The situation in Libya has brought the spotlight to the challenge of preventing mass violence against civilians. Lawrence Woocher, senior program officer for the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention discusses the current developments in Libya and talks about USIP's Genocide Prevention Task Force.
March 4, 2011
The situation in Libya has brought the spotlight to the challenge of preventing mass violence against civilians. Lawrence Woocher, senior program officer for the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention discusses the current developments in Libya and talks about USIP's Genocide Prevention Task Force which USIP co-sponsored, along with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Academy of Diplomacy.
- How has the task force influenced the U.S. government’s thinking?
- How should this approach inform U.S. action towards Libya?
One of the task force’s major recommendations was for the President and other senior officials to demonstrate that preventing genocide and mass atrocities is a priority for the United States, including by speaking out publicly on the issue. Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech last week at the Holocaust Museum in which he articulated a “four-fold” approach to genocide prevention by the Obama administration, which closely tracked themes from the task force: (1) “recognize early indicators of potential atrocities, and respond accordingly,” (2) “develop and implement strategies to prevent atrocities before they occur,” (3) “enhance the training and enrich the doctrine that guide our foreign service officers and our military personnel in their work to identify potential and confront actual atrocities,” and, (4) “work with our international partners to coordinate our efforts.” The Vice President also reported the creation of “the first ever White House position to coordinate policies on preventing, identifying and responding to mass atrocities in genocide,” directly following one of the Genocide Prevention Task Force’s recommendations.
A general policy framework like the one Biden described can’t dictate actions in any particular case. But it does provide some hints. While the crisis in Libya may not have been foreseen, by now there is no doubt about the acute risk of massive violence against civilians. Although current options may be unattractive, past experience suggests that future options will become even riskier and more costly if violence is allowed to fester. The Genocide Prevention Task Force emphasized the need to consider a wide range of measures, including those focused on decision makers (e.g., targeted sanctions against Qadaffi), lower level potential perpetrators (e.g., incentives for Libyan soldiers to defect), potential victims (e.g., emergency humanitarian assistance), and influential third parties (e.g., engaging with neighboring governments to enforce an arms embargo). Lastly, while emphasizing the importance of concerted action with international partners, Biden said “sometimes that requires us being somewhat forceful.” This comment is particularly interesting in light of debate about a possible “no-fly zone” in Libya, which President Barack Obama acknowledged the United States is considering despite lack of broad international support.
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- Steven Heydemann on Libya
On the Issues | February 2011
- Genocide Prevention Task Force
- Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention