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"Inhumanity, when it is systematised as it is in dictatorial and genocidal regimes, is not only an outrage against common human values, but it also carries very real security implications."
Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution
Led by Kyle Matthews, the W2I researchers interviewed more than 80 high-level policy makers, members of Congress and Parliament, NGO representatives, and journalists in Canada and the U.S., some for the first time on record. After more than 18 months of work, W2I’s first report, Mobilizing the Will to Intervene: Leadership and Action to Prevent Mass Atrocities, was released in the fall of 2009 throughout North America. Drawing on the lessons learned from the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and the 1999 Kosovo crisis, the report made key recommendations to government officials, legislators, civil society and the media in the United States and Canada to generate the political will to prevent mass atrocities.
The key to mobilizing international support to prevent mass atrocities is to garner domestic support. This was one of the central arguments of The Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the 2001 report prepared by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. The W2I Project has sought to operationalize R2P principles in Canada and the United States to parallel efforts being made in the international realm. First and foremost, it is imperative that national strategies be developed for the generation of domestic political will to implement the R2P principles. A focused set of policy recommendations tailored to improve the Canadian and U.S. governments’ planning to prevent mass atrocities were formulated under three themes: enabling leadership, enhancing coordination, and building capacity. Under a fourth rubric, ensuring knowledge, W2I set forth recommendations geared towards civil society organizations and the news media with a view to strengthening their ability to influence government policy. Strong prodding from civil society organizations and the news media is essential when governments do not exercise the “responsibility to protect” on their own.
The case for the prevention of mass atrocities once rested largely on moral imperatives and upholding international treaties and conventions. Despite the UN Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Geneva Conventions and their subsequent protocols, treaties to which Canada and the U.S. are signatories, arguments based on morality and legal obligations have not carried sufficient weight to overwhelm the cold statecraft calculations that traditionally inform government notions of the “national interest.” One of the most frequently voiced arguments for explaining the international community’s failure to halt the Rwandan Genocide derived from government assessments that deeper involvement was not in the national interest and risking the lives of soldiers would diminish electoral support.
A modern understanding of the national interest requires a greater emphasis on the prevention of mass atrocities by leaders. In today’s unstable and interdependent global environment, the traditional national interest approach to foreign policy is no longer effective. The combined impact of poverty and inequality, rapid demographic growth, nationalism, and climate change drives deadly violence and threatens international peace and security. These underlying structural factors increase the risks of mass atrocities, and the chaos resulting from those atrocities poses credible dangers to Canadian and American national interests at home and abroad. If we continue to deal with looming genocides and other mass atrocities in a reactive manner, we will confront more than just the moral failure to save lives; inevitably, Canada and the U.S. will face threats to their own national security and prosperity.
- Mass atrocities, with their chaos and mass loss of life, produce shock waves which reverberate throughout the rest of today’s global village—seismic wrecking balls destabilizing and destroying social, economic, health, and political infrastructures. This is a cardinal lesson of the Rwandan Genocide. The front lines of our defenses against terrorism and piracy, pandemics, and lost access to strategic raw materials and trade are in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the very regions that fell off our radar screens after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s.
- In the coming decade, the leaders of the United States and Canada should redefine our countries’ vital national interests to include the prevention of mass atrocities, not just for humanitarian reasons, but also in the self-interest of our own citizens.
- Generating the international political will necessary to prevent mass atrocities remains one of the central challenges of the 21st century. The United Nations and other international institutions are made up of national governments whose primary concern is to retain the political support of their core domestic constituencies. We must recognize that the key to mobilizing international support to prevent mass atrocities is to first garner domestic political support.
Between February 2008 and April 2009, the W2I research team travelled extensively throughout North America to meet and interview the key individuals who have extensive knowledge of the US and Canada’s response to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and the 1999 crisis in Kosovo. The W2I research team also met with and interviewed a small select group of influencial politicians and foreign policy experts.
A focused set of policy recommendations tailored to improve the US and Canadian governments’ planning to prevent mass atrocities are formulated under three rubrics: enabling leadership, enhancing coordination, and building capacity. Under a fourth rubric, ensuring knowledge, W2I sets forth recommendations directed towards civil society organizations and the news media with a view to strengthening their ability to influence government policy. Pressure from civil society organizations and the news media is essential when governments do not exercise the“responsibility to protect” on their own. W2I’s recommendations have been sent to the highest levels of the American and Canadian governments.