Prevent War: The Responsibility to Protect
The next Congress and administration have a historic opportunity to create tools that can prevent conflicts from turning deadly and avert mass atrocities. The United States has joined the rest of the international community in affirming collective responsibility to protect civilians from genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other mass atrocities when national governments are unable or unwilling to do so. Now the United States needs to act on that affirmation.
September 12, 2008
Topics in this message:
- The Case for Prevention
- Case Study: Kenya
- Additional Resources
- New Resources at FCNL.org
1. The Case for Prevention
A majority of the world’s governments, including the United States, have endorsed language calling on all nations to protect their populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Should a government be unable or unwilling to protect its people, the international community has agreed that the nations of the world have a collective responsibility to act. This endorsement at the 2005 World Summit of the responsibility to protect is a step toward building a strong global norm for the protection of civilians and an end to genocide and other atrocities.
In the next six months, several key reports will be issued on the responsibility to protect. These include a new report from the U.N. secretary-general and findings from the Genocide Prevention Taskforce organized by the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Holocaust Museum, and others. Congress is also awaiting reports it has requested from the Department of Defense and the State Department. These reports will examine the U.S. capacity to help “guide and train an international intervention force” that could respond to genocide and ethnic cleansing.
FCNL is encouraged at the attention being given to protecting civilians from atrocities. At the same time, the current debate over the responsibility to protect gives far too little attention to its most important aspect: prevention.
The International Commission on State Sovereignty, created to define conditions under which the international community should intervene to protect civilians, stated in its 2001 report that “Prevention is the single most important dimension of the Responsibility to Protect.”
Unfortunately, the responsibility to protect is often framed narrowly, as a license for eleventh-hour military intervention after atrocities are already underway. This interpretation, emphasizing expensive and logistically difficult military approaches to halt conflict already in progress, does not fully capture the concept of the responsibility to protect. Instead, the focus should be on developing a range of strategies and civilian tools to peacefully manage conflicts.
As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted recently in Berlin:
“Our goal is to help States succeed, not just to react once they have failed to meet their prevention and protection obligations. It would be neither sound morality, nor wise policy, to limit the world’s options to watching the slaughter of innocents or to send in the marines. The magnitude of these four crimes and violations demands early, preventive steps — and these steps should require neither unanimity in the Security Council nor pictures of unfolding atrocities that shock the conscience of the world.”
The United States needs to shore up its own capacity to prevent atrocities and deadly conflict so that it can lead the global community in fulfilling the responsibility to protect. Unfortunately, the United States still spends far too much on the military and far too little on diplomatic, development, and multilateral prevention tools.
This fall, FCNL will publish its own report to Congress -- The Responsibility to Prevent. This report will recommend steps the United States could take to help prevent deadly conflict and fulfill the responsibility to protect. History shows that genocide and mass atrocities are very difficult to stop once they have begun. A greater investment in building civilian capacities to de-escalate conflicts and address the root causes of violence is the most practical and appropriate way to end genocide and mass atrocities once and for all.
Watch for FCNL’s report on the responsibility to prevent in the months ahead!
2. Case Study: Kenya
Kenya is "a haven of stability and prosperity in eastern Africa." That's how The Economist magazine characterized this country a week before the elections on December 27, 2007. According to conventional wisdom, the challenger, Raila Odinga, would win narrowly and take power peacefully.
Instead, a flawed election secured a win for the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki. Violence erupted between supporters of the two candidates and during the next four months 1,500 Kenyans were killed and 600,000 forced to flee their homes.
The international community’s quick response, especially its work with civil society groups inside Kenya, helped prevent greater bloodshed. Rapidly coordinated diplomacy and effective international pressure was instrumental in convincing the Kenyan leaders to fulfill their “responsibility to protect” by urging their followers to stop the violence and by reaching a political compromise.
Continue reading about the crisis in Kenya.
3. Additional Resources
Responsible Sovereignty – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (U.N. News)
The U.N. secretary-general makes a convincing case for developing a range of tools and responses to prevent mass atrocities and genocide in a speech delivered this summer in Berlin.
The United Nations and the Responsibility to Protect – Edward C. Luck (Stanley Foundation - pdf)
Edward Luck, special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, offers thoughts on ways the international community can make the responsibility to protect an operational concept.
About the Responsibility to Protect: A Primer (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect)
This short document explains the responsibility to protect in greater detail and argues that it should guide the international community’s efforts to end genocide, mass atrocities, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
4. New Resources at FCNL.org
2008 Elections: Questions for the Candidates
The Quaker's Colonel: A Tale of Two Occupied Countries