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  • Utopian Goals, Unasked Questions:Reflections on a Proposed Military Planning Handbook for Response to Mass Atrocities against Civilians
  • Roger W. Smith, Professor Emeritus (bio)

The proposed handbook, MARO: Mass Atrocity Response Operations; A Military Planning Handbook, offers many valuable suggestions about how the military can be prepared for intervention in situations of mass atrocity against civilians. The chief flaw of the document is that it places the military at the center and banishes the political, diplomatic, humanitarian, and reconstructive elements of intervention to the periphery of its focus. As a result, it sets up utopian goals for the military to rebuild devastated societies, fails to ask crucial questions about coordination and decision making in the political and military hierarchies, largely ignores international relations and their possible impact on intervention, creates structures that are excessively complicated, and by emphasizing structure (formal organization) it tends to ignore the vital element of process (the process by which decisions are made and implemented). The authors of the report view genocide and mass atrocity against civilians almost exclusively from the lens of the military. This approach is severely flawed for a variety of reasons, the main ones being that genocide and atrocity do not exist in a military vacuum and that many of the tasks that the handbook assigns to the military are beyond its competence.

The military focus is announced in the first paragraph of the report: lack of thinking about how to use the military to intervene in the face of mass atrocities against civilians has contributed significantly to the failure to act in the past.1 The problem has not been simply a failure of political will, but of military doctrine and planning with respect to humanitarian intervention. The handbook that is offered by the MARO Project "can help shift the policy debate from 'whether' to 'how' to intervene to stop widespread violence against civilians" (7). The authors' hope is that it can "catalyze," that is act as an agent to precipitate and speed up, action during mass atrocities (15).

Also in the opening pages, there are already some of the unasked questions that characterize the report. Is it the case that the failure to intervene has been the result of a lack of military doctrine, a calculation of national interest, or sheer indifference? Is the report's bias toward intervention shared by those in the military who would have to face what the report itself describes as an operation characterized by complexity, contingency, and a high potential for unanticipated consequences? Further, would the military leaders welcome the many tasks that the report assigns to them in the aftermath of the fighting, such as the tasks of nation-building and economical restoration, or view these as outside of the military's call of duty? And crucially, no criteria are provided to determine when intervention would be [End Page 77] warranted and the handbook does not offer any discussion of the various factors that must be considered before embarking on such a path: ethical and political issues, reactions from other countries, the probability of success, possible conflicts with other goals, and the duration of the intervention. None of these questions are intended as arguments against interventions, but they are questions that must be considered.

The unasked question that runs throughout the report is that of competence. The military is expected to gather enormous amounts of intelligence on every aspect of a MARO situation: political, economic, social, possible international reactions to intervention, and so forth. Do they have the competence to do so? And is it even the case that so much information must be collected and analyzed in order for a successful intervention to stop the atrocities? There appears to be a built-in tendency in the report to attempt to cover every possible base but to also leave important questions unasked. The result is a complexity that obscures what is vital to the success of the mission and the introduction of much that is irrelevant to the project at hand. Consider in this light what the authors have to say about the economic information that MARO planners must have:

The analysis should include key considerations with respect to agriculture, manufacturing, trade, gross...


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pp. 77-80
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