'Never Again' Isn’t Enough

Slogans won't stop another genocide like Rwanda's. But there are other things that might.

The 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide offers an opportune moment to reflect on the horrific events of 1994, and honor the countless victims and survivors who still carry the collective trauma of mass murder. Remembering these deliberate efforts to extinguish an entire ethnic community should not only give us pause, but also encourage our atrocity prevention community, including humanitarian and peace organizations around the world, to rethink how such failures of humanity can guide us forward, beyond "Never Again" slogans.

Once the plane of President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down on April 6, 1994, as it prepared to land in Kigali, the decapitated Hutu regime moved to exploit the resulting leadership vacuum. In response to the perceived existential threat posed by the armed Tutsi opposition moving towards the capital, it adopted a genocidal strategy. Government forces and militias, armed with grenades and machetes, walked house-to-house to slaughter the Tutsi population and Hutu moderates, in an effort to purify the country. Despite the warning signs and urgent requests for reinforcements and protection, U.N. peacekeepers and foreign diplomats in-country stood by, lacking the authority, capacity, or home-capital buy-in to halt the killing of roughly 800,000 Rwandan citizens in 100 days. The genocide against the Tutsi population came to a halt as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took control of Kigali in July 1994, taking the lives of tens of thousands of Hutus en route, and committing to violent retribution both within Rwanda and neighboring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). The RPF rebel leader, Paul Kagame, assumed the presidency in 2000, and has remained in power ever since.

From former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who called the Rwandan genocide "100 percent American responsibility," to one million handcrafted bones spread over the National Mall in Washington, the peacebuilding community has approached commemorations as opportunities to recount the horrid images of mass carnage, assign blame, and lament the lack of institutional and political progress to date.

One decade ago, references to Darfur served to illustrate the continued lack of political will in the face of ongoing mass violence, and the immoral inconsistency of our international response. This week, Syria or the Central African Republic will serve as a current analog, highlighting the challenge posed by state-sanctioned incitement and mass murder, the risk of international indifference or impasse, and the impact of impunity.

As an atrocity prevention community, we can do better.

The first step towards constructive commemoration is to recognize the deplorable logic behind the inconsistent international response to mass violence, as powerful countries seem to act more decisively to save innocent lives in some countries than in others. The extent of diplomatic investment or the likeliness of a forceful "Libya-style" response to imminent or ongoing mass killing depends on rarely-acknowledged factors that don't have anything to do with how grave the humanitarian crisis might be: the power of the individuals orchestrating or executing the killings; the strategic value of the region; the support for international action from the region; the level of international media coverage and popular domestic appetite to intervene; and what military or financial resources are available.

Prior to 1994, Rwanda had never been of more than marginal concern to Washington. As now-Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power noted in her book on the genocide, A Problem from Hell, as the tragic events unfolded, Pentagon staff officers scrambled to find expertise on the central African country, questioning whether the warring parties consisted of "Hutu and Tutsi or Tutu and Hutsi." The memories of the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia six months earlier were still vivid and strengthened both popular and political resistance to humanitarian intervention by the United States. "Anytime you mentioned peacekeeping in Africa, the crucifixes and garlic would come up on every door," one U.S. official said, according to Power. Beyond individual efforts to evacuate expatriate communities, there was little international or regional concern about the fate of the Rwandan population.

In an ideal world, the urgency and gravity of a humanitarian crisis would trump realpolitik. But double standards are an unpleasant reality of international politics, driven by the sum of national interests, and will remain part and parcel of the international response to man-made humanitarian crises. Recollecting the horrific images and stories from the Rwandan genocide may have emotional resonance, but the pressures of morality, legal obligation, or guilt aren't enough to improve the international response to ongoing atrocities in the 21st century.

This shouldn't lead to defeatism, because we can reduce the inconsistency of the international community. By identifying the policy measures that work, and those with minimal or negative impact, we can help local partners and international policymakers develop more effective responses to the earliest warning signs of mass atrocities. And early prevention is not just a question of alleviating the guilt of Western policymakers: It serves our national interest, precluding the need for costly interventions after the bloodshed has become too much to bear.

The community of organizations working to prevent genocide and atrocities, located both in the developed world and in countries that are at risk for mass violence, is dominated by advocacy groups attempting to raise awareness and build local capacity. The memory of Rwanda should move us beyond moral outcries, toward the development of empirically tested policy instruments and efforts to quantify the benefits of preventive action. Evidence-based research, to see whether, say, diplomatic pressure or financial sanctions would be more effective in a given situation than police reform or media training, would help us along the way. The development of practical training courses for policymakers, featuring realistic scenario-exercises, would allow U.S. embassies, aid missions, and armed forces to identify risk factors early on and design effective responses before the eruption of mass violence.

Since Rwanda, consecutive U.S. administrations have expressed their frustration about our collective inability to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity. In 2012 remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, President Barack Obama expressed his commitment to "build the capacity of key partners," and "work with our allies to ensure that the burdens of atrocity prevention and response are appropriately shared." The creation of an inter-agency Atrocities Prevention Board illustrates just how much the issue has been prioritized and offers the humanitarian voice an important seat at the decision-making table.

But more effective cooperation among countries across different continents requires stronger diplomatic, economic, and military role for regional organizations. It also requires like-minded allies to consult more frequently and plan for atrocity contingencies, both around the corner, and over the horizon. But beyond modest support for regional organizations or U.N. operations in conflict-prone regions, there has been little progress on this kind of multilateral, anticipatory collaboration.

Preventing the next genocide, in other words, means building the infrastructure to deal with one before it starts. "Never Again" just isn't enough.



War Is Coming

Why there is no appeasing Russia's mad king.

In early March, the Russian Federation, after staging a referendum under Kalashnikovs in Crimea, proceeded to annex the region and laid the groundwork -- according to Moscow -- for "new political-legal realities," that is to say, a new Russian paradigm for a lawless world. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her speech to the Bundestag on March 13, Russia is bringing the law of the jungle to the table. For those of us who have lived through Vladimir Putin's attempts to reverse the results of what he calls "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century -- the dissolution of the Soviet Union -- what is happening in Ukraine is not unexpected. Nor does it mark the last act of the drama.

It should be abundantly clear now that Putin's initial plan of taking eastern Ukraine by mobilizing the Russian population there has failed. But that doesn't mean he's giving up. Russian strategists are talking about a "weekend of rage" that could involve some kind of armed siege of government buildings in southern and eastern Ukraine. If these local provocateurs and "self-defense forces" manage to hold these buildings as they did in Crimea, it might serve as a basis for further military intervention. Not that we should be surprised by this cynical playbook any more.

History can be a useful guide for politicians: first, to help prevent new disasters, and second, to help react to disasters that inevitably happen anyway, despite the best laid plans. And yet, plenty of politicians are making the same mistakes they should have learned from decades ago. These days, I can't help but be reminded of Yogi Berra's famous quote, "It's déjà vu, all over again."

In Chechnya, tens of thousands of people were killed just to make Putin president and consolidate his power. Then, when the Colored Revolutions -- and their successful reforms -- became a menace to his rule, he invaded Georgia in order to kill this contagious model and again reconfirm his power. Now, as before, faced with eroding popularity in Russia, a shale gas revolution in North America, and the need for consistent port access to equip his allies in the Middle East, Putin attacked Ukraine and seized Crimea.

And yet, even with these myriad examples, the West continues to misunderstand or excuse Putin's aggression. These days, many pundits are busy with soul-searching, with one of the constant refrains being how the West overreached with NATO and EU expansion, and how it needlessly provoked the Russian bear. The conclusion they come to is that part of the reason for Russia's behavior, however petulant, lies in Western activism. It's a particular kind of intellectual self-flagellation and, for Putin, a reflection of Western weakness that only emboldens him.

Neville Chamberlain, when presenting the case for the great European powers to acquiesce to Hitler's occupation of the Sudetenland, argued that Europeans should not care about a "quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing." I hear a lot of pundits now talking about the "asymmetry of interests," implying that Russia is entitled to annex neighboring countries' lands for the simple reason that it cares for these lands more than the West. Others opine that we should all get used to the idea that the Crimea is gone, and that Russia will never give it back. This is exactly what I was told in the summer of 2008 -- that I should be resigned to the idea that a part of Georgian territory, then occupied by Russia, was gone for good.

But this logic has its continuation. As we know from history, the cycles of appeasement usually get shorter with geometric progression. Soon, the same pundits may declare -- with their best poker faces on -- that now Moldova is "lost," or Latvia "lost," even some province of Poland. And just because Russia is not in the mood to give it back.

The biggest casualty for the West will not be the countries which already are, or strive to be, Western allies, but rather the principles on which the Western world is built. The truth is that Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova are being punished by Russia for their desire to live in a free and democratic society -- one very different from the Putin model.

Certainly, Moscow didn't seem to care much about the minority Russian populations in its near abroad -- so long as they were comfortably ruled by corrupt cronies of the Kremlin. But over the ensuing decade, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova have learned to look to the West, not so much because of geopolitical priorities, but because people there aspire to a Western way of life that respects human rights and universal values. For this reason, the West must shelter these countries not just out of pragmatic calculations, but for the very principles that turned the Western democracies into the most successful societies in history.

The basic facts are very clear. Russia presents the greatest challenge to international law and order since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. And even though the West has much greater superiority over Russia -- both economically and militarily -- than it ever had over the Soviet Union, today's leaders are reluctant to take advantage of this asymmetry.

The problem, perhaps, is due to the ambivalence of most regional experts that guide Western leaders' thinking. Their fundamental misreading of Russia is based on the fact that they don't understand the difference between the Soviet nomenclatura and modern Russia's corrupt elite. They grossly underestimate the attachment of Russian elites to their mansions and bank accounts in the West. Likewise, Moscow's key decision-makers are way more dependent financially and psychologically on the West than the bureaucrats of the Brezhnev era. Sanctions can successfully divide this group from Putin's inside circle, but they have to go further and exact greater pain.

And yet, despite President Barack Obama's rhetoric, the West -- particularly Europe -- appears reluctant to impose tougher sanctions. Unlike during the Cold War, Western companies draw much more benefit from Russia today, and thus they too will have to pay the price of sanctions. But after the first round of sanctions, stocks rebounded as markets were relieved that the measures didn't seem far-reaching. So how does the West expect to be taken seriously by Putin when even Wall Street isn't buying the seriousness of the Western alliance's intentions? The dilemma is simple: Is the West willing to pay this price now, or delay the decision and pay a much higher price in the future?

The choice can best be described in medical terms. The cancer of Russian aggression first showed up in Georgia, but the West decided to neglect the diagnosis and preferred to treat the illness with aspirin. Crimea is the metastasis of what happened in Georgia, and yet the West is still excluding the surgical option -- that is to say military intervention -- as carrying too high a risk. But at least it should apply chemotherapy. Yes, this means that the West will feel the effects of its own drugs, and particularly European companies in the short term. But in the long term, this painful dose is the only way to help kill the cancer that is Putin.

Winston Churchill once prophetically told Hitler's appeasers: "You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war." Surely, we cannot expect modern-day politicians obsessed with polls and midterm elections to be Churchillian all the time. But at a minimum they should not want to go down in history as the Neville Chamberlains of the 21st century. And misreading Putin for the man that he is -- and has always been -- is at the heart of appeasement.

Ed Johnson for FP