Note: In response to my previous post on the
hazards of the new Atrocities Prevention Board, Andrew Miller of the Council on
Foreign Relations' Center for Preventive Action offers the following
alternative view. I'm not persuaded, but it is a thoughtful and
intelligent rejoinder that I wanted to share with you. Take it away,
Andrew Miller writes:
Stephen Walt's skepticism of the
recently-announced Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) is understandable. New
bureaucracies often create more problems than they solve. But, the APB is a
worthwhile (albeit, modest) attempt to improve the government's mass atrocity
prevention and response efforts. A close look at the board shows that it has
the potential to both avert atrocities and lessen the likelihood of
humanitarian interventions -- outcomes that realists, of course, can welcome with
The APB will help ensure that atrocity
situations don't get sidelined in the policymaking process. The Clinton
administration failed to address the 1994 Rwandan genocide in part because
White House officials were focused on the dual crises in Bosnia and Haiti.
Thus, as hundreds of thousands died in Rwanda, the genocide wasn't even a
side-show for policymakers; it was a "no show" in the words of
then-national security advisor Tony Lake.
The APB, as a standing body with senior
officials (assistant secretaries and above), would be well-positioned to avoid
such bloodshed becoming a "no-show". In tandem with the board, the
president has vowed to set up "alert channels" that allow lower-level
officials to raise red flags about potential atrocities. The APB could serve as
a conduit in processing these warnings and ultimately getting them to the Oval
Office if warranted.
Does that mean the U.S. military is more likely
to find itself in places of negligible U.S. interests such as Rwanda? Simply
As the board's title suggests, it will focus on
prevention. Thus, its success will be measured on its ability to prevent
tensions from deteriorating to the point where intervention is even considered.
With a preventive approach, the United States can save more lives while expending
less blood and treasure. Preventive tools such as economic sanctions or threats
of prosecution used to deter would-be perpetrators and protect would-be victims
are almost always cheaper and less risky than large-scale military operations.
Given the board's interagency make-up, it can
leverage these preventive tools rather than relying on the military to resolve
crises. The APB will have representatives from the departments of State,
Defense, Treasure, Justice, Homeland Security, among others, with the White
House's director for multilateral affairs Samantha Power chairing the group.
This broad representation will help make the military less of a go-to
institution for dealing with atrocities as has been the case since the end of
the Cold War.
It is fair to ask, what happens if preventive
action fails? Or, as Walt puts it, "how likely is it that [the APB] will
recommend doing little or nothing the next time something bad happens?"
While the APB will probably recommend taking serious mitigating steps, there is
a wide range of measures short of a large-scale military operation. Even Power,
whom the National Interest has dubbed "Interventionista", stresses
measures beyond "sending in the Marines." In her book A Problem from
Hell, she lays out a host of policies that the Clinton administration could
have taken during Rwanda: frequently denouncing the slaughter, beefing up the
United Nations peacekeeper force there, jamming belligerent radio broadcasts
used to coordinate attacks, threatening to prosecute the perpetrators, etc.
These are the sorts of measures that the APB
will rely upon. In fact, the Obama administration has already used them to help
end last year's bloodshed in Ivory Coast. Atrocities broke out there when
opposition forces tried to unseat incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo who had
lost the country's November 2010 elections. The administration subsequently
slapped sanctions on the main perpetrators, backed the United Nations
peacekeeping mission in-country, and ultimately supported a French troop deployment.
Tensions in Ivory Coast remain today, but the mass killings have stopped.
The APB would not have made intervention in
Ivory Coast any more likely. Walt accurately states that there are "good
strategic reasons why outside powers choose to stay out of wars or brutal
internal conflicts." Even if the APB had advocated for U.S. troops, there
is little reason to believe that Obama would have deployed them to a place of
negligible U.S. interests. (Perhaps the only effect Ivorian instability had on
Americans was a rise in chocolate prices.) In other words, the president's
strategic calculus on Ivory Coast was set, and the APB would not have changed
that -- a good thing from the realist point of view.
Finally, Walt raises the uncomfortable reality
of the United States' spotty human rights record. He argues that past U.S.
misdeeds make the APB just another example of American "smug
self-congratulation." If one takes a victim's perspective, however, this
smugness seems less relevant. Srebrenica's Muslims, for example, surely would
have appreciated American help in July 1995 regardless of U.S. sanctions on
Iraq at the time. In the same vein, would the United States want to end its
fight against human trafficking (modern-day slavery in many respects) given its
pre-1860s history? Most realists (presumably Walt included) would say, no.
As this blog has made clear, realists are not
divorced from morality. Like anybody else, they don't want to see Rwandan
rivers choked with bodies or emaciated Bosnians behind barbed wire. They also
don't want to see the United States' national security imperiled by military
overstretch. The APB is a modest step toward reaching both ends.
Andrew C. Miller is a research associate at the
Council on Foreign Relations' Center for Preventive Action. He can be found on
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