- The provision of public information on the nature of genocide and creation of the political will to prevent and end it.
- The creation of an effective early-warning system to alert the world and especially the U.N. Security Council, NATO and other regional alliances to potential ethnic conflict and genocide.
- The establishment of a powerful United Nations rapid response force in accordance with Articles 43-47 of the UN Charter, as well as regional rapid response forces, and international police ready to be sent to areas where genocide threatens or has begun.
- Effective arrest, trial, and punishment of those who commit genocide, including the early and effective functioning of the International Criminal Court, the use of national courts with universal jurisdiction, and the creation of special international tribunals to prosecute perpetrators of genocide.
Characteristic of the campaign and its scholar-activists is a particular political strategy. It is to “create political will” to prevent and intervene in genocides through the following tactics, which I also quote from the website:
- Consciousness raising – maintaining close contact with key policy makers in governments of U.N. Security Council members, providing them with information about genocidal situations.
- Coalition formation – working in coalitions to respond to specific genocidal situations and involving members in campaigns to educate the public and political leaders about solutions.
- Policy advocacy – preparing options papers for action to prevent genocide in specific situations, and presenting them to policy makers.
Yet for all their good intentions, few of these proposals have been implemented, and the current campaigns have yielded little in the way of success over the past fifteen years. Indeed, from Yugoslavia to Rwanda to Darfur, and Cambodia before them, genocides and mass violence have raged while the “international community,” let alone the great powers, looked on helplessly or sat on its hands. Indignant and exasperated letters to the New York Times, activist newsletters, and email campaigns did nothing to persuade various American administrations that military action to prevent humanitarian disaster was a good idea. The only possible exception to this pattern, the bombing of Serbia during its expulsion of Kosovar Albanians in 1999, set off a flurry of academic attention on humanitarian intervention (e.g., Wheeler, 2001). Not for nothing, then, have these scholars been disappointed with the US, in particular, not only for abandoning Rwanda, but for having failed to intervene in genocides throughout the twentieth century (Power, 2002).
Plainly, the predictive aspiration of this branch of social science has been similarly disappointed. Why is this the case? This brief paper suggests that the analytical paradigm of “genocide studies” is crucially flawed in a number of respects: in its view of the international system; in its naïveté about the link between morality and empire; in its definition of genocide; and in its explanation for genocide. The following remarks on each of these problems are necessarily schematic because of space limitations. They are intended to provoke debate rather than suggest definitive answers.
Ending Slavery, Ending Genocide?
The fact is that states do not engage in “costly international moral actions” unless it is in their perceived interests to do so. The British did not do so regarding slavery in the nineteenth century, and states do not do so today. That is why the USA did not bomb Auschwitz, did nothing about Cambodia, and withdrew from Somalia (Kaufmann and Pape, 1990).
The campaign of “genocide studies” on Darfur makes this point clearly. No amount of advocacy to form political will is going to persuade certain members of the UN Security Council – China and Russia, above all – to pressure Sudan into ending its genocidal counter-insurgency against rebels in Darfur. Consciousness-raising in the USA, where the cause has secured significant attention, will not prod the Bush administration to go further than it has when it must now count on the help of many Arab states in dealing with the catastrophe in Iraq.
How such humanitarian rhetoric was implicated in imperialism and colonial rule has become readily apparent in the invasion of Iraq (Ayoob, 2002; Burke, 2005; MacFarlane, Thielkding, and Weiss, 2006), which has been justified in humanitarian terms by a number of commentators (Ignatieff, 2003; Tesón, 2005), notwithstanding claims that the invasion was no humanitarian intervention (Roth, 2006). Some of the invasion advocates are happy to admit the imperial underpinnings of their position. “If being a humanitarian imperialist means advocating that the hegemon use its might to advance (by appropriate moral means) freedom, human rights, and democracy, then I am a humanitarian imperialist” (Tesón, 2005, 30). But do they understand that empires can only advance their humanitarian agendas with considerable violence? Indeed, that genocide might be a form of counter-insurgency against resistance to foreign rule?
What is Genocide?
The International Campaign to End Genocide covers genocide as it is defined in the Genocide Convention: “The intentional destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” It also covers political mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and other genocide-like crimes against humanity. It will not get bogged down in legal debates during mass killing (emphasis added).
That the Holocaust is a reference point for many NGOs is readily apparent in a link from the Genocide Intervention Network to the online project Facing History, an anti-racism educational program that promotes “the development of a more humane and informed citizenry” through study of “the historical development and lessons of the Holocaust and other examples of genocide” (http://www.facinghistory.org). I could find no mention here of the millions of Indigenous peoples who once lived on the North American continent, although one would think that reflecting on their fate would entail an authentic “facing of history.”
The focus of “genocide studies” and NGOs was made explicit by Frank Chalk when he told his readers that “we must never forget that the great genocides of the past have been committed by [state] perpetrators who acted in the name of absolutist or utopian ideologies aimed at cleansing and purifying their worlds”(Chalk, 1994: 58f). “Genocide studies,” then, is really a version of totalitarianism theory because by definition a genocide – at least a true one – can only be committed by a totalitarian or at least authoritarian state driven by a utopian ideology. That is also why the debate in the US, in particular, is preoccupied with the Islamism of the Khartoum regime rather than the logic of counter-insurgency and civil war, a potential in all societies.
Regarding genocide in the manner of “genocide studies” makes the problem purely one of other societies, not our own. This approach dovetails neatly with the implicit modernization theory in “genocide studies”: genocides occur in societies – “failed states” we often hear today (Harff, 2003) – that have experienced perverted modernizations. Had they followed the western road to modernity, it is implied, they would not have become totalitarian states and perpetrated genocide on their own or neighboring populations. Leaving aside the fact that this rosy view ignores the fate of Indigenous peoples, it can be identified as a version of what historians of Germany recognize immediately as the now highly suspect Sonderweg approach to comparative historical sociology. Either way, then, the west is regarded as the redeeming power in world affairs, whether as the agent of liberalization or as the cavalry that rescues victims from genocidal elites and their militias in the “Third World” (see generally the work of Mark Levene, 2005).
Genocide as Extreme Counter-Insurgency?
Counter-insurgency follows the logic of civil wars. Western imperial thinkers devoted considerable thought to the problem of “small wars,” with their pattern of conquest followed by resistance. Although they advised against exasperating the conquered population, the destruction of villages and crops was countenanced if necessary. Certainly, French and Russian authorities were happy to indulge in such scorched-earth tactics in their respective North African and Caucasian conquests during and after the 1830s (Callwell, 1990; Holquist, 2001). Alexis de Tocqeville’s liberal scruples were not shared by many French in Algeria, as he reported in 1833. On one view:
To subjugate the Arabs, we should fight them with the utmost violence and in the Turkish manner, that is to say, by killing everything we meet. I have heard this view supported by officers who took it to the point of bitterly regretting that we have started to take prisoners in some places, and many assured me that they encouraged their soldiers to spare no one. For my part, I returned from Africa with the distressing notion that we are now fighting far more barbarously than the Arabs themselves. For the present, it is on their side that one meets with civilization.
A counter-insurgency becomes genocidal when civilians are targeted to the extent that communities are destroyed so never again will they be able to support an insurgency. The Sudanese government is employing these tactics to devastating effect, but Islamism is not the reason why. Such tactics suggest themselves to states in civil and colonial wars when government forces are stretched and civilians are an easier target than combatants.
The liberal nature of the metropole is relevant: counter-veiling powers there can try to rein in ambitious executives and military elites, as they periodically have in western history. In the Boer War, for instance, domestic liberals ensured that the anti-Boer measures did not radicalize to the extent that hardliners urged. All the same, 28,000 Boer women and children perished in British camps, the result of a policy that many South Africans regard as genocidal (Pakenham, 1979: 522-44).
Ironies of Genocide Prevention?
Genocide is a process that develops in eight stages that are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it. The later stages must be preceded by the earlier stages, though earlier stages continue to operate throughout the process.
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