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Preventing Genocide

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The recent release of the film, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, about the relationship between two 8-year old boys, separated by a concentration camp fence, is a painful reminder of the horrific human toll exacted by genocide. The movie, like others of the Holocaust-era genre, leaves the viewer angry, frustrated, and deeply moved by the gnawing reality behind the story. And so, as people of conscience, we see such films and then rightly demand, "never again."

And yet we know that the killings and slaughter of human beings around the world continues despite the efforts of governments and private citizens over decades. We see it today in Darfur. The question is -- why?

Recently I participated in a year-long effort by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the American Academy of Diplomacy and the United States Institute of Peace to identify practical steps that could enhance the capacity of the U.S. government to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities. The report that resulted from the Genocide Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen proposes a blueprint for the next administration and for the future, to help ensure that senior officials have all the information they need to act -- and to act in time -- when faced with the next genocide. We conclude that what is needed is a comprehensive, coordinated, government-wide plan to prevent these odious crimes from happening around the world.

The first and most important ingredient to prevent genocide and mass atrocities is political will and leadership -- from the president on down. Summoning political will requires acting, not only after a crisis strikes, but before one emerges. It means strengthening institutions and systems for getting early warning of risks -- and then being prepared to interrupt these plans. It means improving the government's crisis response system in order to better mount coherent, carefully calibrated, and timely preventive diplomacy strategies before a full crisis erupts.

Prevention of genocide and mass atrocities also requires preparing our military to handle these kinds of situations. In the report we recommend that genocide prevention and response be incorporated into national policy guidance and planning for the military and into defense doctrine and training. U.S. leaders must consider how to leverage all instruments of national power to prevent and halt genocide and mass atrocities, including military assets. There are options between doing nothing and sending in the Marines.

The United States should be a leader in preventing genocide and mass atrocities, but we cannot succeed alone. America has an interest in promoting strong global norms against genocide so that sovereignty cannot be used as an excuse or a shield. We must make international and regional institutions more effective vehicles for preventing mass atrocities. We recommend that the U.S. launch a diplomatic initiative to create an international network for information sharing and coordinated action to prevent genocide.

Lastly, we need resources to match our priorities. The Genocide Prevention Task Force recommends increased and more flexible funding for the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities. Congress should invest $250 million -- less than a dollar for every American each year -- in new funds for crisis prevention and response. A portion of these new funds would be used for diplomatic initiatives and other measures to prevent or halt emerging crises.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It is also the 20th anniversary of the ratification of this treaty by the United States. As Americans consider our country's role in the world in the years to come, we can and must do more to prevent genocide, a crime that threatens not only our values but our national interests. We have a duty to find the answer before the vow of "never again" is once again betrayed.

Dan Glickman is chairman and chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America. (MPAA) Inc. He served for 18 years in the House of Representatives and was Secretary of Agriculture. He served on the Genocide Prevention Task Force.