Blogs > Cliopatria > A US Genocide Prevention Force?

May 7, 2006 9:55 pm


A US Genocide Prevention Force?



Michael O'Hanlon makes a hell of a case. He proposes a genocide prevention division in the U.S. Army, a ‘Peace Corps with guns’. The 5,000 to 10,000 person force would be recruited independently from the Army, meaning people could join it without fear of going to Iraq or, god forbid, Iran.

Money quote:

The notion is this: of all those well-intentioned and admirable Americans rallying to call attention to Darfur and demand action, ask for volunteers to join a genocide prevention division for two years. They would begin their service with roughly 12 weeks of boot camp and 12 weeks of specialized training -- and then go to Darfur next winter.
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There would be risks in such a venture, to be sure. But they are manageable and tolerable risks. By contrast, the Darfur genocide is unacceptable, intolerable, and a blight on our collective consciences.

Well said. Check out the whole piece, O'Hanlon is a thoughtful writer.

I would add that this force would need a substantially redesigned training program, the US troops proving so disastrously ill suited to operating in complex humanitarian emergencies. Further to this, I would rather see it be a UN, EU or Canadian led force (US troops are simply too politically charged), but if none of them are going to do it, then this option should be on the table. The model is no secret, it is the troops that are needed. Who’s going to step up?

Interested in thoughts.


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Jonathan Dresner - 5/7/2006

First of all, one of the reasons we don't get into peacekeeping more is because of concerns about maintaining combat readiness for combat troops; this would actually subvert that argument quite effectively, by reducing tempo and allowing for more focused training for the three combat branches (Coast Guard, obviously, has a different model, but it's worth noting that the "regular military" already has a branch which isn't really a combat operation).

Second, since the demand for peacekeeping is pretty high, this is a branch of the service that would see regular tours of duty "in the field," making it great for promotions and portfolio building. There would be enough interaction with the other branches -- for support, transport, cross-training, etc. -- that they wouldn't be isolated, either.

Resistance in Congress isn't something I can argue against or for one way or the other: Congress is an irrational body which will respond to polls and presidential "leadership" ... best way to get this is for Democrats to propose it and make it popular during an election cycle, so the Republicans can try to steal the idea and be "bipartisan"....


Oscar Chamberlain - 5/7/2006

The army has resisted the development of a specialized peacekeeping force as a wasteful diversion from warfighting readiness. It would reject an anti-genocide force for the same reasons.

To implement this one would need to not simply overrule the army but also make service in this an important path for officers on the way to high commands.

In short, it needs to attact not simply the idealist but also the ambitious.


Robert KC Johnson - 5/7/2006

I tend to agree. My sense is that if--as in Kosovo--we have an executive committed to using the military to stop genocide, it's possible to act. Otherwise, the structural problems are immense. One other that O'Hanlon doesn't mention--the need to bring in allies would raise hackles from nationalists in Congress.


Nathanael D. Robinson - 5/7/2006

While I would be clearly on board (figuratively speaking--I'd be too old to join) with this idea, I worry that it will be mired in some of the same problems as European Union plans for a Rapid Response Force. If any iniative exists to create a genocide prevention force, it could be weakened by its status vis-a-vis other military departments (especially if it requires support from them.) Even if it were not part of the Department of Defense, it might still suffer from a lack of prestige, and the military would attempt to subsume the force's activities to the department's interests. The true gutting of a genocide prevention force could come within the halls of Congress, as it would compete with other military expenditures and confront war-hawks, who believe that the only appropriate role for the military is to win wars. Considering how difficult it was to move the government on Kosovo, I would expect that attitudes about the use of the military would have to change dramatically.