Tuesday, December 16, 2008

genocide prevention, continued

Amazingly, the reader responses on Matthew Yglesias's blog are actually largely intelligent, which is almost unheard of on internet comment forums. Normally internet comment forums attract the shallow end of the gene pool, but there were so many interesting responses to Yglesias's genocide post that referenced my post that I feel a need to respond to the best of them. So here we go:

Kolohe (#8) says:
Ok, I’ll bite. How can one tell the difference a priori between something like Kenya and something like Rwanda? Because it certainly seemed like in Rwanada all that happened was the international community trying to ‘grasp thoroughly the ethnonationalistic motivations of all actors in a conflict, and work towards implementing diplomatic solutions that head off the worst impulses of these actors’ when what was needed was ‘”sending in the troops” to stop the bad guys from doing bad things’.

Trying to contain the damage around the edges of a conflict doesn’t really solve anything
On this I strongly disagree as well. I concur with your spectrum of resolution, prevention, enforcement, as well as not landing right in the middle of a hot LZ guns ablazing. However, on the margin is where (an appropriately multilateral and authorized) force could do the most good. Think of like fighting wildfires. The centers are a lost cause, and pre-fire prevention and abatement is obviously the most bang for the buck. But while the conflagation is in progress, fighting it around the edges to push it back and moreover to prevent it spreading is the best and really only way to fight it.

A good point on Rwanda, BUT there was ample evidence in advance that the motivations of the Hutu extremists was to start and extermination campaign. The UN force that was already there to secure a fragile peace had a responsibility to nip that in the bud. It tried. The UN Security Council and troop contributing countries had a responsibility to back that force up with mandate and materiel. They didn't. As for Yglesias's point that "trying to contain the damage around the edges doesn't really solve anything," the point is that merely protecting civilians across the border in Chad won't save Darfur. Only a political settlement that will lead the government and rebels and militias to stop making war on each other, allowing a UN force to reestablish security and keep the peace (which is what UN forces are for) will ultimately solve the conflict. Unless you want to "liberate" Darfur as we did Kosovo.

Robert Waldmann (#11):
Ambassador at Large is setting up a straw man when he raises the issue of Kenya. No one proposed sending in foreign troops (he could have used the case of the USA in 2000 just as well).

Myanmar doesn’t work very well for AaL for several reasons. For one thing, the people of Myanmar made their wishes very clear in the last election, but their will was thwarted. In a case where the people’s will is clear, why shouldn’t foreigners help them ? Same goes for re-installing Aristide in Haiti or (I assure you) removing Coard from power in Grenada. For another, the military regime in Burma is horrible and not just horrible in the imediate aftermath of typhoons

What about Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraqi Kurdistan ? I mean there have been a few armed interventions into ethnic conflict. I’d be interested in his opinions on things that were actually done not something which no one proposed.

OK now Sudan. On one side there is, among other things, a military dictator who uses militias who murder civilians to fight a possible threat to his power. Now what does a dictator have to do to lose the protection of international law ? I’d say bombing hospitals should count as crossing a line which makes a civil war not civil for the purposes of international law. The Bashir regime has done that.

There is huge human suffering. There is a military dictatorship. That regime has violated the rules of war. To me the case would be clear *if* there weren’t insane hawks in the USA who might be in power again and would use the intervention as a precedent. On the other hand, they will do insane things in any case when they are back in power. I mean does anyone really think that if Clinton had respected Haitian and Serbian sovereignty then Bush would have stayed out of Iraq ?

A good critique. My response:

- "No one proposed sending in foreign troops" to Kenya. But why? What is the difference between Kenya and Zimbabwe? Hundreds of people were killed in Kenya, and hundreds of thousands displace. I rather feel that Annan's diplomacy there was MORE successful because the threat of foreign interference was nonexistent, whereas Mugabe seems almost obsessed with thwarting what he sees as Western neocolonial designs.

- On Myanmar, I'm fully aware the regime is horrible, and that the democratic will of the people has been denied. However, if you invaded Burma, you'd end up with a population that has myriad ethnic cleavages, and a country of mountainous jungle terrain, no infrastructure, plus great power backing for the military junta from China. Oh, and it's twice the population of Iraq. Ethnic groups like the Karen would expect their own country or autonomy, and would get mad when they didn't get it. You'd basically end up Iraq, but twice as populous, even more formidable terrain, and with China quite possibly backing a military insurgency. (Needless to say, relations with China would suffer dramatically if we invaded their client state.) Again, this is not a case where military invasion will make the country better off, and it would come at great cost to both us and the Burmese.

- The other examples you give of successful military interventions are not necessarily applicable. Bosnia was a case of clear international aggression across borders. Kosovo was a rare case where we basically took sides in an ethnic war and granted independence to an autonomous breakaway zone. Can we imagine that happening in Darfur? I doubt it. The de facto protection given to Iraqi Kurdistan would be a compelling case if there wasn't an active rebellion going on in Sudan. If we stopped the government from its worst atrocities with a no fly zone, and the rebels kept fighting, the region would be plunged into greater anarchy, and nothing would be solved. A political settlement is essential, and without one no military action will ultimately be effective beyond the immediate short term.

You know, I’ve been concerned about the Darfur “genocide” for a long time. What’s it been now, 4 years? 5? But I’m starting to wonder. Either the Janjaweed are really slow inefficient genociders or this isn’t a genocide. I mean, shouldn’t they have killed everyone by now?

The genocide in Darfur is over. The active killing campaign took place in 2003 and 2004. After that, the situation spiraled out of control into anarchy, with rebels, militias, government troops and bandits shooting at each other, at civilians, and at humanitarian agents and peacekeepers. Now the problem is lawlessness. as much as a genocidal campaign by the janjaweed. This is why a political settlement is so essential.

Peter K. (#24):
AoL: But Rwanda, as Albright herself today said, was “volcanic” violence. It was almost unprecedented in its virulence and speed, and it was in many ways unique. Darfur is the genocide of the future, the brutal suppression of ethno-geographic rebellion. With diplomatic skill, perhaps we can head off the worst before it happens. But we basically can’t do anything to stop such an event once it starts. The sooner we accept that, the better.

I don’t agree. As Samantha Power has written, many things short of military intervention - like jamming radio signals - can be done, although with Rwanda, the US should have intervened.

The US should sign on to the International Criminal Court so that genocidal dictators will be assured they are not safe within their sovererign immunity. Milosevic - who enabled genocide against the muslim Bosnians - and Saddam - who committed genocide against the Kurds - paid the price and serve as warnings. And there are other examples. Unfortunately China and Russia are making the UN irrelevant by blocking many things interfering with “sovereignty.”
The punishment of criminals serves as a good deterrent. But I agree with Matt and AoL, more preventative diplomacy is needed. And we shouldn’t define genocide down, as Russia did with the South Ossetians.

I read Power's book, and I do agree, there were many little things the US could have done to help mitigate the Rwandan genocide or make it less virulent. But ultimately that killing was going to go on until the UN force stopped it, or until somebody won. The UN force didn't stop it, so Paul Kagame's Tutsi militia ousted the Hutus, saved Rwanda, and destroyed eastern Congo for a generation. I can't really blame him.

Ultimately, like I've said, I'm not against genocide prevention, and there are times where unilateral action is both necessary and effective in the face of Security Council blockage. But these are exceedingly rare, and such proposals should be viewed with the utmost skepticism.

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