Genocide and the New World Order

by Kenneth J. Campbell, Ph.D.
Department of Political Science and International Relations
University of Delaware
Injustice Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, November 1997


Genocide has been perpetrated in recent years in Bosnia and Rwanda, and it threatens to recur elsewhere, if not stopped by the international community. In fact, genocide seems to have become, in the post-Cold War period, a new “growth industry” (Scheffer 1996, 34).

Briefly defined, genocide is the intentional extermination of distinct human groups – national, ethnic, racial, religious, or other – as such (United Nations 1995, 18). It was perpetrated by the Nazis aganist millions of Jews, Gypsies and other “undesireables” in Europe before and during World War II (Lemkin 1944, Davidson 1966, Taylor 1992), and outlawed by the international community through the Nuremberg Princples of 1946, as well as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted December 9, 1948 (Falk et al. 1971, Best 1994, Howard et al. 1994, Reisman and Antoniou 1994). The purpose of the Genocide Convention is not only to prevent the outbreak of genocide and punish its perpetrators, but also, according to Article VIII of the Convention, to suppress acts of genocide through “the competent organs of the United Nations”, taking whatever action “they consider appropriate” (Reisman and Antoniou 1994, 85)..

In the contemporary cases of genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda, not only were there the odious behaviours sadly familiar to students of mid-twentieth century history – mass murder, rape, torture, beatings, destruction, and plunder – but two new and distinct features have been added. First, knowledge of the preparation and execution of genocide was immediately available to international leaders via global telecommunications systems such as cable television, satellites, the internet, faxes, and cell phones. Second, armed UN military forces were on the scene of both genocides and did not interfere! (Gutman 1993, Cigar 1995, Rieff 1995, Destexhe 1995, Prunier 1995, Boyle 1996, Maass 1996, Honig and Both 1997).

To be sure, international political leaders in Washington, London, and Paris loudly condemned these crimes, demanded the perpetrators stop their butchery, and warned the perpetrators that they would eventually be brought to justice. However, international leaders, on the whole, failed to follow through on their grave warnings, or to live up to their solemn legal and moral obligations under the Genocide Convention. Despite possessing clear and overwhelming superiority of power, the collective political leadership of the international community lacked, in the final analysis, the political will to suppress ongoing genocide in either Bosnia or Rwanda (Burkhalter 1994/95, Gow 1997). Consequently, the remaining components of an anti-genocide policy – prevention and punishment – were detached from the option of suppression and were thereby rendered incredible.

This failure of international leadership to halt genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda has resulted in the unnecessary slaughter of hundreds of thousands of unarmed, innocent civilians, seriously weakened the integrity of the targeted religious and ethnic groups, destabilized the surrounding regions, triggered sudden, massive, desperate refugee flows, and undermined the fragile post-Cold War international order (Carter 1994).

How can we explain this failure of international leadership to act in the face of obvious human catastrophe? Are there not compelling moral, legal and political reasons to halt genocide? Is there any solution to this deeply disturbing international problem, or does the absence of a viable anti-genocide policy mean the world is fated to experience a series of regional “copy-cat” genocides in the future, possibly with global catastrophic consequences?

The conventional thinking on these questions in the both the policy and scholarly communities is deeply cynical regarding the political feasibility of forcefully suppressing genocide. Many policymakers argue that the “political traffic” cannot bear such a robust policy at this time, meaning that the obstacles to such a policy are so formidable that the political risk is not worth taking. Some in the scholarly community have argued that it is legally improper to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation-state, even for humanitarian reasons, while others are doubtful of the moral propriety of waging “humanitarian war” (Simes, 1993; Steel, 1993; Harff, 1995; Hehir, 1995; Luttwak, 1996; Posen, 1996). Even some of the most “utopian” of international thinkers believe there is currently no political “will” within the international community to halt contemporary genocide (Falk 1996).

My thesis, however, is that this prevailing pessimism is built upon faulty analysis, and that a policy of forceful suppression of genocide is both necessary and practical in this period. I contend that international leaders have misunderstood the nature of contemporary genocide, which has resulted in their underestimating the necessity to suppress it with decisive force. I also contend that international leaders have overestimated the difficulty of winning political support for a policy of forcefully suppressing genocide. Finally, I contend that international political leaders have misunderstood military reluctance to use force to suppress genocide.

Let me be clear what I am not arguing. I am not arguing for the abandonment of non-lethal means to prevent or punish genocide, such as early-detection mechanisms, diplomatic warnings, economic sanctions, or international criminal tribunals. My central contention is that adding the option of forceful suppression completes an anti-genocide policy and makes it politically and operationally more viable. I believe that without such a complete and firm policy to halt genocide, the way will be clear for the dark forces of history to repeat this horror well into the next millennium.


I. The Nature of Genocide and the Strategic Necessity to Suppress

“The central political task of the final years of this century…is the creation of a new model of coexistence among the various cultures, peoples, races, and religious spheres within a single interconnected civilization.”

– Vaclav Havel, Philadelphia, July 4, 1994

According to the 19th century Prussian theorist of war, Carl von Clausewitz, the most important judgment a policymaker can make when confronting a conflict is to determine correctly its fundamental nature (Clausewitz 1832/1976, 88-89). From this all else flows – strategy, tactics, ends, means, etc. Recognizing genocide when it occurs, and treating it as such, is critical because genocide is not like other human rights abuses. Because of its premeditated, planned and organized nature, its massive scale, and its virulent intent, genocide has earned from the international community its own special category of crime (Lemkin 1944, ch. IX). It is so horrendous a human rights abuse that it presents a grave danger to international peace and security. Genocide threatens the survival and basic integrity of national, ethnic, racial and religious groups the same way aggression threatens the survival and basic integrity of sovereign, independent nation-states. If left unchecked, genocide soon threatens the survival and integrity of nation-states, as well. Therefore, the crime of genocide demands the same robust collective-security response which the crime of aggression requires from the international community. Lincoln Bloomfield, a leading scholar of international organization, made precisely this point recently when he wrote:

“My working definition of collective security is an advance commitment by the community of nations, preferably as a whole, to enforce the UN’s strictures against aggression and genocide (emphasis added) by force if necessary” (Bloomfield 1993, 190).

The credible threat or use of substantial and decisive military force is necessary in the case of ongoing genocide because the very nature of the crime makes it inherently resistant to patient, long-term political and economic pressure. If all non-coercive means of prevention and punishment have failed, force must be made available for suppression. Given the immediacy of the danger of ongoing genocide to large numbers of innocents, speed is essential. Also, the political reality that mass murderers are not, any more than ruthless aggressors, impressed by diplomatic warnings or economic sanctions, argues for the availability of robust suppressive force. Additionally, for the effort to have the best chance of earning and sustaining the broadest and deepest domestic and international support, it must have legitimate international authorization. This means that it must be multilateral, rather than unilateral, and take place under the authority of the UN Security Council as a Chapter VII operation (Kegley 1996).

A. The Legal Imperative for Suppression

Though non-intervention is the first norm of the present international system, traditional international law has long recognized humanitarian intervention, that is, forceful outside intervention in response to state mistreatment of their own nationals in a manner that “shocks the conscience of mankind” (Lillich 1973, vii). However, Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter precludes humanitarian intervention by nation-states in order to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereign independence of individual nation-states. Even the United Nations, itself, is prohibited from forcefully intervening in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation-state by Article 2 (7). The only exception is an international crime that threatens the peace and security of the international community (Lillich 1973, viii). Indeed, McCoubrey and White, in their recent work on international intervention in internal conflicts, make the same point:

“The only possible breach of international law which may justify military intervention, apart from self-defence, is when another peremptory rule of international law has been broken. . . . (S)uch an argument can be raised only in support of the alleged right of humanitarian intervention. This assumes that the abuse of the human rights of the population has reached the level of genocide” ( McCoubrey and White 1995, 14).

These authors further contend that “it could be argued that when the abuse of human rights reaches such an atrocious level, the ban on force no longer operates.” (Ibid.)

In point of fact, genocide invokes the legal principle of “jus cogens”, which means that a treaty – in this case, the non-intervention clause of the UN Charter – is void if it conflicts with a peremptory norm of general international law, that is, a norm accepted by the international community and for which no derogation is permitted. Although, legal scholars differ on precisely what qualifies as “jus cogens”, genocide makes everyone’s “short list” (Simon 1996, 32-37).

More evidence that genocide is legally considered such a grave human rights violation that it should be treated as a catastrophic crime threatening international peace and security is to be found in the UN International Law Commission’s adoption on July 12, 1991 of the Draft Articles on the Draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind. Article 19 of this Draft Code specifically identifies genocide as a crime against the peace and security of mankind. (Murphy 1995, 997-1000)

Finally, the International War Crimes Tribunals on the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda were created at the request of the UN Security Council and have their legal basis in Chapter VII, which authorizes the Security Council to take all measures necessary to restore international peace and security (Scheffer 1996, 37; Chaney 1995, 65). When we add to this the wording of the Convention on Genocide (cited above) that authorizes “the competent organs” of the UN to take whatever action they “consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of genocide,” it seems reasonably clear that the United Nations already possesses the legal authority – indeed has the solemn legal obligation – to employ collective force under Chapter VII to suppress genocide.

B. The Moral Imperative for Suppression

Despite significant international variation in human values, and legitimate debate over the “universal” applicability of human rights standards, there is little or no debate over the moral status of genocide. It is rejected by all as a behavior not of civil society but of barbarism. No nation has dared stand before the world and defend genocide. All nations accept that genocide is profoundly wrong.

Michael Walzer argues that “humanitarian intervention comes much closer than any other kind of intervention to what we commonly regard, in domestic society, as law enforcement and police work.” He recognizes that this is legally ruled out unless the intervening nations are authorized by “the society of nations” (Walzer 1977, 106; Kegley 1996, 25-45). Walzer also argues that:

“Humanitarian intervention is justified when it is a response (with reasonable expectations of success) to acts ‘that shock the moral conscience of mankind.’ The old-fashioned language seems to me exactly right. It is not the conscience of political leaders that one refers to in such cases. They have other things to worry about and may well be required to repress their normal feelings of indignation and outrage. The reference is to the moral convictions of ordinary men and women, acquired in the course of their everyday activities” (Walzer 1977, 107).

He also speaks to the debate over the cultural relativity of moral values when he wrote that morality is dualistic, with minimal, general, universal characteristics that are few and simple, and maximal, particular, local characteristics that are many and complex. Further, the negative aspect of justice, which rejects brutality, is, according to Walzer, universal and intense, and not rendered relative by local custom. Rather, this form of morality is major, emotional and “close to the bone” (Walzer 1994, 1-6).

Stanley Hoffmann also contends that collective intervention is ethically justified when massive violations of human rights occur, such as genocide, or “deliberate policies of barbarism” (Hoffmann 1995-96, 38). In fact, according to Hoffmann, not to intervene in such cases would be “politically nefarious and ethically scandalous” (49). David J. Scheffer writes of genocide and other mass atrocities:

“These crimes involve issues of morality, national reconciliation, the rule of both domestic and international law, and the deterrence of future atrocities. Lingering on the horizon are rogue horsemen seemingly liberated from the rule of international law: Individuals acting with impunity, sometimes shielded by governments that embrace violations of international humanitarian law, are threats to the peace and security of their own peoples and, inevitably, to the international community.” (Scheffer 1996, 35)

C. The Security Imperative for Suppression

Using collective force to suppress genocide in a quick and decisive manner is necessary for practical security reasons, as well. If the nations of the world desire peace, security and prosperity, then genocide must be suppressed, for such a barbarous behavior is fundamentally inconsistent with an emerging 21st century global society that increasingly requires tolerance, cooperation, and a minimal level of peace, stability, order, and security (Havel 1995, Brown 1994). Hatred, intolerance, cruelty, lawlessness, and chaos are not “family values” in any culture in the world, and if such behavior is allowed to spread, it will soon prove destructive to the normal functioning of the global system, as well as to the leading powers, which are least capable of insulating their national societies from the dynamics of rapidly globalizing trends (Kressel 1996).

Unrestrained barbarism causes international and regional instability and profound insecurity, as mass slaughter triggers sudden, great waves of refugees which tend to destabilize neighboring nation-states. This invites multiple, cross-cutting, unilateral interventions to rescue endangered minorities or halt mass migration at its source (Weiner 1992/93).

In recent decades, when the UN Security Council, politically paralyzed by the Cold War, failed to address crisis-driven massive refugee flows, unilateral intervention filled the power vacuum. In 1971, India intervened in East Pakistan (Bangladesh); in 1978, Vietnam intervened in Cambodia, and in 1979, Tanzania intervened in Uganda, each time in response to sudden, massive forced migration. However, all these unilateral interventions were, themselves, condemned by the international community as threats to international peace and security (Dowty and Loescher 1996).

In the 1990s, war and genocide in the Balkans triggered massive refugee flows, inviting foreign interventions which could well have provoked a larger European conflagration. This security concern is precisely what drove Germany to urge forceful international intervention to halt the slaughter in the former Yugoslavia. As Hanns Maull wrote recently:

“European security and stability. The foreign-policy establishment saw this stability threatened, and was concerned about the possible security implications of instability in Central and Eastern Europe, such as waves of refugees, environmental disasters and the proliferation of weapons and violence. Germany’s security and prosperity, according to them, depended on European stability; this, in turn, required vibrant European and international institutions, and viable rules, norms and principles of political conduct.” (Maull 1995-96, 118)

Given the importance of Germany to NATO, any grave threat to the security, stability and prosperity of Germany is, by extension, a grave threat to the security of NATO (Kaiser 1992).

The main stumbling block to implementing a real political settlement and a lasting peace in Bosnia has been the failure to apprehend the Bosnian Serb leaders – particularly Karadzic and Mladic – who were indicted by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for war crimes and genocide. Indeed. NATO’s future will depend upon what happens in Bosnia. As the U.S. State Department’s chief architect of the Dayton Accords has said: “How NATO does in Bosnia will define America’s post-cold war role in European security.” (Whitney 1997) The failure to stop genocide in Bosnia also threatens the European Union process, as bitter political divisions over security issues tend to shove economic issues aside. The successful completion of European Union is a vital American interest, as well.

Geo-strategically, if genocide goes unchecked in the post-Cold War era, it is likely to have a corrosive effect upon the global system, as destructive behavior tends to “spill over” not just in geographical terms, from one nation to another, but also in functional terms, from one functional area of international cooperation into another. Eventually, global economic, environmental, and security regimes such as the G-8, the World Trade Organization, the Non-:Proliferation Treaty, etc., could be undermined, producing diplomatic paralysis, trade conflicts, economic retrenchment, regional instability, and renewed arms races. There is historical precedent for such a frightening scenario. In the 1920s and 1930s, the failure of international leadership to build a sustainable civil international order eventually undermined international monetary, trade and security regimes. The result was global depression and world war (Carr 1939/1964, Keohane and Nye 1989). In the present period, we have early evidence of this international organizational disintegration in the disruption of the G-7 (now G-8) annual economic summit, and the humiliation and marginalization of the UN, caused by bitter differences which arose between the leading Western nations over how to respond to war, genocide, and massive migration in the Balkans and Rwanda (Lippman and Devroy 1995, 6-7; Roberts 1995-96, 24).

II. The Untapped potential for Political Support

The international use of force to suppress genocide is not, as so many skeptics assume, utopian “wishful thinking”. It is a realistic possibility, given the development and implementation of the proper political strategy. Converting this possibility into effective policy requires adopting a strategic approach that recognizes the significant obstacles currently preventing the promulgation of a policy of suppression. Such a strategy must seek to overcome or sufficiently mitigate these obstacles.

A. The Political Obstacles to Suppression

Many observers of international affairs, including some who are convinced of the necessity for the forceful suppression of contemporary genocide, are deeply pessimistic about the chances of such a policy succeeding any time soon, given the tragic track-record of international leadership in the recent Bosnian and Rwandan crises. For support, these skeptics offer evidence of serious opposition from the American public, the Congress, the Pentagon, other great powers, and the even White House, itself, to U.S. participation in collective humanitarian intervention (Powell 1992; Stetts 1993; Kohut and Toth 1994; Kelleher 1994).

There indeed seems to be some evidence that the American public opposes ambiguous military interventions in places such as Bosnia and Rwanda. According to public opinion polls conducted in the fall and winter of 1992-1993, a majority (58% according to ABC) of Americans were firmly opposed to the use of U.S. ground forces in Bosnia (Kelleher 1994, 242). By February 1994, despite widespread media reports of systematic rape, ethnic cleansing, and other atrocities, 53% of Americans polled still opposed U.S. involvement in Bosnia (Kohut and Toth 1994, 54). Instead, the American public seemed to want to turn inward and address domestic problems long neglected during the cold war (Schlesinger 1995). Perhaps reflecting this apparent new isolationist impulse, many in also Congress opposed what they considered overly-ambitious, poorly thought out, “do-gooder” humanitarian interventions (Hoffmann 1995-96, 45-47).

For its part, the Pentagon has consistently opposed the use of force, including for humanitarian interventions, unless the interests at stake are vital, the political and military objectives are clear, forces are properly sized for quick, decisive success, domestic political support is assured, and there is a clear “exit strategy”. Collectively known as the “Weinberger-Powell Doctrine” – though General Powell dislikes his name associated with it (Powell, letter to the author, 1996) – these conditions reflect the military’s lessons learned from failure in Vietnam, and reinforced by later disasters in Beirut in 1983 and in Mogadishu in 1994 (Summers 1984; Weinberger 1985, Powell 1992-93; Haass 1994; Hoffman 1995).

Military leaders fear that while trying to be “impartial” in somenone else’s civil war, they will end up sliding into the dangerously ambiguous gap between peacekeeping and warfighting, with the result being another Vietnam-Beirut-Mogadishu-type quagmire (Curtis 1994; Betts 1994; Hoffman 1995-96). Therefore, the Pentagon cautiously avoids multilateral uses of force that have fuzzy goals, attempt to remain “impartial” while under fire, contain messy command systems, are under-equipped for fighting, have no clear definition of success or “exit strategy.” General Powell expressed this view pointedly when he wrote:

“Decisive means and results are always to be preferred, even if they are not always possible. So you can bet I get nervous when so-called experts suggest that all we need is a little surgical bombing or a limited attack. When the desired result isn’t obtained, a new set of experts then comes forward with talk of a little escalation. History has not been kind to this approach” (Powell 1992).

In recent years, Pentagon advice on the use of force has been quite influential in decision-making regarding the use of force (Campbell 1989; Petraeus 1989; Holl 1995). Consequently, some critics point to the Pentagon as a major obstacle to suppressing genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda (New York Times 1992; Safire 1994; Rubin 1995; Geyer 1996).

The other great powers on the Security Council have also demonstrated a decided reluctance to engage in humanitarian intervention. The British and the French have blocked policies that do not fairly share the risk of casualties, the Russians fear intervention will unfairly favor one side and target another, and the Chinese oppose intervening in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation for human rights concerns (Freedman 1994; Gow 1997). David Rieff has accused the Western powers of cynically using the work of humanitarian relief agencies as a “moral alibi for having done nothing to prevent genocide” in Bosnia and Rwanda (Rieff 1995-96).

Finally, a lack of White House leadership is viewed as a major obstacle to the international suppression of genocide. In particular, the present Administration is accused by its critics of failing to take decisive action to stop genocide. A few have even argued that the Administration has actually hampered efforts to stop genocide, and that the President had become an “accomplice” to contemporary genocide (Burkhalter 1994-95; New Republic 1995).

The Clinton Administration’s policy on genocide has been inconsistent; its rhetoric has condemned atrocities and called for their end, but its actions have often avoided the most effective means of doing so. This is largely because the Clinton Administration’s national security strategy places humanitarian crises lowest on its list of strategic priorities, giving no special distinction to the crime of genocide (Clinton 1995, 49-52). The Administration has, at times, tended to soft-pedal genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda (Holmes 1993; Burkhalter 1994-95), or redefine it as something more benign. As New York Times correspondent Thomas Friedman explained in April 1993:

(Administration policymakers) concede that they have begun to talk about Bosnia differently, to cast the problem there less as a moral tragedy – which would make American inaction immoral – and more as a tribal feud that no outsider could hope to settle (Friedman 1993).

The Clinton Administration’s reluctance to use force to halt genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda can be traced directly to the Somalia debacle. After the October 1993 firefight on the streets of downtown Mogadishu, during which eighteen U.S. rangers lost their lives, the Administration decided to limit U.S. involvement in humanitarian interventions. The White House announced a new, restrictive doctrine – Presidential Decision Directive 25 (PDD 25) – for the use of U.S. military force in multilateral peace operations (Lewis 1993; White House 1994; Sciolino 1994).

B. Overcoming the Political Obstacles

“I have always been ready to use force in order to defy tyranny or ward off ruin.”

– Winston S. Churchill

Despite the daunting obstacles identified above, a closer examination of this issue reveals some important evidence for cautious optimism regarding the prospects for developing a viable strategy for forcefully suppressing genocide. The collapse of the bipolar Cold War order has ended the ideological paralysis of the UN Security Council and made multilateral cooperation more feasible in this era (Weiss and Hayes-Holgate 1993; Kegley and Raymond 1994). For example, in 1990-1991, the UN response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait initiated the first real case of collective security enforcement since the UN was founded 45 years earlier. This post-Cold War UN Security Council was able to cooperate in the authorization of robust collective security measures which successfully reversed Iraqi aggression (Freedman and Karsh 1993).

Subsequent cases adding to this progress in collective security cooperation were Chapter VII authorizations for the use of force to protect the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1991, to protect humanitarian aid delivery in Somalia in 1992, and the NATO bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serbs in August 1995 (Schachter 1993; Roberts 1995-96; United Nations 1996). However, for the international community to consolidate and reinforce this progress in a way which addresses contemporary genocide, it will be necessary to treat genocide as an international crime equal to aggression.

Treating genocide as a Chapter VII violation liable for collective security enforcement would dictate a war-fighting strategy, rather than the more benign and somewhat schizophrenic peacekeeping efforts we have seen in the recent Bosnian and Rwandan conflicts. Just as with the crime of aggression, justice demands that the international community demonstrate “partiality” in favor of the victims of genocide and against their tormenters. “Impartial” peacekeeping is a profoundly inappropriate response to the crime of genocide, as it objectively renders armed UN “peacekeepers”, who can only watch, passively, virtual accomplices to genocide (Human Rights Watch/Helsinki 1995).


The key to a successful policy of forceful suppression of genocide is domestic public opinion. Win over public opinion and the other pieces of the political puzzle will begin to fall into place. The American public is already pre-disposed to suppress genocide, as they have been socialized since the Holocaust and the Nuremberg Trials to reject genocide as the worst crime of the 20th century. Evidence of this socialization can be seen in the enormous popularity of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the movie “Schindler’s List” (Eisner 1997). It is therefore reasonable to suspect that a majority of Americans would support the use of American troops as part of a larger UN-authorized multilateral force to suppress contemporary genocide. But first, the case for doing so would have to be well made by the President.

One of the more impressive political powers of the White House is the President’s ability to “frame” an issue in a way that clearly communicates its great importance to the nation. However, in the crises of Bosnia and Rwanda, the president carefully avoided explicit references to genocide (Burkhalter 1994-95; Maass 1996). Consequently, Administration arguments that a policy of forceful suppression would not have succeeded in winning public support are not persuasive, since such an approach was never tried.

We must add to this serious questions about the “evidence” of American neo-isolationism. Eugene Wittkopf argues that such evidence is “misleading” and “shows only one part of the story.” For instance, while a 1993 Times Mirror survey showed only 10% or respondents supported a U.S. role as the single world leader, “fully 80 percent (his emphasis) supported a leadership role shared with others – hardly an ‘isolationist’ posture.” Wittkopf concluded that “(p)articular preferences do change in response to patriotic challenges and ‘framing’ by political leaders,” and that building adequate public support for U.S. participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations in a “troubled part of the world” required this framing (Wittkopf 1996).

Steven Kull found that 67% of respondents to a 1995 poll favored the idea of UN peacekeeping, while an overwhelming 86% agreed that “the only way for the U.S. to not always be the ‘world policeman’ is to allow the U.N. to perform some policing functions. U.N. peacekeeping is a way we can share the burden with other countries.” Kull also concluded that morality plays a large part in public support for U.S. involvement in U.N. peace operations. In the 1995 survey, 66% of respondents agreed that “when innocent civilians are suffering or are being killed,” the United States should contribute to a U.N. peacekeeping operation “whether or not it serves the national interest.” Furthermore, when it comes to genocide, Kull found that Americans see a special moral imperative to act. In a 1994 poll, 65% of respondents answered “always” when asked “If genocidal situations occur, do you think the U.N., including the U.S., should intervene with whatever force is necessary to stop the acts of genocide?” Only 23% said “only when American interests are involved.” When asked what to do if the U.N. determined that genocide was occurring in Bosnia or Rwanda, fully 80% of the respondents said they favored intervention in both cases (Kull 1995-96).


British and French opposition to the use of limited military force can also be traced to weak White House leadership. The New York Times reported that ” . . . (T)he Clinton Administration misread the conflicting signals from its European allies. They had kept saying no to American proposals for strong military action but would have said yes if Washington had been more insistent.” (Whitney 1997) London , Paris and Bonn were opposed to abandoning the impartiality of peacekeeping and moving to a policy of enforcement unless the Americans were prepared to share the political burden by committing U.S. ground forces to such an operation. However, the White House had flatly ruled out this option. As James Gow pointed out regarding Bosnia: “In the final analysis, the critical factor in the failure of Western countries to intervene was the refusal of the U.S. to put ground troops into the ring” (Gow 1994). The policy was the same for Rwanda, with Western forces intervening only to withdraw their own nationals.

The Russians have never been keen on the idea of forceful intervention in Bosnia, but a strong rhetorical appeal to their “great historic role” in establishing the Nuremberg Principles may have helped to isolate potential ultra-nationalist Russian opposition. Indeed, this principled approach would have strengthened the democratic forces in Russia. As for a China worried about Western powers using human rights rhetoric as a cover for “imperial” interventionism, the explicit identification of genocide – and only genocide – as a human rights abuse which also constitutes a grave threat to international peace and security, would have gone a long way towards easing their concerns.


“The soldier, be he friend or foe, is charged with the protection of the weak and unarmed. It is the very essence and reason for his being. When he violates this sacred trust, he not only profanes his entire cult but threatens the very fabric of international society. The traditions of fighting men are long and honorable. They are based upon the noblest of human traits – sacrifice!”

– General Douglas MacArthur at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, 1946

Regarding Pentagon opposition to ambiguous humanitarian interventions, the greatest concern military leaders have had and continue to have is placing U.S. troops into a deadly warfighting situation that is sized, equipped, mandated, and politically supported for a much more benign and limited peacekeeping mission. This strategic contradiction presents the military with an operational nightmare tragically similar to the Mogadishu and Beirut disasters. However, if the political leadership in the White House had first made the case to the nation for the need for decisive military force to suppress genocide, the Pentagon could have then applied this force in a quick and overwhelming manner. Military leaders said as much regarding Bosnia in 1992, when they privately conceded that the best strategy might have been to abandon “impartiality”, take sides against the Serb perpetrators of atrocities, and send in a field army of 400,000 troops to suppress the barbarity (Gellman 1992).

In fact, there have been open calls from within the military establishment for the use of American military force to suppress atrocities. For instance, Marine Colonel Eric Chase wrote in Strategic Review: “It is time for the U.S. to announce a policy for the next century that suppression of international crimes, especially war crimes, is a ‘vital interest'” (Chase 1993). However, rather than making the legal, moral and security case for forcefully suppressing genocide in either Bosnia or Rwanda, the Clinton Administration carefully avoided the issue of genocide for (the unfounded) fear it would prove politically unsupportable. The subsequent Pentagon reluctance to intervene using dangerously ambiguous and schizophrenic half-measures is therefore rational and understandable.

As for Congress, this institution has a strong tendancy to defer to presidential leadership, especially if taking a strong stand against the president will mean political punishment later at the polls (Lindsay 1994, 194). Therefore, if domestic public opinion, the Pentagon, and European allies are won over to the use of force to suppress genocide, the U.S. Congress is unlikely to stand alone in opposition.


IV. Between Munich and Vietnam

In this particular historical period, the United States is the most powerful nation in the international system. This means that an international anti-genocide policy will have to be initiated by the U.S. However, American foreign policy is currently caught between the twin historical tragedies of Munich and Vietnam; between the dangers of isolationism and interventionism. Plagued by the “Vietnam-Beirut-Mogadishu syndrome”, key players in American foreign policy fear new, casualty-producing “quagmires”. The American public, while responsive to its humanitarian impulse after seeing television images of starving, beseiged refugees (the “CNN effect”) tends to reverse course and demand withdrawal when the first flag-draped coffins of American soldiers begin arriving at Dover Air Force Base (the “Dover factor”).

This public opinion volatility gives members of Congress political “whiplash” and engenders great skepticism about “humanitarian intervention”, especially under United Nations command. Public opinion instability regarding post-Cold War military missions also worries military leaders in the Pentagon, who fear being left out there to “twist slowly in the wind” when another ambiguous military intervention goes badly. And finally, Executive leadership, concerned about shallow and unpredictable domestic and foreign political support for a risky, distant intervention, fears painful political punishment if another bloody quagmire occurs on its “watch”.

All these concerns would be understandable and (sadly and reluctantly) acceptable, if they were the complete story. But they are not. The Munich-Vietnam dilemma is incomplete; Nuremberg is missing. The Nuremberg Principles are strategically significant to the second half of the twentieth century and the transition to the twenty-first century because they provide the central legitimizing component for collective international action to respond to international crimes.

Nuremberg provided the legal and moral legitimacy for the Allied military actions in World War II and underscored the fallacy of Munich appeasement. Nuremberg also de-legitimized an insolvent American policy in Vietnam and emphasized the illegality and immorality of My Lai (Taylor 1970; Falk, et al. 1971). In both Bosnia and Rwanda, Nuremberg offers the potential political legitimacy for collective and forceful prevention, suppression and punishment of genocide. To this critical strategic reality, international leaders – particularly American leaders – seem, so far, blind and ignorant.


V. A Time for Wise and Courageous Leadership

“They sit upon the rock of Gibralter and behave as if they were upon a raft at sea.”

– Walter Lippmann

Evidence of potential White House leadership can be found in President Clinton’s own words at the dedication of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in 1993:

“The evil represented in this museum is incontestable. But as we are its witness, so must we remain its adversary in the world in which we live, so we must stop the fabricators of history and the bullies as well. Left unchallenged, they would prey upon the powerless; and we must not permit that to happen again” (Clinton 1993).

However, weak and inconsistent international leadership has permitted these predators to predominate in Bosnia and Rwanda in recent years. As Cedric Thornberry, former assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, observed regarding Bosnia:

“Many of us, raised in the traditions of Geneva Conventions and close to the vividness of Nazi horrors, found it hard to believe that forces Europe had cast out 50 years earlier were one again ascendant” (Thornberry 1996).

The failure of international leadership on contemporary genocide is not, I suspect, one of malice. It is somewhat understandable why international political leaders overestimated the difficulty of winning over public opinion to a suppression policy; much of the “conventional wisdom” seemed to support this interpretation. It is somewhat understandable why political leaders underestimated the need to suppress genocide; the post-Cold War era was confusing, the humanitarian intervention in Somalia had turned into a political disaster, and it was the rare analyst who accurately grasped the geo-strategic significance of contemporary genocide. It is also understandable why political leadership misunderstood military reluctance, given the bitter debate in recent years surrounding this doctrine (Aspin 1993; Gacek 1994; Hoffman 1995; Campbell forthcoming). In a real sense, the recent genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, and the inadequate international response to them, amount to a tragedy. But this need not continue, for there is a viable policy available, if political leadership can only marshal the vision and courage to promulgate it.

An embryonic example of this vision and courage was NATO’s decision in the summer of 1995 to use “substantial and decisive force” in Bosnia, but only after a worldwide outcry from the public and the press regarding the slaughter at Srebrenica (Cohen 1995). The “air-land” combination of NATO bombing and a U.S.- trained and equipped (Thompson 1996) Croatian army ground offensive against the Serbs in the Krajina-Bihac region finally halted Serb genocide and forced all sides to the negotiating table at Dayton. This decisive action also clearly demonstrated the critical importance of American leadership. Hodding Carter had made this important point the year before:

“The burden of leading the world community . . . falls on Washington. It is to this administration that pressure should be applied and petitions directed . . . (T)he president has the capacity, by speaking directly and consistently, to lay out the case for an active policy and to marshal the majority behind it . . . He can lay the evidence that American investigators, among others, have gathered, and utter the word Washington has elided so far – genocide.

There is something profoundly contemptuous of the American people in the argument that they are obsessed with their economic situation to the exclusion of all other considerations. There is no question that they are worried about the state of the economy and confused about America’s role in a post-Cold War world. But in both respects, public opinion is like an unanchored ship. The circumstances increase rather than diminish the role of the helmsman” (Carter 1994).


“. . . because each one’s need to maintain his own respect for himself was more important to him than his popularity with others – because his desire to win or maintain a reputation for integrity and courage was stronger than his desire to maintain his office – because his conscience, his personal standard of ethics, his integrity or morality, call it what you will – was stronger than the pressures of public disapproval – because his faith that his course was the best one, and would ultimately be vindicated, outweighed fear of public reprisal.”

 John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage

The assumption common among those walking the corridors of world power these days is that the chances of getting the political support to suppress contemporary genocide are slim-to-nil. While it is true that the political obstacles preventing such a legally, morally, and pragmatically necessary policy do seem formidable, they are actually constructed on a flimsy structure of misperception, underestimation, and ignorance regarding the nature of genocide, public anxiety, Congressional obstruction, Pentagon reluctance, and Allied opposition. However, a strategic approach that explicitly recognizes genocide as a catastrophic crime which threatens the peace and security of the international system can cut through the “Gordian knot” of ambiguity. Such a pro-active strategy can build a “firebreak” between peacekeeping and war-fighting, and permit the use of decisive collective force to defeat the perpetrators of genocide, apprehend their leaders, and turn them over to an international tribunal for trial. A robust anti-genocide policy that integrates coercive and non-coercive means, addresses prevention, suppression, and punishment, and builds domestic and international political support based on legal, moral, political, economic, operational and security imperatives, can work, given international leadership with vision and courage.

This approach focuses neither naively on what should be, nor fatalistically on what is, but reasonably on what can be. The success of such an effort is not guaranteed, but if we desire long-term peace and stability in Bosnia and Rwanda, and a better 21st century world for all our children, we must make the attempt. It is my purpose, here, to assist the vision of international leaders in this necessary and honorable task. Their courage, they will have to discover deep within themselves.


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