep the issue alive. And I want to quote something from the President Obama which I think does capture the sense of the American people. He said on the Libyan action, quote, “To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader, and more profoundly our responsibility to our fellow human beings under such circumstances, would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refuse to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.” I do believe that’s the impulse in America. There’s a political resonance. But in Syria, we see there’s conflicting pressures. And the application of that is uneven. And ultimately, it’s up to the public and the activists and the NGOs to hold each president accountable.
ARWA DAMON: And just to add on that especially when it comes to Syria, not to sort of put a damper on this whole social media conversation because it most certainly is a new phenomenon. It is part of our lives. It’s allowing people to communicate to one another instead of communicating via television screens or newspapers, but there is awareness about Syria. Everyone knows what’s happening and they’ve known what’s been happening for the last 16 months. And I think we’re at a stage right now, where I was just in the hospital in Tripoli, Lebanon, that was getting a lot of the casualities from one of the villages and homes that have been bombarded. And there was a mother in the hospital bed along with her three children—two little girls ages five and six and her little boy who’s probably around three years old. They were all wounded. Their father had just been killed. And I went in in the horribly intrusive way that we sort of have to maneuver when it comes to our jobs asking her for an interview. And she said, “No.” And my response was no, I understand, you’re worried about your security. I can obscure your identity. No, we won’t say where you’re from, exactly what happened.
She just looked at me and she said, “No. We’ve been talking for 16 months. We’ve risked our lives to talk about this for 16 months. Look at me, look at where I am now. If I talk to you, is it going to bring my husband back?” And there was nothing I could say to her about that. So the big question we keep getting from the Syrian opposition, to which there is no answer is, “This awareness exists. People know what’s happening in our country. What does it take to actually act upon that moral responsibility we keep hearing various administrations and world leaders referring to when you know an atrocity is taking place?”
WOLF BLITZER: Those are important questions, great questions. And I would be remiss, Strive, if I didn’t ask you because I don’t know what’s going on, and I assume most of the guests here today don’t know what’s going on in Zimbabwe, your homeland, right now. What is going on in Zimbabwe? You’ve basically left. You can’t work there. You can’t deal there. It’s too dangerous. Give us a brief summary of the situation in Zimbabwe.
STRIVE MASIYIWA: Well, Wolf, you probably know more than me. You haven’t gone and I haven’t gone in for 12 years. Look, we have a Government of National Unity which is the opposition and Robert Mugabe’s party. And they have been in this government now for four years. And its term of office must come to an end next year in June, by June next year, which means there must be an election. So the world is holding its breath to see whether we can have a free and fair election by June next year. And that’s about as much as I can say.
WOLF BLITZER: And you think that’s realistic?
STRIVE MASIYIWA: I have to hope so.
WOLF BLITZER: You want to say something?
ARWA DAMON: Not to jump in on your moderating, but…Do you feel that countries like the U.S. and other western nations and global leaders had a responsibility to do something about what was happening in Zimbabwe, years—if not decades—ago?
STRIVE MASIYIWA: Yes.
WOLF BLITZER: Okay. Me too.
STRIVE MASIYIWA: I do.
WOLF BLITZER: Do you want to add something?
SARAH SEWALL: I want to just add, I mean, I think it’s really interesting in light of the poll results that were shared with us earlier this morning, but this notion of a responsibility to act—the devil’s in the details. And so acting—the notion that action exists as an abstract and it’s a binary decision I think is really dangerous. And I think it haunts a lot of the discussion about genocide prevention. And the question about acting and the reason why multilateral action is so important is that action is tied directly to the feasibility of the action and the cost of the action. Sometimes we forget that answering those questions and thinking about how to parse responses in ways that are both doable—and doable at a cost that can convince those that hold the keys to execute those actions—is as much a part of caring and advocacy as the emotional response to understanding what’s going on in a country. And I think that’s really the next stage for the anti–mass atrocity movement to come to is trying to think about more than just how do we know what’s going on or do we care about what’s going on? But what specifically do we do? How do we dissect the options that are available to us and think about which are within our power to do unilaterally or collectively or regionally, internationally? And what the costs are whether they will be borne in the context in which we’re advocating for them? That’s a sophistication that we need to attain.
WOLF BLITZER: And in this poll that we’ve released—and I want to just throw out a couple of numbers and let Rich who was an envoy in the Sudan react to this. Seventy-eight percent of those polled said they support the United States taking military action to stop genocide or mass atrocities. Sixty-three percent believe genocide occurs mainly because political or military leaders order or encourage people to kill. So based on your experience in Sudan, what’s the most important lesson that you learned and that all of us should learn on dealing with mass atrocities and genocide in a real world situation? And whether or not the U.S., there are limits to what the U.S. can do.
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Right. There are limits. And Sarah in her work on response whether it’s military doctrine for response to mass atrocities, whether it’s the progress made with the Atrocity Prevention Board, the administration has tried to make progress in this way. But there is the question of a decision in the Oval Office, where you say, okay, we’re going to take some action. And it’s always a risk. I spent time in the Oval Office with three presidents, it’s always a risk when they say, okay, we’re going to do something if it’s robust. And in the end the President has to decide that moral imperative is worth it because the political benefit is not going to be that great. And I think that is what we have to try to demand, the difference between rhetoric and action. And, again, I want to be careful. I’m not trying to be just critical on Syria because I think every president has had places where they could have done more. I think President Bush could have done more in Darfur. But I think those that are engaged and active should be demanding it and not finding excuses. And I think our politic too often gives a buy to the President, whoever it is, and also allows Congress to pass resolutions as opposed to being more vigorous and robust. And so it’s easy to posture on issues like this. It’s easy to say it’s really hard. It’s easy to say these are historic ethnic conflicts that go back generations in a world far away and little understood. But in the end, I mean I’ve spent time with Hun Sen, with Mugabe, with Omar al-Bashir, these are bad people making decisions that it’s okay to do horrific things to stay in power. And we have to say, “No.”
WOLF BLITZER: Yep. Strive.
STRIVE MASIYIWA: Well, Wolf, I just wanted to add two issues. We’ve talked about the exciting developments with new media and technology, but you know we must never lose site of the fact that at the end of the day, technology is amoral. It’s not about the technology. It’s about people. We can provide all the technology possible but it’s about the willingness of people to act and to have a conscience. And we have to stay engaged. It’s never—what we need to avoid is very short attention spans. And this is one of the problems we have today that we tend to see these crises in terms of the media having an attention on them, when, in fact, these things—once you guys move away with your cameras, it’s almost as though it has ended. And what we need to do is to develop that capacity of an attention span and it’s a collective thing. It can never be about specific actors. All of us as society must build a value system of what is not acceptable.
And I also want to point out as someone who goes out to build out these networks, I think the biggest threat today, particularly if you are a network provider, is the constant pressure to cut off these systems. You know, Twitter or YouTube doesn’t happen all of its own. Somebody has to build and provide an infrastructure on the ground. We are not protected as network providers from being forced to switch them off. You saw the pressure that the operators had in Egypt to switch off certain things. And these tendencies are not just in countries, the emerging countries where you may have a problem. These tendencies, even inadvertently, may be in developed countries where, because of a riot or something, people start staying well they use Blackberry, maybe we should monitor and control it. I think we need to get to a common consensus that these systems should never be switched off, because at the end of the day, it is the ability for people to access these systems that is so fundamental.
WOLF BLITZER: Let me ask Arwa, in Syria right now, for example, how much access to the Internet do people have?
ARWA DAMON: Not a whole lot. But this is what’s fascinating—where you think about what is it that these young activists are going through. And they’ve evolved right now to this point where in every single neighborhood or almost every single neighborhood that’s being bombarded or is a flash point they set up something of a makeshift media house. And they have managed to smuggle in satellite dishes that they literally in some cases carry through two kilometers, you know, three miles worth of tunnel, and they set it up on top of a house that invariably ends up being one of the main focus points for the Syrian government’s bombardment. And they’ll sit in the darkness a lot of times because there’s no electricity running—just enough power to a car battery to keep this element of technology going because that is their only lifeline. And, you know, you look at these conditions they’re living in. I mean I was stunned when I went to Baba Amr and Homs in February. The building itself had absolutely no glass left whatsoever. It had all ready been hit once. It was hit while we were there. It is, of course, the same building where Marie and Remi were killed too. And these activists would huddle inside a living room. The only thing running down from this blown-out building was the wiring from their satellite dish that they had. And they’ve managed to repeat this and overcome the very fact that the government was trying to silence them but they wouldn’t be.
WOLF BLITZER: I remember your reporting from there. It was very, very courageous reporting. I want to open it up to your questions and our answers in a moment. But a sensitive subject—one that has intrigued me especially when I’ve seen slaughter and mass atrocities, mass murder, genocide post-Holocaust over the years. And the question, and I’ll throw it to Rich first, then we can go around and whoever wants to weigh in. At what point, Rich, and you were working in the U.S. Government, do you think it would be okay, it would be acceptable to kill, to assassinate, a leader, a world leader who is torturing and killing and slaughtering his own people?
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: I’d like to, if I could, just leverage off the earlier comment and then go to the second question. I had an experience and it goes to not only the means and how hard people will go to get messages but also what message we should be sending. And I was in Gdańsk in 1999. There was a conference, 1989, 10 years later of Eastern and Central European leaders who had been under communism, laid a wreath at the Gdańsk Shipyard where the Solidarity started. Anyway, three days later the president of Poland has about 30 people and the president of Latvia stands up and turns to the head of Solidarity and he says, “I want to salute Solidarity because when I was a freedom fighter back home I’d go to my one-room apartment at night discouraged, disappointed, almost hopeless. And I’d take my radio, battery radio, from one corner to another to finally pick up a scratchy signal to hear about the brave exploits of Solidarity. And it gave me strength and hope and faith to carry on.” So the message matters. Then the president of Solidarity stood up and turned to me because he knew I’d been on Reagan’s senior White House staff. And he said, “We in Solidarity did the same thing because we were discouraged and hopeless and concerned. And we picked up the Voice of America and we could all say the following: ‘We’re engaged in a great battle that will be won not by guns and ships and aircraft, but by ideas, the great ideas of democracy, freedom and human rights, Ronald Reagan’.”Anyway, the point is we have a responsibility for the content in that message as a leader, as a country. So whether it’s to allow people through Twitter, through social media, through regular media that we stand with them. And that’s something we’ve not done such a great job.
To the second point. And I think it resonates with respect to the use of drones and the whole Tuesday, deck of cards picking out enemies and all of that. My own view is I have no problem picking out really bad guys. But I do think there has to be a review. It shouldn’t be one individual—even the President of the United States—making that decision. Unilaterally, I think it’s just like eavesdropping. There should be some court that has a review. A capacity to respond quickly within 24 hours, but there should be a check. The President of the United States shouldn’t be making that decision unilaterally—picking who’s going to live and die, accepting the casualties of innocence that are going to die with that drone attack.
WOLF BLITZER: Sarah.
SARAH SEWALL: I think it’s really important to distinguish between the notional context of a war which is sort of the claim that we’ve made that underpins the counter-terror drone strategy and the context in which you raised the question about essentially assassination for gross human rights abuses, for mass atrocity and genocide. And I think one of the signal accomplishments of the creation of the ICC is the notion that even in the end, in the course of trying to stop genocide and mass atrocity, it’s the rule of law and accountability that needs to triumph and that it comes full circle.
So my own view is that as much as I can’t wait to see Joseph Kony die, I would much prefer that he be captured and tried in a court, by the International Criminal Court, and have the ability for those who have been his victims to see him forced to assume accountability. I think whether you’re talking about the decisions of political leaders to take risky action to stop genocide, or whether you’re talking about the decisions of genocidaires to carry out their crimes, this notion of personal accountability is really critical when we talk about anything that doesn’t come from a pure sort of self-defense national security argument. And so the Atrocities Prevention Board tries to put accountability all the way up the chain for decision-making in the United States to say, “Put your money where your mouth is and figure out how to take the action.” That’s not quite as clear internationally and we need to do some work on that.
But to answer your narrow question about killing, I think, it really is rule of law and a trial that can provide some modicum of catharsis and processing for victims and can show that at the end of the day what we really do want is governance according to collectively agreed rules. I think you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of that for resolution and to end these cycles of violence.
WOLF BLITZER: Strive.
STRIVE MASIYIWA: There is never a point, Wolf, that I even question the legitimacy of the concept of regime change because I think that also often complicates the search for solutions. If there’s a government there, you start talking about regime change we often lose our way. There is no point that you should diminish yourself by reducing yourself to the standards of the people that you are trying to remove. We have to follow legal, democratic processes no matter how odious you feel they are…
WOLF BLITZER: Except during a time of war, you mean?
STRIVE MASIYIWA: Perhaps so.
WOLF BLITZER: I raise the question because we’re at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and scholars have asked the question, what would have happened if Hitler would have been assassinated in the 30s or the early 40s, how many millions of people would have lived if this one man would have been killed? And in that context I ask this question to you.
STRIVE MASIYIWA: Correct. And then that was a clear war and that’s pretty, I think, that’s a legitimate situation. But to say we’re going to—we should take measures to assassinate Assad or something like this, I think you’re going down a very dangerous path.
WOLF BLITZER: Okay. Let’s take questions and answers. Go ahead, ma’am. We’ve got a microphone.
AUDIENCE MEMBER : Thank you all for being here. I have a question about Sudan. There seems to be a lot of discussion about moral equivocation and moral relativism where we’re equating South Sudan and North Sudan. And I’m wondering could you speak, maybe starting with Mr. Williamson, about how do we get through the kind of academic exercise of discussing atrocity? When you have victims—I’m with Act for Sudan and we work with people all of the time, and in my writing I do this as well. I’m a survivor of sexual and gender-based violence. I know a lot of people who do not have the ability that we do in the United States to talk to someone, to call 911, to have their dad come and save them, to do all kinds of things that we have here that we almost take for granted. When we are talking about presidential policy, and presidential leadership—we’re Americans—at what point do we when we’re exporting our best values—do we stop with moral relativism and equivocation and implement policies that help save lives and put innocent people first instead of equivocations and academic exercise?
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Look, I believe it’s important to engage. It’s important to collaborate, cooperate, coordinate, be practical, pragmatic, proportional—but we should be animated by our values. And in the case of Sudan, Khartoum in the north, Juba in the south, they are no saints. I used to always say to George Bush, “I can’t find a white hat. There’s dusty white hats and there’s really black hats.” But in the case of Sudan, in the case of the violence that’s gone on in the Blue Nile in the Southern Kordofan region in the last year it was perpetuated by the same people, initiated by the same people who killed two million people in southern Sudan over decades, who killed 400,000 over six years in Darfur because to the regime in Khartoum those are legitimate tools. I used to ask, “How can they do this to their own people?” And an old Sudan hand told me the obvious: they don’t think these are their people. They’re not Arab-Islamists. And so they’re chattel to be expended.
So while I have great respect for my successor Ambassador Princeton Lyman, who I’ve worked with off and on for 25 years now, I think the administration would be better placed to be honest and admit that Khartoum is perpetuating unacceptable atrocities; that they’re violating international humanitarian law by not having access. You know, when I met with Omar al-Bashir the first time he said to me, “You know, my people have read what you’ve written. They told me to never meet with you.” And I said, “Well, to be honest with you, Mr. President, I never wanted to meet with you.” But we negotiated. I mean it’s not like he doesn’t know he’s a bad guy. It’s not a surprise. The surprise is when you give him a pass and don’t call him a bad guy. So I think the administration should be tougher in its language and condemnation, more aggressive to get use of UNAMA, the peacekeeping mission, to guarantee humanitarian access. The fact is thousands have died, a couple hundred thousand are displaced, living in desperate conditions and nobody knows it, and it’s a tragedy.
WOLF BLITZER: Good question, good answer. Go ahead, next question.
AUDIENCE MEMBER : Thank you. Comment and a question. The comment is on the social media point. Just to make sure that there’s a bit of a caution to the uses, I’m the executive director of United to End Genocide. And one of the crises we’re looking at now is in Burma—800,000 stateless people, the Rohingya who are at imminent risk of a blood bath. And social media has actually been used to perpetuate hate speech again the Rohingya and indeed, even, against activists outside of Burma that have taken up the Rohingya cause. So, you know, I appreciate some nuance to the comments about social media as a force that can perpetuate hate and hate crimes as well as be used for transparency. But I can’t also resist following up on the point on Sudan and the current mass atrocities in the Nuba Mountains, and Mr. Williamson with gratitude to all of the terrific and important work that you did as Special Envoy, more needs to be done now. And can I press you to talk about the fact that media coverage apart, the administration knows what’s happening in the Nuba Mountains, you know, our top policymakers know. What can we do to stop the mass atrocities there?
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: I keep doing this qualifier since Wolf identified me as a Romney advisor—I want to be clear I’m not speaking for him and I’m not trying to be overly partisan. But I can repeat the advice I gave to the President Bush near the end of the administration. There are tools that can be used to put pressure on Omar al-Bashir. You can jam all of his communications. And you do that for 24 hours and it’s going to get their attention. The only reason Khartoum is able to perpetuate these atrocities is not because of its capacity to prevail on the ground—in fact, they lose more than they win on battles on the ground. The reason they prevail is the coordinated attacks on the air with Sudan armed forces and various militias. And their air force is like a bad movie. It’s old equipment. It’s terrible. They get a couple of new aircraft a year. The U.S. has the capacity to take one of those out. I advised President Bush, “Let’s take one out, just one. You’re not going to see them flying and dropping 55 gallons of burning oil on innocent villages any more if we did that.” So I think there are steps that can be taken way short of troops on the ground that would increase the leverage substantially. And I only reiterate it not as a criticism for Obama but as something I think that’s been available and that we should be willing to engage if, in fact, the words that the President spoke in the context of Libya are ones we actually believe.
WOLF BLITZER: Strive, do you want to weigh in?
STRIVE MASIYIWA: Thank you, Wolf. I think the comment about social media being used also negatively just underlines the point I was making earlier that technology is amoral. You can use it for good and for bad. And we must never lose sight of that. There are no cookie-cutter solutions for any particular problem. And that is one thing we must never lose sight of as well. A solution for Libya is not a solution for Syria. For Iraq is not a solution for Afghanistan and Somalia. We have to accept that there are complex challenges out there. The only thing I would urge is let’s act multilaterally, not unilaterally. As challenging and as difficult as things are, let’s act legally. Let’s always maintain that high moral ground. We will find solutions. And that is why we are there.
WOLF BLITZER: What happens when a country like Russia or China vetoes action that is desperately needed? And you can’t get that international legal stamp on some military action that might be necessary to save lives?
STRIVE MASIYIWA: It’s been like that for a long time, Wolf. The Security Council has functioned like that. And there are good things that also come out of that—of our ability to have that capacity. I think we just have to step up from a leadership point of view in the search of new and more effective ways around it. But we still have to constrain ourselves to acting legally.
SARAH SEWALL: Can I raise, build on a comment, that Strive made earlier raising the question about regime change, and I think in a gathering like this, it’s probably worth pointing out that there’s a huge difference between wanting to change the behaviors of a regime and concluding that the regime itself must go. And if the discussion is ending genocide, sometimes you will be led to conclude that the regime must go. But that’s different from beginning with the supposition that a change in behavior requires regime change. And this is a huge issue for R2P. As everyone here probably knows, R2P is extraordinarily politicized, now more than ever, precisely because of the concern that the protection of innocents from violence at the hands of their own government or non-governmental actors with the acquiescence or the inability to stop by that government, will inherently lead to regime change. And the international community isn’t necessarily up for that.
So to Strive’s point—both about be very clear analytically about where you are in diagnosing the problem. And be clear in your own minds that if the behavior were to stop that might lead you to other concluding moments in your pressures than regime change. But also that there’s an international system that has to function and keep functioning. So if you want concerted action to try to change behaviors, you don’t want to overreach beyond the point at which the collective will necessarily go. There will always be exceptions. But I would just point out that Kosovo was conducted without a U.N. authorization—to your point, Wolf. But it was also not about regime change. It was about a negotiated settlement for Kosovo.
So these situations, again, they aren’t binary. They aren’t black and white. They don’t necessarily present you with regime change or nothing. But we do have to tailor solutions. We do have to think about what the traffic will bear in terms of precedent, in terms of the ability to garner a coalition, in terms of the ability to sustain what happens after the regime change. So it’s so much more complicated. And so our work in thinking about even that last resort of military action—what is required it’s just far more complicated than we’ve done.
I just want to make one final point, which is that when you think about the protecting civilians mandate in the context of Operation Unified Protector in Libya and then you ask what was different about what we did as a NATO coalition in Libya from an air campaign that didn’t have a mandate to protect civilians? Not much was different. And so if we say to ourselves that our primary goal in using military force is to protect civilians, we have to think very concretely about what that means. And it may, in fact, up the ante in terms of—you may be relying more on defensive modes than offensive modes. You may even be assuming greater levels of carefulness with regard to collateral damage as you prosecute military operations. But, again, just to go to the history of being in this museum, this debate about, you know, do you defeat Hitler to save people from becoming victims in the Holocaust that’s ongoing? Or do you focus on protecting those civilians? That’s a huge question. And that’s a question that in Libya we answered, “Well, we’re going to win the war.” It is a very complex world and we need to think about the use of military force and the protection function as opposed to the regime change function.
WOLF BLITZER: Rich, you want to say something?
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: I think this is an important point that we can’t let slip by, but the last panel and this one to some extent did. Look, I believe the U.N. is enormously constructive. I think it’s very valuable to the U.S. interests. For better or worse, I’ve had three different ambassadorships to different U.N. bodies in Geneva, Vienna, and New York. I’ve been Assistant Secretary of IO. I believe in it. But you can’t—first of all this whole myth of legality requires U.N. Security Council an option. This is not established international law. There have been 220 wars since World War II and Korea is the only time you had a U.N sanctioned intervention. And in Libya we had one but then some would argue we went beyond its mandate. So I think the point the U.S. shouldn’t be very, very careful and try never to act unilaterally is the right impulse. I believe trying to get as broad a coalition, multilateral cooperation is valid. But you cannot allow one of five countries three of whom would never have been in the Security Council perm reps today if you had it decide how you protect your interest, which is why every republican and democratic president or presidential-candidate in 50 years has said “No, I’m not going to let them have the final say.” So I just want to say respect it, use it, but it is not the final gateway of whether or not you act to protect U.S. interests and I would argue to protect innocents that are being subjected to horrific atrocities.
WOLF BLITZER: I want to ask Arwa a newsy question because it’s come up over the past 24, 48 hours—chemical, biological weapons stockpiles in Syria. The Syrian regime now says they have them. Everybody knew they did. The U.S. knows where they are. They’ve been moving them around. Based on what you know, Arwa, and obviously it’s speculative, if Bashar al-Assad and his supporters become totally desperate, do you believe they would use chemical weapons, biological weapons, nerve agents, sarin gas, whatever, poison gas, to go against those who are opposing them?
ARWA DAMON: I think it is not beyond the scope of imagination to think that there would be some sort of complete and total desperate action that is possibly taken. This is a regime that is akin to cornering a beast who is fighting for its very existence. I mean the dynamics of Syria are just so phenomenally complex. I think we can expect some sort of massive, dramatic action. Whether they would actually go that far, whether they would use it against their own people, whether they would try to strike at those who they believe are behind the uprising in another country…
WOLF BLITZER: Because I just think of the pictures and all of us remember the pictures of when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces used poison gas against the Kurds in Halabja killing thousands of Kurds. They used poison gas in the war against Iran in the eighties as many of you probably remember. And in this day and age, if they do that now, we’ll see it. I mean, we’ll get pictures. It will be a gut-wrenching moment for the entire world to see that kind of behavior and let’s just hope it doesn’t happen. I think we have time for one more question. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE MEMBER : Thank you. You know, especially standing here in the Holocaust Museum makes you think about what it is that we may have learned from World War II and the Holocaust. And one of the things we used to tell ourselves that we learned from that is that when you have a really dangerous, deadly regime you have to stand up to it and do it as early as possible because if you don’t, it only gets worse. It doesn’t stop by itself. So it is a question of whether a regime might reform itself. But when you think about Sudan we’re now on 23 years and counting of the same people doing the same thing over and over again.
So even though we just had this whole discussion about regime change and how much we should use military intervention or not to support it, at least in the case of Syria today and earlier, Secretary Clinton clearly said Assad’s got to go. But in contrast in Sudan I just don’t understand, maybe some of you can help me understand, why it is Princeton Lyman on behalf of the United States has clearly stated that the U.S. policy is oppose regime change in Sudan. How such a fundamental thing this regime, 23 years genocide, genocide after genocide, and we still can’t say he’s got to go? Can you help me understand that?
WOLF BLITZER: All right, well that’s the last question. Sarah, do you want to handle that? Good question.
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: I think you now have Omar al-Bashir with an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide. We should be taking a much more vigorous approach preventing his travel, putting restrictions on him that we can do with a coalition of the willing like we’ve done on the economic sanctions to put pressure. He’s suffering problems of huge demonstrations in Khartoum because of economic problems. I think the regime could be tipped over. It is really, really hard to negotiate with bad actors. I used to think that when I was practicing corporate law, but it’s even worse when you’re dealing with people that don’t have blood on their hands, but bathe in blood. So I have great sympathy for my friend Ambassador Lyman in this situation.
But I think we should be more candid. We should be more aggressive. And it was interesting when the ICC moved against Bashir—I had a meeting in the Oval Office with the President and there were those in the administration that opposed the ICC, that thought it was too constraining on us and all of the other arguments and why we didn’t join it and why President Obama hasn’t sent it out for ratification either. And I said to the President, “You know when Wellington once said if he met Napoleon it wouldn’t matter where he stood unless Napoleon drew a line and then all of the honor of Great Britain would require him to cross that line. So Mr. President, you can draw a line and say this is about the ICC or you can say it’s about holding accountable someone who you have said has committed genocide.”
And President Bush, I think to his honor, decided notwithstanding the ICC was the venue, to stand up and protect that arrest warrant, to stand up to the AU and others that were trying to get a pass on that for Bashir. I wish the same impulse existed today in the administration. I think this man is tenuous and can be tipped over but it requires leadership from Norway, Great Britain, the United States, and Sudan’s neighbors.
WOLF BLITZER: All right, good. Do you want to have a final word?
STRIVE MASIYIWA: Yes, thank you, Wolf. When you say “we,” you think the United States. We, it’s the collective global responsibility and we must never lose sight of that. We are as a part to finding a solution as everybody else. And this is why I stress the need to engage and to look for multilateral solutions. How long should our list of bad guys be? There’s a lot of bad guys out there in terms of the term “bad guys.” And that is why we must strengthen the global institutions. If they’re not working satisfactorily—and we all agree the U.N. could be more effective, the ICC, I hope the United States could be a greater part of the International Criminal Court than it is. Gbagbo is there right now and so is Mladic. And so we have complex challenges out there and that’s what leadership is all about. But as hard as our emotions are about Bashir I’d like to see Bashir gone yesterday. And he kills black Africans, but I have to accept that these are complex issues. How many wars can you fight? Shall we go into Afghanistan? Can we go into another Sudan? South Sudan is now independent. That’s progress. And you played an extremely important role in making that happen. Thank you.
ARWA DAMON: And just to add, actually on, you know, what you’re saying about this collective notion of global responsibility, I do think that perhaps we are at a stage where if we do genuinely want to do something this calculation that you were talking about earlier that every nation effectively has to make when it comes to intervening in another country, when it comes to its own foreign policy, maybe it’s time to change the formula and the way that we’re looking at things to such a way that we’re not perhaps calculating benefit, gain, loss. And that we’re looking at it in a completely different perspective. Let’s hypothetically assume that the Arab Spring had not taken place—the U.S. and other Western nations would still be making excuses for those dictators staying in power. Everyone knew exactly what was happening in these countries. It was no big secret that just emerged once the barrier of fear was broken. So I do think that as a global community we do need to change the formula that we’re applying to this entire situation.
WOLF BLITZER: Sarah, you want to say a final word before I say goodbye to everybody?
SARAH SEWALL: Thank you.
WOLF BLITZER: Is that your final answer?
SARAH SEWALL: Thank you, my final answer.
WOLF BLITZER: I think it’s fair to say and I think all of you will agree we are right now a little bit smarter than we were one hour ago, is that correct? We all learned something, right? Let me thank Rich Williamson, once again, Sarah Sewall, once again, Strive Masiyiwa, once again, and Arwa Damon, who will join me in the Situation Room later today. Thanks so much.
MICHAEL ABRAMOWITZ: On behalf of the Holocaust Museum I’d also to thank Wolf for a masterful job of moderating. I’d like to thank all of our panelists. We are done. Thank you.
Imagine the Unimaginable: Ending Genocide in the 21st Century
July 24, 2012
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum