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  • The Albright-Cohen Report:From Realpolitik Fantasy to Realist Ethics
  • Henry C. Theriault (bio)

The Genocide Prevention Task Force's Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policy Makers (the Albright-Cohen Report) has been touted as a comprehensive proposal for significantly improving the United States' response to genocide and other mass violence in foreign regions.1 The report recommends various new initiatives, committees and groups, procedures, and resource allocations to support this goal. It also calls for increased attention to genocide at every level of the US government, from the president on down. The assumption is that if our leaders and others in government take genocide more seriously as an ongoing threat, and if effective institutional structures, processes, and resources are put in place, these will be used to prevent or intervene against genocide and other mass atrocities. At its most basic level, the report seeks to change the practical details and conceptual elements of the United States' relationship to genocide, from what the report presents as relative indifference to active, productive engagement.

1. The Report's Statement of the Problem

Crucial to such an exercise, of course, is an assessment of the current relationship. According to the report's authors, genocide happens in unstable societies, often in post-conflict situations or when contending forces, perhaps split along ethnic or other identity lines, vie for power in a new or a "failed" state. In addition, the US government is fully external to historical examples of genocide as presented in the report, and to potential genocides as discussed therein. Genocide is seen as a discrete dynamic that happens somewhere else, and the challenge is for the United States to overcome its external positioning in order to intervene before or during the execution of a given genocide. It might use a number of options, from diplomatic negotiation and targeted aid to economic sanctions and military action.

According to the report, there are three main problems with the United States' past relationship to genocide. First, the United States has often failed to recognize that what was occurring was genocide, as in the case of Rwanda. Second, even when it has recognized the potential for genocide or that genocide was under way, the United States has failed to take preventative steps or to intervene—in some instances through a lack of political will and in others because of a perceived conflict with overriding US interests. Third, prevention and intervention efforts, when made, have typically been inadequate or inconsistent. The challenge, then, is correctly to identify, hopefully well before situations are critical, societies in which genocide might occur or in which it is occurring, and to respond with diplomatic efforts, development projects, political initiatives, military intervention, and/or other tools to prevent genocide from occurring or to stop it once it has begun. [End Page 201]

2. Evaluation

Is this general appraisal of the threat of genocide in the world and of problems with past US responses accurate? To some extent, perhaps; but it includes a number of problematic elements.

First, it is not true that genocides occur today, or have occurred in the past, only in fragmented, "failing" states. While this might have been the case in the former Yugoslavia, it was not true in Rwanda, which had stable borders and a fixed political structure that lent itself to a highly organized, carefully calculated, precisely executed, and tightly controlled genocide.2 Similarly, while Sudan has seen internal division and conflict for decades, there is every indication that the genocidal assaults in Darfur are managed by a government solidly in control of what happens within its borders.3 If we extend the analysis to other cases, we find, for instance, that genocidal violence in East Timor began in the 1970s, when the Indonesian government was undeniably stable and powerful and had such control over the situation that it was able to use local paramilitary groups systematically as tools of genocide.4 The Herero Genocide, the Armenian Genocide, the Ukrainian Genocide, the Holocaust, the Guatemalan Genocide, the Cambodian Genocide,5 and genocides of indigenous peoples in the Amazon,6 among others, were perpetrated by fixed, established states with governments in firm control. While tensions within...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-9933
Print ISSN
1911-0359
Pages
pp. 201-210
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-07
Open Access
No
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