“The US and R2P: From Words to Action”

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

Roundtable Sessions: Afghanistan

When the movers and shakers in American foreign policy spot difficult issues on the horizon, CFR often issues “Council Special Reports” to help inform and influence policymakers. Over the past two weeks, I had the opportunity to sit in on two advisory board meetings for two upcoming CFR CSR’s (the social sciences’ sure do love their acronyms): the crisis in the Sahel and US national interests in Afghanistan after the troop drawdown. A strength of these roundtable discussions is that they are officially not for attribution, allowing high-profile participants to speak candidly and openly. Because of that, I won’t mention who attended the discussions.

In the Afghanistan roundtable, the participants discussed the future of U.S. security, economic, and general interests in the country after the troops leave. The general consensus seemed to be that the US does, in fact, have many varied and important in the country and the greater region. These interests transcend simply security interests. One participant pointed out that salvaging might prove to be an important up-and-coming industry, as it was after WWII during reconstruction efforts, all the while making the important distinction between development and assistance. 

What really struck me was the pragmatism and the realistic ways that the participants approached the problem while still maintaining the optimistic view that there were alternatives to zero-sum outcomes. However one participant kept grounding the discussion in the fact that  much of the debate about American foreign policy options assumes a fresh start for some reason. But the reality in Afghanistan is that the baseline is not zero. We must explore our options from where we are. Congress and the American people seem to think we’re finished in Afghanistan and increasingly push for the adoption of the zero option. The CSR attempts to change the dialogue to reverse this trend. 




Sneak Peek of CFR Blog Post

Last week I wrote a guest blog post for the CPA Douglas Dillon Fellow Micah Zenko. The post is set to appear on the CFR website sometime this week. In the short piece entitled “In Morocco, King Curbs Free Speech,” I hope to challenge some conventional wisdom on Morocco. Many in the U.S. government and Western media view Morocco as a somewhat liberalized democracy. I wanted to remind everyone that Morocco still has a long way to go.

In Morocco, King Curbs Free Speech

Tyler McBrien

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on coerced confessions in Morocco, released last week, has led many observers to question whether the United States’ North African friend really represents a democratic oasis in the region, as it’s often presented to be. The study noted that Moroccans are in prison today “for their nonviolent speech or political activity.” American officials and members of the American press often credit King Muhammed VI with deftly sidestepping the Arab Spring through liberalization and political reform. But, as the HRW report suggested, some elements of these heralded reforms are lagging noticeably behind.

In a region rife with journalist assassinations and country-wide internet shut-downs, Morocco may seem like a Jeffersonian republic in terms of free speech. Indeed, in 2006, a prominent Moroccan news editor and publisher Ahmed Benchemsi called the press climate in Morocco “something of a Disney-style fairy tale” compared to other countries in the region. Like many fairy tales, however, the favorable climate for journalists was once upon a time, and unlike many fairy tales, it did not end happily ever after.

By 2009, Moroccan authorities had seized 100,000 copies of Benchemsi’s popular newsweeklies, TelQuel and Nichane, forcing the latter out of business. The outlawed magazines had published a poll putting King Muhammed VI’s approval rating at 91 percent, which, despite the astronomical figure, was seen as subversive for even suggesting that Moroccans had a right to approve or disapprove of their monarch. Since the Arab Spring and the Islamist party’s rise to power, the palace has been less heavy handed but equally as effective in restricting the press. When Islamist-backed prime minister Abdelilah Benkirane challenged royal control of the television networks, the king parried the blow by appointing a special commission to decide the matter. Royal appointees outrank elected officials, so it’s unsurprising that the networks remain in the king’s hands.

The restrictions on speech are not limited to print, television, and other forms of traditional media. In June 2012, a Moroccan blogger, who had been critical of the king, was sentenced to two years in prison for cannabis possession in a trial that saw an unusually quick conviction and a host of procedural errors. And, earlier that year, a teenage student Walid Bahomane received an eighteen month prison term for posting photos and videos on Facebook caricaturizing the king. The courts found him guilty of “defaming Morocco’s sacred values.”

King Muhammed VI, or M6 as some call him, eschews the overt Bashar al-Assad-style suppression of speech, opting for a more clandestine approach—all while receiving praise from Western governments. In 2012, then Secretary of State Clinton commended the king for taking “efforts to stay ahead of these changes by holding free and fair elections, empowering the elected parliament, and taking other steps to ensure that the government reflects the will of the people.” And just last May, President Obama spoke over the phone with King Muhammed, reaffirming the U.S.-Morocco relationship by personally inviting the king to Washington.

Such statements and actions fly in the face of assessments from international watchdogs. Morocco ranks 136 out of 179 on the Press Freedom Index and has been condemned by Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, as well as others. As the latest HRW report should remind American officials and Western journalists, the Moroccan king is still no prince charming when it comes to free speech.


Palais Royal, Fez, Morocco

Taken April 2013

“One must get rid of all hopes for a better past.”

On Thursday, June 20, I had the opportunity to represent CPA at the USAID Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM) Member’s Day. In addition to having no idea what CMM does, I also didn’t have a clue what a “Member’s Day” involved.

USAID started CMM in order to address the intricate relationship of conflict and peacebuilding with development and aid assistance. Violent conflict can and often does devastate years of careful planning and implementation of a costly development program.

The CMM Partner’s Day brought together various NGO’s, think tanks, and other government agencies for a long day of reflection, brainstorming, and strategic planning for the future. Although I was only able to attend the beginning of the event, the excited buzz of cross-pollination between disciplines and professions was palpable. The outgoing head of CMM kicked off the event, rallying the crowd with a reminder of President Obama’s call to eliminate extreme poverty in the next two decades.

The next speaker was the accomplished Don Steinberg, who wears the hat of deputy administrator of USAID among other roles. Reiterating the raison d’être of CMM, Steinberg bluntly stated that armed conflict destroys development. Highlighting closed societies as breeding grounds for violence, Steinberg stated, “Conflict is like a mushroom; it grows well in darkness.”

Then came the main event–a speech by diplomat/rockstar Tom Pickering. With his booming voice, Ambassador Pickering delivered his speech, “Change, Challenges, & Choke Points.”  One of his more interesting statements, I found, was his analysis of policy, which comes in “baskets, bundles, and coteries,” Pickering asserted. These bundles often come with unintended consequences. However, overall, the speech was refreshingly positive, offering a pragmatic brand of liberalism. The Ambassador firmly believes in the existence of win-win’s. Countering the idea of America’s steady decline, the Honorable Tom Pickering saw the inevitable ending of the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq and improving of the economy as a chance to “open new vistas” for the U.S.




USAID building in Washington

Global Peace Index

I emerged from the Dupont Circle metro station at 4pm on Saturday June 8th, right in the thick of the Pride parade. Not the best idea. With suitcase, duffel bag, and garment bag in tow, I struggled to navigate through the prisms of color, gyrating bodies, song, and dance. After finally throwing my stuff down at my apartment after walking around the entire parade, I could be sure of only one thing–my summer in DC was sure to be an exciting, and most likely sweaty, adventure.

My first day at CFR consisted of a necessary evil—orientation. But after only one hour of reviewing the banal corporate policies of CFR, I was sent on special assignment. Just down the road on K St, The Center for Strategic & International Studies was launching the 7th annual Global Peace Index which essentially ranks 162 countries on their levels of peace, both internal and external.

But let me first back up a bit. As the intern for the Center for Preventive Action (CPA), I am providing research assistance on all projects which “help prevent, defuse, or resolve deadly conflicts around the world and expand the body of knowledge on conflict prevention.”

So back to the GPI. Defining peace as, “the absence of violence and the absence of the fear of violence,” the GPI relies on the widely accepted definition of negative peace. After seven iterations of the index, the IEP documented several significant six year trends in the GPI. Most significantly, the 2013 index marks a 5% deterioration in global peace since the GPI started. Much of this past year’s violence can be attributed to a sharp increase in deaths in the conflict in Syria and the drug-related violence in Central and South America.

Another important finding involves the unequal distribution of peace in the world. The chronic nature of peace and the vicious cycle of violence tend to keep the top 10 most peaceful countries high up in the rankings and prohibit the bottom 10 from escaping the dubious distinction.

This year’s index also focused heavily on the economic cost of violence and conflict. The IEP estimated a staggering $9.46 trillion went to “Violence Containment Spending” in 2012, accounting for roughly 11% of global GDP.

So why is this particular index important in the seemingly endless number of analytical indices in IR study? According to Daniel Hyslop of IEP, the research of included in the GPI implies that investment in development actually boosts global security, counting militarization often as a negative factor in global peace levels. The researchers also hope to change the discussion on the word peace, changing the intangible ideal into an attainable goal for societies. More poetically, World Justice Project Rule of Law Index co-author Alejandro Ponce asserted that the GPI both “gives voice to victims” and “gives a tool to practitioners.”


Link to the full report: http://www.visionofhumanity.org/pdf/gpi/2013_Global_Peace_Index_Report.pdf


The countdown begins!

This summer I will be interning with the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations in our fine nation’s capital.

Check back here periodically for updates on my trials, tribulations, and whatever else I get into.

Orientation starts on June 11th.