WASHINGTON - A bipartisan task force of former top national security policymakers is calling on the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama to make the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities overseas a top U.S. foreign policy priority.
In a report released here Monday, the group, which was co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton's Pentagon chief, William Cohen, and secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, argued that mass atrocities threaten core U.S. national interests and that the national security bureaucracy should be reformed to reflect that priority.
Its release came on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the U.N.'s adoption of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the 20th anniversary of its final ratification by the United States.
In particular, the group called for the creation of an Inter-Agency Atrocities Prevention Committee in the National Security Council, incorporating guidance on preventing and responding to genocide into U.S. military doctrine, and requiring the intelligence community to report in its annual analysis on possible threats to the U.S. to include possible genocidal situations around the world.
Its report, "Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers", also called for building the capacity of international institutions -- including NATO, regional organisations, and the United Nations -- to prevent genocide and mass atrocities and for earmarking 250 million dollars each year in the foreign aid budget for dealing with urgent situations, unilaterally if necessary.
"The central premise of our report is that genocide is unacceptable and that we can and should do more to prevent it," said Albright. "The United States does not bear this burden alone, but we have both a duty and a profound interest in helping to show the way."
The report, which was published jointly by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the Endowment of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), is the latest of many by think tanks and other organisations that hope to influence the incoming Obama administration.
The bipartisan character of this task force should make it one of the more attractive to the new administration. While Cohen served in the Clinton years, he previously served as a Republican senator from Maine. Other Republican members of the task force included former Sen. and U.N. Amb. John Danforth, former Reps. Jack Kemp and Vin Weber, former George W. Bush speech writer Michael Gerson; and the late Julia Taft, who served as George H.W. Bush's overseas emergency coordinator and later as president of InterAction, a coalition of some 160 non-governmental U.S. development and relief groups.
Other members of the group included a close adviser to Obama, former Senate Democratic Leader and Secretary of Health and Human Services-Designate Tom Daschle; former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman; the elder Bush's U.N. ambassador, Thomas Pickering, and the former chief of the U.S. Central Command, ret. Gen. Anthony Zinni, who is known to get along well with Obama's national security adviser, ret. Gen. James Jones.
During the presidential campaign, Obama argued that the U.S. should seek to lead the international community in reaction to genocide or ethnic cleansing and suggested from time to time that the Bush administration had not done enough to halt what it has continued to call "genocide" in Darfur.
"We could be providing logistical support, setting up a no-fly zone at relatively little cost to us, but we can only do it if we can help mobilise the international community and lead," he said. "And that's what I intend to do when I'm president."
He also anticipated one of the main arguments in the new report that the U.S. has important interests at stake in preventing genocide in relation to the 1994 Rwanda genocide, suggesting that Washington should have done more than it did. "(W)hen genocide is happening somewhere around the world and we stand idly by, that diminishes us," he said.
"And so I do believe that we have to consider it as part of our...national interests in intervening where possible. But understand that there's a lot of cruelty around the world. We're not going to be able to be everywhere all the time," he went on. "That's why it's so important for us to be able to work in concert with our allies."
Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama's secretary of state-designate, also spoke out strongly in favour of stronger action to prevent and halt genocide during the presidential campaign, and his U.N. ambassador-designate, Susan Rice, who served as Albright's top Africa aide in the State Department, was reportedly deeply affected by her visit to Rwanda after the genocide there and called repeatedly over the last several years for the Bush administration to take stronger measures, including limited military strikes, against the Sudanese government and Janjaweed forces in Darfur.
The other two major national security figures appointed by Clinton so far, Pentagon chief Robert Gates and Jones, have been far more circumspect, suggesting that Washington focus more on training and providing logistical support to regional and national forces in preventing mass killings than in deploying U.S. forces themselves, particularly given existing U.S. military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Pentagon's current efforts -- strongly resisted in some quarters -- to make counter-insurgency as much of a priority in Washington's military doctrine as conventional warfare.
Nonetheless, Cohen predicted that the new report would be well received by both Gates and Jones, with whom he has worked for nearly 30 years. "Given (Jones's) experience in working and helping to stabilise Afghanistan and elsewhere, I think we'll find a very receptive administration," he told reporters.
The report repeatedly stressed the importance of both early warning and early preventive action to ensure that full-scale intervention would not be necessary. "The choice we face in trying to prevent genocide is rarely a case of all or nothing," said Albright. "There is a broad range of foreign policy options between standing aside and ordering in the Marines."
The inter-agency group would be tasked with analysing the threats and its warning that such a threat existed would automatically trigger a full-scale policy review, according to the report. At the same time, Washington should launch a "major diplomatic initiative" to create an international network -- both official and non-governmental -- for information-sharing and coordinated action.
While the U.N. Security Council will always be the first resort to respond to the threat or reality of genocide or mass atrocities, Washington should be prepared to resort to bodies such as NATO, or "try to assemble a coalition of like-minded nations" to take action if the Council does not approve a sufficiently strong resolution. At the same time, it should try to gain agreement from the other permanent Council members on forgoing the use of their vetoes in cases concerning genocide or mass atrocities.