Next Steps for Stopping Genocide

01/17/2008 02:34 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I know we all want to gawk about Michigan and now speculate over Nevada, but before you head to the strip, take a minute to think about Tennessee, New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Georgia and Texas.

This month might be dominated by presidential politics, but January is also a great time to plot advocacy strategies for Capitol Hill. During the coming year, the distraction of headline politics provides a great opening to pilot new policy ideas inside Congress -- and get heard. National security is unfortunately an issue that gets warped and slung about in a most unhelpful way on the campaign trail. Which is why Americans who work on issues like Darfur and genocide prevention have a double opportunity to present their issue campaigns within a larger security strategy that changes our direction in the world. People who work on these issues inside Congress will welcome a ground truth check from public minded citizens.

The last month has brought both progress and setbacks for the fledgling peacekeeping mission in the Sudan. The fact that the UN troops have now joined African Union troops is a great step forward. Yet attacks against the peacekeepers continue -- the most recent one last Friday was against a supply convoy. Everyone who cares about this issue deserves to feel frustrated. After all, the U.S. and its allies pressured the U.N. to deploy a new peacekeeping force for Darfur but are now failing to support it. None of the hardware-heavy wealthy countries, it seems, has the wherewithal to come up with a few helicopters. This failing points out an important new direction for anti-genocide movement here in the USA -- one that will make all the difference in the world for promoting the primary security principle of this century: the safety of people. But doing this will require a few new strategies and tactics.

The genocide prevention movement is one of the most encouraging grass roots campaigns that I have seen in 20 years of working on peace and security issues in politics. When I worked on Capitol Hill, I often griped about activists confusing strategy for tactics or vice versa (i.e. send a 600 page dissertation to Congress and expect the staff to extract security policy from it OR chain themselves to a nuclear power plant and expect Congress to understand clean energy) The anti-genocide activists have, in many ways cracked this organizing nut, bringing knowledge and action together with great timing. Informed by sophisticated organizations and enormous networks, they stay on top of the candidates, on top of Congress and make knowledgeable recommendations.

Rallying Hollywood to the cause, the advocates take their stand smack in the middle of American culture, too. Sand and Sorrow played repeatedly on HBO, and Darfur Now was promoted extensively online before being released in theaters.

The strategic landscape of security has undeniably changed. Everyone, from our Republican Secretary of Defense to rock star Bono recognizes that, in today's world, hardware-heavy military dominance has a limited ability to make threats go away. Indeed, force and coercion are making way for persuasion and prevention, even in military doctrine. This doesn't mean that the use of force isn't important (a la helicopters for peacekeeping) but what it does mean is that all ears are open to hearing comprehensive alternative strategies, and especially ideas that emphasize a different set of tools for security. See this great list for examples, and this Global Women Leaders Call to Action.for a good framework.

Here's my call to Darfur advocates: Time is of the essence and no other issue has your organizing capacity nor your ability to influence elected leaders in the districts where they live on the issue of a new American security strategy . You now need to move beyond moral imperatives, documentation, and UN support and dive into military reform discussions. Witness this info on a recent press release from the House Armed Services Committee:

"In today's rapidly evolving security environment, the Department of Defense must be able to reform and modernize to meet 21st century threats. The defense authorization conference agreement, which requires a roles and missions review every four years, will be an invaluable tool to ensure that our forces are properly prepared and ready to respond to future national security challenges,"

Now, why are Tennessee, New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Georgia and Texas so important for this? Because that's where the members of this congressional Roles and Missions Panel are from.

This means that a significant and comprehensive review process (one that hasn't really happened since the 1940's) has been initiated (the panel was named in July). Because the Defense Department has the lion's share of financial resources, personnel and responsibilities for security, the fact that the Armed Services Committee is proceeding with this reform assessment is a big, big deal. Having a chorus of citizen voices out around the country advocating for sophisticated and realistic new roles and missions for our military will be vital to see any real change. Peacekeeping is one of those missions (the military calls this group of activities Stability and Support Operations or SASO). The Army has written about this topic as have many DC groups.

Like many old stodgy traditions, the security establishment in the USA will not change easily, nor will much of it go away without a knock-down drag-out fight. Moving beyond hardware primacy as the defining centerpiece of U.S. security strategy is not just a huge and lucrative investment for thousands of commercial interests, it has tenacious ideological backers as well. Congress has champions of change and reform, but they need support and help getting their inert colleagues to pay attention. This isn't an all or nothing fight. Some of the hardware is imperative (again, the helicopters). Not all the dollars should be diverted to global public education, or Farsi-speaking officers for that matter. But we have to start the discussion with everything on the table and match ends to means.

BTW, military reform was a big issue in the 1980s, but tapered off and mostly disappeared for two decades. Just this week, a new book was released that details past attempts. The authors are true experts on the subject and we can learn a great deal from past experience. Anyone who buys and puts this book to use, I will personally send you a shiny pair of defense-weenie antennae.