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Comments on the Mass Atrocity Response Operations (MARO) Handbook

From: Genocide Studies and Prevention
Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 2011
pp. 66-69 | 10.1353/gsp.2011.0097

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The MARO Handbook provides realistic scenarios and well-developed possible courses of action, which would enable strategists, policy makers and planners to prepare for an intervention operation to stop genocide and other mass atrocities. The handbook stipulates three defining characteristics of genocide and mass atrocities and eight operational and political implications. It offers well-founded advice and discusses the impossibility for an intervening force to remain impartial when mass atrocities are being committed. Also, unlike most peace and stability operations, MAROs must protect civilian victims from the perpetrators of mass atrocities and have to deter or defeat the perpetrators, in a similar way to other forces (usually guerrilla movements).

One purpose of the handbook was to map out operational responses to genocide and mass atrocities that can be implemented by the US military. The assumption was that compiling the handbook would produce a guide that could readily be pulled off the shelf by officials in the US National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Defense (DoD) and put into practice. In addition, it was assumed that having such a plan available would make it easier for the US President and Secretary of Defense to react to genocide and mass atrocities by deploying the US military with the certainty that a well-developed operational plan could be implemented. Enlisting Sarah Sewall, one of the authors of the US Army/US Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual, helped elevate the credibility of the MARO project as well as the probability that the handbook would be taken seriously in the corridors of power. The handbook has been presented to US government agencies, including the military, and to international organizations and non-governmental organizations.

In spite of its intentions, it is questionable whether or not MARO would be something that the NSC and DoD would adopt. The DoD may be the master of the planning, doctrine, and training involved in deployment, but it is reluctant to become involved in new doctrinal commitments, especially given its existing ones involving counterinsurgency and peace and stability operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unless there is a new initiative from the US President or another compelling genocidal crisis, it is unlikely that the MARO project and handbook will be adopted as part of DoD doctrine regardless of the US Army Institute of Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute's efforts to persuade the DoD otherwise.

It can be argued that doctrine and operational plans that are sufficiently adequate to guide the deployment and operation of US forces to stop genocide and mass atrocities already exist. Even so, the United States has not deployed ground forces in a humanitarian intervention since 1993 in Somalia. After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations ordered the NSC to devise contingency plans to respond to crises that can degenerate into genocide or mass atrocities. For instance, in 2001, after President Bush pledged that there would be no genocide "on my watch," he ordered the NSC to put together a contingency plan for Burundi as the country was moving through a very difficult phase in the peace process and it appeared that genocide would recur. While the contingency plan for Burundi was probably not as detailed as the MARO Handbook, the Burundi plan was put together with knowledge of the particular circumstances on the ground—something which MARO does not provide. In addition, it can be argued that the DoD already has response operations to genocide and mass atrocities covered with FM 3-24 (Army/Marine Corps Manual for Counter-insurgency); Joint Publication 3-07.3 (Peace Operations); and FM 3-07 (Army Manual for Stability Operations). Intervention to stop genocide and mass atrocities involves peace enforcement and counterinsurgency (covered in FM 3-24 and JP 3-07.3) and the protection of civilian populations is outlined in JP 3-07.3 and FM 3-07. The US military is already training on the basis of this doctrine and applying it in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States has also developed rapid reaction capability which would enable its armed forces to intervene in mass atrocities.

In addition, guides already exist regarding the deployment of US forces from the continental...

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