In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, President Obama urged the global community to intervene early, and work together, in responding to mass atrocities. "The closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression," he said.
A new Council on Foreign Relations special report tackles these themes and recommends specific ways to intervene to stop genocide and mass atrocities.
"The United States should take independent steps and work with allies to improve the responsiveness of the existing UN Security Council system while preparing and signaling a willingness, if the UN Security Council fails to act in future mass atrocity crises, to take necessary action to address them," writes CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Matthew Waxman, author of the report.
Waxman argues that "early preventive action is often critical to effective crisis response. Determining mass atrocities in the first place averts the human toll before it accumulates, and is also sometimes easier than stopping atrocities before they start."
Waxman argues that U.S. strategy should include support for "responsibility to protect" - a concept that suggest that if a particular country is unwilling or unable to carry out its responsibility to protect its people, that responsibility must be transferred to the international community.
Waxman says that, while nonmilitary mechanisms are almost always a preferred option, military threats and force remain important.
Among the recommendations in the report:
- The United States should emphasize appropriate limits on Security Council vetoes: "In affirming its own commitment to the responsibility to protect, the United States should declare that each of the five permanent Security Council members has a special responsibility to uphold global norms and that the veto power should not be used to block timely and decisive action when genocide or crimes against humanity are manifestly occurring…"
- Like-minded allies should be encouraged to issue similar or joint political statements on atrocity prevention and Security Council vetoes, while redoubling diplomacy on these issues with the Southern Hemisphere: "In the short term, similar statements from allies like Britain and France would reinforce the U.S. message supporting the responsibility to protect and the deterrent value of pledging in advance strong crisis response."
- The United States should take the lead in stressing the responsibility to protect and the need for timely and decisive action in its diplomacy on other multilateral legal issues: "The United States should integrate discussion of atrocity prevention and the responsibility to protect with its diplomacy on both UN Security Council reform and the International Criminal Court…" In particular, the United States should "make clear that it regards as unacceptable any reform proposal that undermines rather than improves the Security Council's effectiveness in addressing ... mass atrocity crises."
- The U.S. should be prepared to act in cases of urgent necessity - even if the UN Security Council fails to authorize it: "Although it should not go so far as to declare in advance an explicit intention to do so, the United States should not completely hide its willingness to do so either."