Last August, President Obama, in announcing a directive to explore how to improve the US Government’s capacity to respond to genocide and threats of genocide, declared that genocide prevention was in the national security interest of the United States and one of our core moral responsibilities.
Today at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the President rolled out the results of that historic directive: a new package of reforms that we hope will enhance how our government approaches the critical matter of preventing the world’s worst crimes.
Preventing genocide and mass atrocities has long been core to the Museum’s mission, as a key way in which we honor the victims of the Holocaust and give meaning to the promise of “Never Again.” Through our co-sponsorship of the 2008 Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF) co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, we have led the way with research and policy initiatives that support the kind of government reforms that the President announced today.
Several of the recommendations called for by the Albright-Cohen Task Force were included in today’s announcement, including: the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, made up of senior officials from across our government who will monitor and help speed and improve the US response when mass atrocities are threatened; a reallocation of intelligence resources so that we can detect sooner and have a deeper understanding of emerging conflicts before they become crises; and improved training for our diplomats and military personnel who may find themselves at the center of crimes against civilians, and who are in many cases our first and best lines of response.
In addition to our ability to foresee and detect crises—what we call “early warning”—the other critical component of the President’s message today involved our ability to respond to crises before they escalate into full scale violence. The GPTF suggested a range of options that went beyond simple rhetorical condemnation, but that fell short of pressing for US military intervention. Today’s announcement of targeted sanctions, travel bans, legal prosecution, and access denial presents new and more powerful options that hopefully will change the calculus of would-be offenders before situations reach crisis proportions.
While we are keenly interested in the details of the President’s plan, it should be noted that this initiative also sends a very strong signal that protecting civilian lives is a national security interest on a par with other competing foreign policy priorities. We hope that other countries are encouraged by this example and undertake similar programs.
This initiative should also offer a sober warning to those leaders around the world who believe that they can commit crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide unnoticed and unpunished.