Interview: Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire

The general who tried to stop the Rwandan genocide warns FP that the line has blurred between peacekeeping and counterinsurgency. It's a cautionary tale for the age of Afghanistan and Iraq. Are the world's militaries up to the task?

There are few who can say they have been as close to stopping genocide as retired Lt. Gen Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian commander of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1994. Long before the killing began, Dallaire sounded a warning call. Then, he begged for reinforcements and a mandate to use force -- neither of which he got -- as his troops fatefully watched hundreds of thousands of Rwandans slaughtered. "You should spit in my face," says the character based on Dallaire in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda. "[The West is] not going to stop the slaughter." The world did little then, and so in real life, Dallaire has spent much of his last decade and a half reminding the world not to let the same happen again.

Now more than ever, Dallaire tells Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickinson, such distant conflicts should strike world leaders as imminently close. Where unrest simmers, so does the possibility for terrorist havens, global pandemics, and massive human suffering. Preventing and abating those conflicts is not a matter of humanitarianism alone; it's a matter of realpolitik. In a world where no contagion stays local for long, Dallaire challenges leaders to weigh the consequences of conflict accordingly. That calls for a new kind of military force -- one that blurs the distinctions between traditional military efforts, counterinsurgency, and even peacekeeping. In short, there is no fine line between Rwanda and Afghanistan, only a plethora of civilian lives.

Foreign Policy: You're releasing a report today about galvanizing political will toward intervention in crisis situations. What's the secret to getting real action?

Roméo Dallaire: In this era, which began in the 1990s but is much more acute now, we are now significantly at risk -- in terms of our health and security -- from catastrophes that happen in foreign lands. We simply can't use the parameters of whether there is a moral reason for intervention; [this] has not worked. [Politicians] can bring [the reasons for intervention] a lot closer to home. The influence of catastrophic failure in these [troubled] states can reach your borders and your national security. In fact, the well-being of your nation is now linked to places that seemed far away before, [because] now, they are just next door. [The goal is to determine] how we can make the leaders much more aware of the fact that they are going to be held accountable [for responding to conflicts elsewhere], because there are people in their own countries who are going to ultimately suffer.

FP: What kind of response have you received from governments? Do you think that the administration of Barack Obama, in particular, is poised to step up in tough cases?

RD: Obama sees a global scenario in which all of humanity is interfacing. He acknowledges that some regions are putting the rest of humanity at risk. So we think that there's going to be a more interested reading, at least, of looking at intervention -- not only in a reactive way but in a preventative way. That's the "soft power" side -- international development, focusing on preventing failing states from actually going south.

It is my personal position that the NGO community, if it gets rid of some of the fringe gang and coalesces more and more, instead of being so interfighting at times, will become the voice of humanity with a massive impact on foreign policy and public opinion.

FP: Once you get to that point where prevention is no longer possible, when is it appropriate to intervene -- to send in peacekeepers?

RD: You're looking at a person who has seen, in 1994, all the ineptness of actually doing that [intervention]. All the wrong decisions were taken, right from the highest level, right from the start.

[We are] not skilled, we the military, the security, and the diplomatic [sectors], in the protection of civilians. It's not in the dogma yet; it's a side element. Leaders don't seem to be getting those tripwires, those red lines [that point to genocide]. [In Rwanda,] when the hate radio came online and got a license from the government, was that a tripwire?

In 2004 when I was at the Kennedy School and we looked at Darfur, I was on a forum, and I said, "We have got to deploy now 44,000 troops to Darfur, in order to protect civilians." There were chuckles in the crowd. I said, "Why is it that we can't put 44,000 troops in Darfur, when we put 67,000 in Yugoslavia? What's the difference? Is it because we're in Iraq and Afghanistan? We had millions [of troops] in Europe, protecting us." Africa used to be far away. But to North American youth [today], Africa is just a sophisticated bus ride away. I still take the plane with a shirt and tie. To them, getting to Accra, you get a direct flight, it's 400 bucks, and bingo, you're in Africa.

FP: It sounds like what you're talking about is almost a fundamental retooling of the world's militaries. What would that look like?

RD: The big players are still basing a lot of their security on the classic use of force. And in the last two decades, except for twice in Iraq or in Kuwait, we haven't been using the classic use of force. We're still learning how to handle Afghanistan -- we haven't got that thing solved. We're still trying to work out how humanitarians, the diplomats, the nation-builders, the security people, police, and military -- how are all of them working at the same time to bring about [peace] instead of blowing the place up and then throwing in a bunch to rebuild it.

There is a need for a new doctrinal basis and new structures for the protection of civilians. [It's about] using that force as part of your prevention tools. We're not going in guns blazing. There's a whole bunch of stuff that you can do before you use that force. But it's important to make sure that people know that as you're going through these stages, if it doesn't work, ultimately, we'll use the hammer. That makes [the use of force] much more powerful.

FP: Here in Washington, it seems like there is a perception that there are two realms of conflict out there: peacekeeping missions, for example in Darfur or Congo, and Afghanistan and Iraq, which are seen as "hard" military operations. Are we now seeing a blurring of the lines?

RD: We still have people who are "war fighters" and people who are peacekeepers, and they're trying to stay in those two areas. But now, [instead of just those two extreme types of conflict,] what you have is everything in between. [That calls for] a military that's far more adaptable to the different levels of use of force, within a context. Petraeus and his movement are the first signs of realizing this.

I was involved in the reform of the Canadian officer corps in the late 1990s where we said, "We've got to produce the leaders who know sociology, anthropology, [and] philosophy, so they can understand the complexity of the problem, and be able to participate with the other players in resolving of the conflict and diffusing of the conflict before you have to use your rifle."

FP: What's your diagnosis of some of the recent peacekeeping missions that have been criticized for ineffectiveness? Is their failure because they're under-resourced, understaffed, undermandated, or all of the above?

RD: The greatest deficiency in the capabilities comes from two levels: One level is mandate, and the maneuvering and watering down and limiting of mandates, even under Chapter 7. The other side is that developed countries are staying out. Those that sit around the Security Council in their veto positions -- they are staying out of the field. So there are just no capabilities in the field to implement the mandates as such. MONUC [the U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] had the [mandate] to conduct far more offensive operations. But the troops they had, the equipment they had, the command and control they had simply could not meet that task. [The big powers are] still living in this sort of semi-isolationism -- they say, "That's a problem between those guys; we'll let it run its course and then we'll pick up pieces after." Well, sorry, in this era, that stuff moves, and it will affect us.

I recently was able to put a couple dollars aside to buy a diamond ring for my wife, which I never did. My work with child soldiers was such that I categorically insisted on a Canadian diamond, because I don't trust DeBeers. No matter with the Kimberly Process [to prevent conflict diamonds], there's just a smell out there. Well those things, more of our younger people are conscious of them. They read it, they see it, they know all about it. Politicians will be held accountable for allowing [atrocities] to happen.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


An Interview with Nir Barkat

He's in charge of the most contested 44 square miles on the planet. But Nir Barkat, the controversial mayor of Jerusalem, has big plans for Israel's poorest city.

This January, Nir Barkat became mayor of Jerusalem.

Barkat, a conservative-leaning Netanyahu confidant who ran as an independent, made two major campaign promises. First, the self-made tech millionaire vowed to revitalize Jerusalem's economy; plagued by a shrinking tax base, the city is now the poorest in Israel. Second, he vowed to keep Jerusalem undivided, its government secular, and its administration fair.

But Jerusalem is an unusually difficult city to govern. Its land is holy to Christians, Jews, and Muslims; its affairs an unusually international concern. Barkat answers to a fractured populace that is about a third Arab and a third ultra-Orthodox. No wonder Jerusalem's mayors historically struggle for little better than to preserve the status quo.

As Barkat pushes forward with a multi-million dollar revitalization plan -- which involves refurbishing the Old City and building in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem -- he has been hit from all sides. Arab Israelis and Palestinians have harshly criticized an uptick in home destruction and a series of controversial building decisions in their neighborhoods -- as have American and European authorities and the United Nations. This summer, protests by ultra-Orthodox haredim became violent when Barkat pushed to keep a parking lot open on the Sabbath.

In the midst of these struggles, Barkat spoke with Foreign Policy about his plans for Jerusalem, the sensitive issue of settlement building, and what it means to govern the most contested 44 square miles on Earth. Excerpts:

Foreign Policy: To an international observer, it seems that preserving the status quo has been difficult in the first six months. Earlier this week, you were actually the subject of physical attacks. What actions are you taking to preserve the status quo? What is the importance of doing so?

Nir Barkat: I do think the status quo is important in the city. And the status quo is defined by certain categories. That there is no public transportation, there is no commerce on Shabbat [the Jewish day of rest, observed on Saturday]. But there are open places, restaurants, and places of leisure.

Discussing parking and traffic is not part of the status quo, and it never was. Indeed, you have a lot of parking lots open on Shabbat. All the hospitals, all the hotels, and a few public places.

From my perspective, there's been no change in the status quo. It's important to maintain the status quo, and it is part of my coalition agreement with my fellows in the municipality, where 30 out of 31 members of the council are part of the coalition. Orthodox and non-Orthodox, we stick together. The people that are now protesting, the protesters are 2 percent of the population. Any decision a mayor may take in the city of Jerusalem, sometimes a few percentages, the people do not like. As long as they demonstrate legally, I have no problem. But, if they break the law and become violent, they become a problem with the police.

FP: You're a businessman. A lot of your promise coming in to lead the municipal government was to revitalize the economy in a Jerusalem with a shrinking tax base, among the poorest cities in Israel. What's your plan to revitalize and rebuild?

NB: My vision is to exploit the potential of the Old City of Jerusalem. We have a huge, huge potential.

I worked with Professor Michael Porter, from Harvard Business School, in developing an economic model. Jerusalem has to play the role it did two or three thousand years ago, as a destination for pilgrims and tourists and people who want to taste the values and the experience and the culture and the religious and the historical competitive advantages we have. We have the best location in the world. The best brand in the world. Amazingly enough, if you compare where we are today to the potential of other cities -- Rome has 40 million tourists a year, New York has 47 million tourists a year, Paris and London have over 40. Jerusalem has 2 million tourists. I set a goal of 10 million tourists [by] the next decade. ... That's our goal.

FP: But much of the conflict that has emerged during the time you've been mayor has been over building. It has been with the ultra-Orthodox community and also with the Palestinians. I wonder if you can contextualize the incidents, the car park and the Shepherd Hotel [in which the municipal government approved renovating the building, located in a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, for Jewish settlers], within the broader goal of economic revitalization? And preserving the city's balance?

NB: It's not even rounding errors, relative to what we have on the table.

This summer, we broke records in terms of the number of people coming to cultural events in the city of Jerusalem; we had hundreds of thousands of people, more than we had in prior years, enjoying the city of Jerusalem. We had festivals, we had street parties, and new products -- a dramatic increase in the number of people coming to the city of Jerusalem.

That's the real news. And I'm very happy with the progress we've been making.

FP: Recently Israeli police shut down cultural events that Palestinians were having when Jerusalem was named city of the year for culture by an Arab group. Do you think that was a mistake?

NB: It was illegal, and the police didn't allow it to happen.

FP: Why was it illegal?

NB: Because if somebody wants to do something, they must get the proper licenses. Any event happening in Jerusalem has to get proper licenses from the municipality, the police, to make sure it's appropriate. It's common practice in every city in the world. And people want to take their liberty to do things illegally and independently of the municipality and the government -- every country in the world will not allow that to happen.

FP: In the 2003 road map for peace it says one of Israel's obligations is to build and reopen Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem. Do you have any plans for that? Is that a concern?

NB: What kind of institutions are you referring to?

FP: I believe in the road map it refers to a Palestinian chamber of commerce and other closed and shuttered institutions in Israel.

NB: Well, when we get to that phase, let's discuss it.

But right now in Jerusalem, we're developing our economy, our services to different residents. My charter is first to help my residents and help the tourists and open up Jerusalem to the world. We've got all kinds of embassies in Jerusalem -- not embassies, consulates -- and those we want to bring to Jerusalem that aren't here yet.

So we assume that when there's peace, when it comes, we'll be friendly with all our allies. So we'll leave that for the right time and [for] negotiations. Jerusalem will always stay united. And Jerusalem welcomes friends to enjoy Jerusalem.

FP: You pushed back against U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's criticism of the demolition of the Palestinian homes. Do you agree with that criticism, and how do you see yourself as a player in Israeli foreign relations?

NB: Well, it's not about Hillary!

Let's get our facts right! Jerusalem has to be managed as a city. We have to build schools; we have to build roads. We have to make sure people properly get their licenses and that people obey the law. And in many of the cases, when people build illegally, and it's on the account of their neighbors, and it's the account of the vision, they have a problem not with me; they have a problem with the law. And the planning process that we're now expanding.

And so, the city doesn't stand still. Especially not Jerusalem. In the last 50 years, the Arab population grew dramatically, even more than the Jewish population, and it's still growing. And that's fine. And my role is to serve them.

However, things have to be done under law, and the same way that [New York] Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg would treat illegal buildings in Central Park, I am obliged as mayor to manage the city day to day, with no political agenda. I'm looking at this in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of a mayor who is committed! Committed to serve all my residents honestly and fairly, according to the law. And my point is you can't freeze the world. You have to make sure things are built legally and properly. And the fact of the matter is, we are dramatically improving the planning process and the licenses for West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem because I want the city to become successful. And I do not accept any criticism that we're not obliged to work under the law. We have to work under the law. And that's proper law. No politics.

Courtesy of the Mayor of Jerusalem