Last Tuesday I attended an event at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum for the release of a report on the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. The working group was chaired by the brilliant former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Richard Williamson. While having the helpful optics of a bipartisan match made in heaven, the pair seemed to legitimately like each other. During their joint speech, Secretary Albright was charming and candid; Williamson was straight-forward.
Here’s the memo I wrote for my supervisor on the event:
During the introductory statements from co-chairs Madeleine Albright and Richard Williamson, the two made the qualifying statement that R2P is not the answer to preventing mass atrocities, but rather a framework in which governments can react more quickly and more easily to escalating situations. Former secretary Albright also pointed to R2P as an answer to Neville Chamberlain’s infamous question from a war-weary nation of “Why should we care about people in faraway places with unpronounceable names?”
One of the main issues the report addressed is the issue of accountability. According to Secretary Albright, the working group on R2P sees the emerging doctrine as a method to assign individual guilt and expunge collective guilt in order to raise the price and risk of committing mass atrocities. To better assign individual guilt, the report officially recommends:
“The U.S. government should continue and—where possible and consistent with U.S. interests—expand its policy of positive engagement with the ICC.”
Although the U.S. has not ratified the ICC treaty, we can help in other ways and, in fact, have helped in other ways, including providing evidence for the prosecution and logistical support. She also pointed out that the likelihood of future atrocities diminishes every time a perpetrator is successfully prosecuted. However, Williamson backpedalled when talking about the tradeoff between pursuing justice and saving lives, citing the example of Mandela’s decision not to set up an apartheid court in South Africa.
Role of Information Technologies
Secretary Albright was optimistic about the use of information technologies in tracking and documenting mass atrocities in the world, especially the role of NGO’s in the monitoring process. Indeed, in today’s world of cell phones and sophisticated monitoring techniques, countries can no longer claim that they “had no idea” atrocities were occurring as countries have claimed in the past. However, documentation and clear early warning are in vain if not translated into action.
Changing the Debate
President Obama has said on multiple occasions that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.” However, the recent report of the Atrocities Prevention Board continued the trend of the Obama administration dancing around the term “R2P,” even though much of the language suggested it. Former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy pointed out the ironic fact that the world’s largest defender of human rights rarely uses the term “responsibility to protect”—if ever. To address this point, the report calls for:
“The president and other senior U.S. officials should regularly articulate a clear vision of U.S. atrocity prevention policy and cast a spotlight on the U.S. commitment to R2P in major speeches, including the annual State of the Union address, remarks before the United Nations, and testimony on Capitol Hill. The APB should also make publicly available an unclassified version of its annual report to the president outlining its achievements and priorities in atrocity prevention from the previous year and looking forward.”
Albright and Williamson also urge U.S. decisionmakers to free themselves from the prison of an Iraq/Afghanistan-dictated foreign policy debate and to avoid the mistakes of war-weary nations.
Other Notable Recommendations
- “The United States and its allies should strengthen and evaluate options for the appropriate use of nonmilitary coercive tools (such as communications jamming) that could undermine the capacity of governments, organizations, and individuals to carry out abuses covered by R2P.”
- This recommendation could be construed as an endorsement of cyber warfare in the name of R2P.
- “The U.S. government should exchange information regularly with those segments of civil society that are in a position to provide early warning of situations that may fall within the scope of R2P.”
- “Interested actors in the global NGO community should share information and pool resources to produce a comprehensive annual report on implementation of R2P. The report should focus on international and national efforts to support each pillar of the doctrine and call attention to countries where populations are at risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity. Ideally, the NGO report will be a valuable supplementary resource for decision makers, a means for dramatizing the importance of R2P, and a provocative point for legislative and parliamentary hearings on the subject.”
- These two recommendations call for robust participation by NGOs and civil society, an interesting approach to the traditionally regional and international IGO approach to international security.
Link to the full report: http://www.ushmm.org/genocide/pdf/The-United-States-and-R2P.pdf