Lawrence Woocher, senior program officer at the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Mike Abramowitz, director of the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, recently published an essay in Foreign Policy magazine, describing the impact of genocide on national security and outlining next steps for genocide prevention. Woocher and Abramowitz, both active members of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, present an optimistic perspective on the Obama administration’s approach to genocide prevention.
The article begins with a reference to the Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair’s recent annual threat assessment, in which Blair described South Sudan as the most likely region to experience genocide or mass killings in the near future. The threat assessment, according to Woocher and Abramowitz, was an “underappreciated breakthrough.” Blair’s assessment, however, was “just one of several signs that Barack Obama’s administration is rethinking Washington’s response to genocide”:
This month’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a touchstone planning document for the military, states that the Defense Department should be prepared to offer the president with options for "preventing human suffering due to mass atrocities or large-scale natural disasters abroad." Although the previous QDR in 2006 also referred to humanitarian missions, it did not contemplate responses to mass atrocities. So now for the first time, the military should begin a much-needed process of strategic thinking about preventing genocide.
Even more promising, the White House has moved quietly in the last several weeks to create a high-level interagency committee at the National Security Council aimed at anticipating and preventing mass atrocities. This committee should force policymakers to grapple with the risk of mass atrocities early on, before crises get out of control. It should take control of a process now fragmented between agencies, helping combat the bureaucratic lethargy and ad hoc decision-making that has characterized past U.S. responses to genocide.
The Obama administration’s gradual incorporation of the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force report indicates a seriousness of purpose on the issue of genocide and mass atrocities prevention not witnessed in other administrations. This progress should also be an encouragement for anti-genocide activists, as we continue to pressure the administration to prioritize genocide prevention. Woocher and Abramowitz’s article makes clear that this process need also be a priority for our national security.