National governments are pivotal to the the prevention of mass atrocities. Besides fulfilling their own, internal responsibility to protect (R2P), ensuring that the United Nations and regional arrangements have the political support and resources they need to implement their atrocity prevention plans, and making resources available to preventive efforts when international action is needed in the face of imminent crises, national governments – especially those that have voiced loud support for the R2P principle — should also give effect to their international commitments by integrating the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities into national policy.
Mass Atrocity Prevention and Response Operations: A Policy Planning Handbook is the latest publication from the Mass Atrocity Response Operations (MARO) project run by Harvard University’s Kennedy School and the US Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute. Focusing on the US, the MAPRO Handbook provides guidelines and frameworks for the formulation of options, policies, and plans, and discusses the application of all elements of national influence in order to prevent or respond to mass atrocities. As such, it is must reading for policy makers – and those interested in influencing policy makers – around the world as they grapple with the challenge of mainstreaming the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities into foreign and defence policy. The Handbook provides a thorough account of the types of analysis, policy processes and decision-making that are needed to properly incorporate genoicde and mass atrocity prevention into national policy. What is needed now is for other like-minded governments and civil society groups to examine what countries other than the US can do to mainstream mass atrocity prevention – perhaps through a multinational task force charged with drafitng a ‘handbook’ for R2P’s ‘group of friends’?
The MAPRO handbook is heavily geared towards the US political system, but it could be used by other governments as a basis on which to do their own thinking about mainstreaming atrocity prevention – something that very few governments besides the US have given much time to thinking about. It points to ways of maximising the effects of mainstreaming whilst minimising the potential problems.
Rather than calling for the creation of specific offices and mandates, the mainstreaming approach to preventing genocide and mass atrocities is prefaced on the view that the best way to implement policy or mindset shifts is to integrate it throughout the work of a bureaucracy. The key strength of this approach is that it is much less vulnerable to political change and more likely to withstand changes of government, providing a foundation for long-term implementation. This gives the policy better chance of sustainability over time, potentially strengthens the likelihood of R2P being incorporated into the government’s standard operating procedures. Some also suggest that the this approach increases the chances of coordination across government departments, but this could also work both ways as experts within a department becoming more susceptible to departmental stovepiping and insularity. Finally, mainstreaming appears to offer the best way of ensuring that norms are socialised throughout relevant departments so that they become a regular part of thinking and decision-making.
But there are some serious weaknesses with the mainstreaming approach. Notably, if the task of policy implementation is not given to a specific actor it is not likely to get done. One the one hand, mainstreaming might simply be overlooked entirely. This is not helped by the fact that it is often not altogether clear what mainstreaming entails or how we know when something has been mainstreamed. Without a clear understanding of what mainstreaming might entail and how it might be measured, implementation and behavioural change might be challenged. On the other, bureaucracies tend to resist external change and protect their own programs, behaviours and modes of thinking. Mainstreaming allows them to do this by employing new language to redescribe what they were doing anyway. In this way, agencies can claim to have mainstreamed a particular policy or idea without actually changing their behaviour. This gets us to a related problem which is that mainstreaming can be equated with policy on the cheap. States following the mainstreaming approach might be able to avoid assigning new staff or resources to atrocity prevention which might that in overburdened bureaucracies work little – if any – new work will actually be done. If governments succumb to this pitfall, it is unlikely that they will strengthen their capacity for preventing genocide and mass atrocities or significantly strengthen their cooperation with other states, the UN and regional organisations.
The MAPRO handbook shows how to do meaningful mainstreaming in a mainly US policy context. What is needed now is for other like-minded countries to examine what they have to offer to cause of atrocity prevention and how they might go about mainstreaming this goal into their foreign and defence policies.
Alex Bellamy – Human Protection Hub