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State Department Review Names Prevention of Genocide a Priority

Released on the eve of a new year, the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) by the U.S. Department of State establishes the prevention of genocide as a top priority for the U.S. diplomatic and development corps. “…too often our reaction has been both post hoc and ad hoc,” the 2010 report states.

The new language builds on similar statements from the Obama administration, including in the U.S. Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review and the President’s National Security Strategy, which committed to proactively engage “in a strategic effort to prevent mass atrocities and genocide.” The QDDR furthers an emphasis on strengthening tools to prevent violence, rather than pay the financial, moral, and human costs of waiting until it’s too late. It declares, “We must engage the full weight of our diplomatic efforts earlier in anticipation of potential—rather than in response to actual—violence, atrocities, or genocide.” The report continues:

“Consistent with the U.S. having joined others in endorsing the concept of “Responsibility to Protect,” situations that threaten genocide or other mass atrocities warrant very high priority for prevention. Such extreme violence undermines our security by fueling state and regional instability, prolonging the effects of violence on societies, and entrenching murderous regimes that perpetuate other threats. The moral values we cherish are breached, and the legal and normative structures we champion and depend upon for continued order are undermined. We will build on the important initial steps the Administration already has taken to strengthen capacity and affirm commitment to preventing genocide and mass atrocities.”

During the keynote address at a Museum-sponsored conference in Paris, Samantha Power, a member of the U.S. National Security Council (NSC), outlined some of these initial steps, which included creating the first-ever NSC position with responsibility for coordinating the administration’s policies on prevention and response. Committing new resources and structures to its priorities, the QDDR expressly outlines the formation of cross-agency and civilian response teams, “charged with developing strategies to prevent mass atrocities and genocide.”

The QDDR mentions prevention and response efforts in a few key and particularly vulnerable countries, including Kyrgyzstan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan, and the challenge remains to ensure that the new priorities translate into helping build a better future for these nations.