Friday, December 22, 2006

Genocide Division

Here's an intriguing idea. Michael O'Hanlon, a leading liberal foreign policy thinker and Brookings Institute scholar, calls for the creation of a dedicated anti-genocide division of the US Army, numbering around 20,000 troops. The argument is that we should never be restrained from fighting genocide simply because our troops are otherwise occupied (in, say, Iraq):
A genocide-prevention division within the U.S. Army would circumvent this problem. Since its only mission would be to stop genocides, deploying the force would never require us to ask more of soldiers who already have their hands full with other conflicts. Moreover, those volunteering for the new force would know exactly what they were getting into and enlist specifically because they embraced the mission. These soldiers could be recruited from the ranks of idealistic college and high school students across the nation who have done so much to keep Darfur in the public eye.

I think O'Hanlon is a little over-optimistic about how the division would play out in real life, but I think there is some merit to the idea. Matt Yglesias, by contrast, is not as enthusiastic:
Color me skeptical. Different kinds of soldiers get different kinds of training, but they're all at least semi-fungible. If we had a spare genocide-prevention division lying around, it would be getting sent to Iraq as part of the "surge" not to Africa. The President would simply argue that escalation of the Iraq War is a genocide-prevention mission because of the sectarian violence. Then on the flipside, I'm not sure there's a discrete military task called "genocide prevention." You might, in an effort to halt a genocide, bomb some buildings or troop formations somewhere. Alternatively, as part of a war to overthrow the Taliban you might wind up policing the streets of Kabul and taking responsibility for the safety of the city's residents. So you want some military forces who specialize in bombing, and others who specialize in policing, but you don't have some troops who specialize in genocide prevention and others who specialize in attacking hostile governments.

I disagree that "genocide prevention" (or perhaps, intervention), is not necessarily a discrete task from other military activities. I seem to recall, in the wake of the Iraq fiasco, several calls for the US to develop dedicated "peacekeeping forces", under the theory that the training required to "shock and awe" a defending army is not the same as is required for counter-insurgency, peacekeeping, and reconstruction. I believe that stopping a genocide--which is less about crushing an opposing army than it is about securing civilians--probably requires a different skill set and mentality (building trust with the locals, negotiation to end the conflict, strengthening long term institutions) than the regular army has. This isn't to say that a genocide division would never need to be supplimented by regular forces (such as air support), but I do think it would serve a unique role. And of course, just having a division with anti-genocide work as its specific role makes it more likely we will actually engage in such interventions.

As to Yglesias' worry that such a division would never be able to be completely separated from regular army work, he's probably right that this is a risk, but I'm not sure I see it as controlling. If we're going to send 20,000 troops as a "surge" in Iraq anyway, it doesn't really matter where in the army we get them from. Compared to the increase (however marginal) in likelihood that we will effectively intervene to stop genocide, I think that it's worth the chance.

6 comments:

Eva said...

"I believe that stopping a genocide--which is less about crushing an opposing army than it is about securing civilians--probably requires a different skill set and mentality (building trust with the locals, negotiation to end the conflict, strengthening long term institutions) than the regular army has."

Well, yes, but as Iraq is demonstrating, as the US' foreign-policy excursions trend more towards nation-building, that seems to be what the regular army needs to learn to do, too.

I don't think the skill set necessary to prevent genocide is totally different from the skill set necessary to engage in a regular occupation (hopefully the latter type of mission doesn't actually become routine), but I see O'Hanlon's point. Unfortunately for him, from a political perspective, it seems like he's just asking for an expansion of the armed forces, adding 20,000 soldiers and a unique structure without a total overhaul of their training (beyond what the Army seems to need already).

One more cynical comment: I'm not sure that those "idealistic high school and college students" would necessarily make the commitment to change into combat boots.

jack said...

I was about to ask but eva got there first.

Would you enlist?

Also what would you think of an international force dedicated to this purpose?

David Schraub said...

I'm actually with Eva in that I think the "idealistic college students" won't enlist either--I actually think it should just be a special unit within the army--just another division one get assigned to, but with special training.

As for an international force, who will oversee it? The UN? As O'Hanlon notes, getting over appalling UN inertia is exactly why we want the US to do it. Plus, even when it bothers to intervene, the UN's track record on the issue is pretty weak (see, Srebenica).

Gatt Suru said...

I'm doubtful troops are the best answer. Scary, from a right-winger, I know.

Most genocidal groups, if they don't have government backing, at least have governmental permission. See Rwanda, Sudan, et all. 20,000 troops just isn't enough to commit an act of war against a sovereign nation, never mind take down bands numbering up to the hundreds of thousands.

Even more notably, unless you plan to plant those 20,000 troops in place forever, once they leave the genocidalists will have a lot more public support (since protected classes usually don't make as many friends as enemies).

Try giving the potential victims a way to defend themselves, instead. It seems a might bit more effective to me.

PG said...

"Try giving the potential victims a way to defend themselves, instead. It seems a might bit more effective to me."

Ye Olde Volokh Conspiracy Line: we wouldn't have genocides if everyone were armed...

... meanwhile I've never heard tell of armed Americans standing up to defend the rights of their neighbors. Japanese-Americans, off you go to the internment camps, and your neighbors are busy dividing the spoils.

Andrew said...

Silly idea, aimed at civil wars and not genocide.

A genocide is only possible because nations like the United States put brutal corrupt military powers like the TNI in control of nationas and entire regions so that Freeport and similar companies can mine the victim's mineral resources before the law catches up with them.