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Council on Foreign Relations Press
Council Special Report No. 22
A lot has been said about the need to take action to stop and prevent mass atrocities. But less has been done.
States continue to engage in mass atrocities, in part because they believe it will be tolerated by the rest of the world. Other states tend to acquiesce because they do not perceive their national interests are at stake. Finding a workable way out of this cycle is not simply a matter of scruples; it is also a matter of security. State failure and genocide can lead to destabilizing refugee flows and create openings for terrorism to take root.
Recent history is, in fact, somewhat mixed. NATO’s intervention in Kosovo was an example where a number of governments chose to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide. By contrast, the mass killing in Rwanda a decade ago and now in Darfur, Sudan, demonstrate the high price of judging sovereignty to be supreme and thus doing little to prevent the slaughter of innocents.
Senior Fellow Lee Feinstein points to the UN’s acceptance of the notion that sovereignty may need to be compromised when a government is unable or unwilling to provide for the basic needs of those within its state borders. The challenge for the United States and the international community is to translate this principle into practice. To that end, this report recommends that the new UN secretary-general take genocide prevention as a mission statement and mandate, and place it at the center of his and his organization’s agenda. The report also makes a number of recommendations for the United States and others to build a sustainable capacity for genocide prevention that is substantial enough to deal with inevitable crises, but sustainable given other national security demands. Feinstein makes a strong case that this is doable—that is, if the international community is prepared to do it.
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Lee Feinstein is senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy and international law at the Council on Foreign Relations. Feinstein was senior adviser for peacekeeping and peace enforcement policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1994–95. He served as member and associate director of the Policy Planning Staff under Secretary of State Warren Christopher and as principal deputy director of policy planning under Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. Feinstein served as a human rights adviser on the 2005 congressional Task Force on U.S. Interests and the United Nations, chaired by Newt Gingrich and George Mitchell, and was a principal drafter of the report. He directed the independent task force on Enhancing U.S. Leadership at the United Nations, cosponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and Freedom House in 2002. Feinstein serves on the board of directors of the private Arms Control Association and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is admitted to the practice of law in New York and Washington, DC.
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