Another Benefit of International Cooperation? Oh Yeah, Preventing Genocide

This morning, at the National Press Club, the Genocide Prevention Task Force — an ambitious project of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, The American Academy of Diplomacy, and the United States Institute of Peace and co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen — released its final report, the product of over a year of research, analysis, and consultations.

The report’s recommendations includes the seemingly obvious — but nonetheless noteworthy — observation that working through and with international institutions and partners is the most effective strategy to prevent future genocides.

At the same time, the task force recognizes that a strong normative framework
and capable international institutions are critical components of a U.S. strategy to prevent and halt genocide and mass atrocities. While the focus of this report has been on the role of the U.S. government, partnerships with a range of international actors are not just desirable, they are a necessary requirement for successful efforts to counter genocide and mass atrocities in the future. [emphasis mine]

My emphasis here highlights a subtle point about what is most impressive about this document. It is indeed about U.S. strategy toward genocide prevention, but the Task Force rightly articulates this strategy as one that is inextricably and necessarily tied to global efforts to avert mass atrocities.The report is not all warm and fuzzy toward the UN; it says that the body “has fallen pray to inaction and obfuscation” and that the Security Council in particular is in need of strengthening in order to facilitate rapid and concerted international responses to genocides or incipient human rights crises.

The authors, though, understand that the UN is no greater than the sum of its parts — that it “responds to the political will or absence thereof among member states,” in their words. By situating the imperative to prevent genocide in the context of international institutions like the UN, the Task Force is thereby committing not only to mount more effective prevention campaigns, but to supporting and strengthening these institutions as not just an attendant desire, but also, essentially, as a prerequisite goal.

This will require all sorts of structural reform work, difficult-to-obtain agreements among P-5 nations, and, assuredly, some tough love for faltering or sclerotic UN institutions. Crucially, however, it also means this:

One way to enhance peacekeeping capacity in the UN context would be for developed countries to increase their military contributions to UN peace operations. Bolstering UN peace operations would strengthen their effectiveness and help prevent and end deadly conflict.

Given that Albright has acted as an adviser and surrogate for President-elect Obama, and that his national security spokeswoman has already affirmed that his transition team would study the Task Force’s recommendations carefully, this seems to be a good sign that the new administration will recognize that, among the benefits of supporting UN peacekeeping, preventing another failure of “never again” and “not on my watch” are surely high on the list.