Bigger US role battling genocide?

A task force's findings, urging US leadership, may dovetail with ideas of Obama administration.

Jeff Haynes/Reuters
Susan Rice: Obama's pick to be the US ambassador to the United Nations has advocated a tough response, including US military intervention if necessary, to prevent genocide.

A genocide prevention task force concludes that US leadership, early warnings, preventive diplomacy, and coordinated international action are crucial elements of any effort to prevent the kind of mass killings that have ravaged Sudan's Darfur and the Congo.

That may sound like another well-meaning Washington study destined to gather dust. But the fate of this task force – led by two Clinton administration foreign-policy heavyweights, Madeleine Albright and William Cohen – might be a little brighter. One reason: The conclusion of its year-long labor corresponds with President-elect Obama's naming to his national-security team a diplomat who has advocated swift action when genocide threatens.

Susan Rice, Mr. Obama's pick to be the US ambassador to the United Nations, had experience with the Rwanda genocide of the 1990s during her years as a chief Africa diplomat under the Clinton administration. Since then – most recently as chief foreign-policy adviser to candidate Obama – Ms. Rice has advocated a tough response, including US military intervention if necessary, to prevent mass killings of unprotected populations.

In unveiling their report Monday, the task-force co-chairs emphasized that they anticipate a favorable response from the new administration on placing a high priority on genocide prevention. "Obama has made very clear he is concerned about Darfur and Congo ... and various places where we are seeing genocide take place or mass atrocities potentially" occurring, former Clinton Secretary of State Albright said.

Mr. Cohen, who served as President Clinton's secretary of Defense, cited the intervention experience of Obama appointees Robert Gates, who will stay on as secretary of Defense, and retired Gen. Jim Jones, who is to be the new president's national-security adviser. "We'll find a very responsive administration," Cohen said at a task-force press conference in Washington.

The report focuses on the role of leadership, from the president on down, in preventing genocide and the need for policy revisions and updates to fit the task to today's world. But the report – noting that President Bush declared "not on my watch" after reviewing the mass killings in Rwanda, only to see Darfur unfold during his tenure – concludes that preventive diplomacy and early action must complement leadership.

"There is a broad range of options between standing aside and ordering in the Marines," Albright said.

Among the specific recommendations of the task force is a new interagency effort – drawing on the experience of the military in past interventions and of the State Department in nation-building and stabilization – to sniff out potential trouble spots. The task force calls for creation of a $250 million fund to be used in prevention work.

The report, timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary Tuesday of the international Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, calls military intervention an option of "last resort."

While the task-force co-chairs say they expect keen interest from the incoming administration, it is not clear how the report's conclusions align with the more forceful views of Obama appointees like Rice.

She became a harsh critic of the Bush administration's deliberative diplomatic approach to the Sudanese government and the mass killings in its Darfur region. Favoring "dramatic action," she went to Capitol Hill last year to press for either a naval blockade of Sudan or even a US bombing campaign.

Obama says he intends to raise the UN ambassador's post to the cabinet rank it held in the Clinton administration.

That step, along with Rice's appointment, are convincing foreign-policy experts that the issue of genocide prevention will figure prominently for the new administration. "Rice has been a forceful advocate in the past, so I would expect she'll take the opportunity to show leadership on this, as will the president-elect," says Richard Solomon, president of the US Institute of Peace in Washington.

But a key part of getting genocide prevention beyond a worthy goal, Ambassador Solomon says, will be stepped-up international diplomacy and more capacity for multilateral organizations like the UN to stop mass atrocities before they occur.

In naming Rice earlier this month, Obama said she shares his view that the world today "demands global institutions that work." He called the UN an "imperfect" but "indispensable" body and said Rice would be charged with both representing US interests and working to make the UN a more effective and responsive organization.

Solomon says it's hard to argue with human rights advocates who underscore how, a decade after Rwanda and mass atrocities in the Balkans, the world remains subject to genocide as in Darfur. But as an example of global progress, he points to the UN General Assembly's passage in 2005 of a "responsibility to protect" doctrine aimed at governments that fail in the duty of protecting their own citizens.

"That [2005 passage] was an extremely important conceptual breakthrough," he says, even though the doctrine continues to "run up against" the national-sovereignty objections of governments coming under the international microscope because of human rights violations.

It will take time before a concept like "the responsibility to protect" becomes the international norm, he adds, but in the meantime, such policy advances will assist US diplomats and others in broad goals like genocide prevention.

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