“They’re looking at me with my blue beret and they’re saying, “What in the hell happened? We were moving towards peace. You were there as the guarantor” — their interpretation — “of the mandate. How come I’m dying here?” Those eyes dominated and they’re absolutely right. How come I failed? How come my mission failed?” Roméo Dallaire, writing in Shake Hands with the Devil, poured out those tormenting questions. They afflict not only his conscience; these questions seep into the minds of many.

Today, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies released a report, calling on Canada and other nations to intervene diplomatically and militarily to stop genocide. Drawing upon the catastrophe of the Rwandan genocide and the events of Kosovo in 1999, the report urged that the Prime Minister create a portfolio minister responsible for coordinating anti-genocide policies and that preventing genocides should become a priority. The idea of coordinating greater diplomatic effort towards ending and preventing genocides is a good one, and a cause that must be supported by every political party, but the call to intervene military is a dangerous one. Supporting military intervention entails asking tough questions about when it is right to intervene and if it would even work.

The institute and its Will to Intervene project, which released the report, have morally laudable goals. They do not just cry genocide from a pulpit but rather study how to mobilize North American public opinion against ongoing genocides. One of the report’s insights–that of intervening diplomatically as early as possible to prevent genocide–is particularly valuable. We have long evaded our moral responsibility to act by hiding behind the veil of state sovereignty. But state sovereignty is a limited concept, born out of 17th century European inter-state conflict and the Treaty of Westphalia. It ignores the changing reality of an interdependent world–not only in terms of economics, but in terms of values, politics and communities. We are each somehow closely affected by conflict elsewhere through the people we know, through the ideas we espouse or the values we share. The idea that state boundaries, which were often drawn up haphazardly in Africa and Asia, still reflect the interests of many people does not bear true.

Does this mean that the rights of states should be done away with? No, because they remain the only, if imperfect, way for people to represent their aspirations and interests at a global level. The discussion about the rights of states is an important one if we are to fully understand the implications of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine supported by the Institute for Genocide Studies. The report made a perilous call upon Canada and the western world to intervene militarily to stop genocides. But what gives other countries the right to attack others without provocation, and more importantly, what gives other countries the right to determine–and from what basis–that a country has relinquished or lost its right to not be invaded. It opens up many questions: did Israel’s invasion of Gaza constitute a genocide? Or does Lebanon support genocide by allowing Hezbollah, a group that has vowed to destroy Israel, to function in its territories? At the release of the report, Robert Fowler, a former Canadian diplomat feebly asserted “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out when outside intervention is warranted.” This is akin to the you’ll-know-it when-you-see-it test, a test that places no limits and is easily manipulated.

A more bothersome implication of the right to militarily intervene is that it assumes that armed force can successfully stop conflict and that it does not have any consequences of its own. The report drew its lessons from Kosovo, where a peacekeeping and military operations was capable of preventing a spiral of violence. The Kosovo-model cannot, however, be replicated everywhere. Some places, like Afghanistan and the Congo, have proved difficult to peacekeep in because of longstanding local rivalries and the lack of sufficient military resources. The Congo is a deeply underfunded peacekeeping mission, a fact that would remain so because armies across the western world are stretched. Military power, as we should have learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, is a blunt instrument–successful at exacting casualties but ineffective at keeping peace.

Military intervention in the name of genocide is thus both a malleable–and easily abused–ideal and a blunt one at that. By defining or associating the anti-genocide movement with a call for military intervention the movement risks placing too much political capital in an idea that would ultimately have drastic consequences. It is far more effective to embrace the ideal of diplomatic engagement in preventing genocides than to wade into the questionable currents of armed intervention. With a strongly defined policy prescription for stopping genocides, urging the diplomatic route over the militarized, the Institute and the movement can speak with a powerful voice and an assured morality, one that cannot be subsumed by those with malicious intents.

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