Monday, May 08, 2006

Military Power As First Resort?

TNR raises a very valid point here.

The '90s were a decade of genocides--unimpeded (Rwanda) and partially impeded (Bosnia) and impeded (Kosovo). The relative success of those genocides was owed generally to the indifference of that chimera known as "the international community," but, more specifically, it was owed to the learning curve of an American president about the moral--and therefore the operational--difference between genocide and other foreign policy crises. The difference is simple. In the response to most foreign policy crises, the use of military force is properly viewed as a last resort. In the response to genocide, the use of military force is properly viewed as a first resort.

The notion of force as a first resort defies the foundations of diplomacy and also of common sense: A willingness to use hard power abroad must not become a willingness to use it wildly. But if you are not willing to use force against genocide immediately, then you do not understand what genocide is. Genocide is not a crisis that escalates into evil. It is evil from its inception. It may change in degree if it is allowed to proceed, but it does not change in kind. It begins with the worst. Nor is its gravity to be measured quantitatively: The intention to destroy an entire group is present in the destruction of even a small number of people from that group. It makes no sense, therefore, to speak of ending genocide later. If you end it later, you will not have ended it. If Hitler had been stopped after the murder of three million Jews, would he be said to have failed? Four hundred thousand Darfuris have already been murdered by the Janjaweed, the Arab Einsatzgruppen. If we were to prevent the murder of the 400,001st, will we be said to have succeeded?


This is the trouble with stopping genocide. Institutions like NATO and the UN require a lot of stumbling blocks before military force is authorized. This is generally due to the good-natured intent of allowing diplomacy to defuse any crisis before it boils into war. This becomes a terrible weakness in an emergency case like genocide. What is needed in genocide is not a negotiation between two nations or even factions, but an immediate intervention to stop the massacre of one by the other. Talks don't do any good once killing has already begun. Dispute and conflict resolution are of little use when the knives are out and the goal is to kill as many people as fast as possible. This distinction also convincingly explains why the UN has been such a failure in stopping these crises, and why it likely will continue to be one.