In his 9 March New York Times op-ed, “How to End Mass Atrocities,” Alex de Waal argues that the current (predominantly Westernized) anti-genocide movement, spearheaded by Gareth Evans and Samantha Power, has become overly idealistic. Touching upon points discussed in his co-authored paper, “How Mass Atrocities End: An Evidence-Based Counter-Narrative,” de Waal writes that interventionists have become singularly focused in both their means and their ends. He points out that while they tend to view perpetrators of mass atrocities as “insatiable,” the reality is, “In many cases, the perpetrators simply stop killing when they have reached their goals, become exhausted, fallen out among themselves or been defeated.” He cites several cases in which this has held true, and more in which this has enabled the brokering of deals which have ultimately ended instances of mass atrocities.

But De Waal then makes some sweeping generalizations, asserting that the aforementioned interventionists “insist on pursuing a more ambitious agenda: nothing short of democracy and justice, imposed by military intervention.” Coupled with getting mired in rhetorical semantics, this leads to indecision and resultant inaction when the killings ebb or stop. Before mentioning the current cases of Sudan and Syria, de Waal surmises his thesis:

Western policy makers interested in stopping mass crimes should not overlook tools that can work. Where violence is used as an instrument for political gain, it is negotiable. Some perpetrators can be moderated through diplomacy. Others will stop killing if they defeat a rebellion or realize they cannot. The main aim should be to stop genocidal killing. Holding elections and prosecuting the perpetrators of crimes, however laudable those goals, aren’t the priority.

Two days later, Gareth Evans responded in kind with a letter to the editor entitled, “In Defense of ‘R2P’,” in which he argues that

The whole point of the R2P doctrine is simply to generate a reflex international response that occurring or imminent mass atrocities are everybody’s business, not nobody’s. What the appropriate response can and should be — including diplomatic persuasion, non-military pressure like sanctions or International Criminal Court action, or (in extreme and exceptional cases) military intervention — depends entirely on the circumstances of each individual case.

Other scholars in the field have also weighed in on the debate.

Image: nytimes.com

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