U.S. has moral obligation to prevent genocide, Clinton says

Originally published on shfwire.com for the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

WASHINGTON – Two-thirds of Americans believe that genocide is preventable, and 78 percent support U.S. military action in stopping genocide or mass atrocities, according to a poll released Tuesday by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the United States has a moral obligation to fight genocide through “prevention and partnership.” She spoke at a symposium hosted by the Holocaust Museum.

The U.S. should use the Holocaust and other mass atrocities as lessons on how to prevent future genocides, she said.

“Bringing that dark chapter into light helps clarify and sharpen what we mean when we say ‘never again,’ ” Clinton said.

Clinton urged the U.S. and its partners to recognize and confront threats before massacres begin. She pointed to Rwanda, where 11 percent of the population was killed in a 1994 genocide, and Bosnia, where 8,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) were killed in a 1995 massacre.

The key, she said, is to identify the warning signs in past genocides, such as organized propaganda campaigns or messages of hate spread through nursery rhymes or picture books.

“Hatred not only becomes acceptable; it is even encouraged. It’s like stacking dry firewood before striking the match. Then there is a moment of ignition. The permission to hate becomes permission to kill,” she said.

Timothy Snyder, a Yale history professor, spoke as part of a panel discussion following Clinton’s speech. He pointed out that genocides historically coincide with “ecological panic” – the fear of having limited resources. Germany faced a food and water crisis after World War I, he said, and the world will face similar resource crises with global warming and environmental unpredictability.

The majority of Americans believe multilateral action is the most effective military strategy to prevent genocide, according to the poll.

Penn Schoen Berland conducted the poll for the museum. The telephone poll of 1,000 people age 18 and older was conducted June 30 through July 10 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Clinton agreed that the United States must work with other countries, private companies and the U.N.’s peacekeeping missions, but both Snyder and Clinton warned against the automatic use of force.

In fact, Snyder said, using force to prevent perceived problems was part of Hitler’s justification for eradicating ethnic and social groups during the Holocaust.

“Our idea of genocide prevention is the bad guy’s about to do something wrong, and we come in and stop it,” Snyder said. “That’s really hard to stage manage.”

Clinton argued that “force must remain a last resort” after diplomacy, financial sanctions, humanitarian assistance and law enforcement measures.

New technology also aids prevention, she said. The State Department is developing technology to detect when governments use malicious software against protesters and warn those being targeted. Chris Kojm, chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, said satellite imagery could help analyze genocide hotspots. The recent boom of Internet connectivity gets the word out faster.

“Until recently …  it did take days or weeks before outsiders knew about violence in a remote location,” Clinton said. “But now, a bystander with a cell phone and a YouTube account can show the whole world exactly what is happening.”

Advances in energy technology could also prevent genocides sparked by resource wars, Snyder said.

Clinton said that President Barack Obama has made genocide prevention “a core national security interest.” She didn’t discuss U.S. plans or goals, but she pointed out recent measures that have prevented possible sparks, such as the international coalition that stopped a potential massacre in Libya in 2011, and U.S. support for Central African governments to fight Joseph Kony and the leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

“The fact is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” she said. “But I am convinced we can make progress together.”