G Division

Looking at Darfur and the strains on US troops being caused by deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, Michael O’Hanlon argues that we should create a dedicated genocide-prevention division of about 20,000 troops within the Army:

A genocide-prevention division within the U.S. Army would circumvent this problem. Since its only mission would be to stop genocides, deploying the force would never require us to ask more of soldiers who already have their hands full with other conflicts. Moreover, those volunteering for the new force would know exactly what they were getting into and enlist specifically because they embraced the mission. These soldiers could be recruited from the ranks of idealistic college and high school students across the nation who have done so much to keep Darfur in the public eye.

Color me skeptical. Different kinds of soldiers get different kinds of training, but they’re all at least semi-fungible. If we had a spare genocide-prevention division lying around, it would be getting sent to Iraq as part of the “surge” not to Africa. The President would simply argue that escalation of the Iraq War is a genocide-prevention mission because of the sectarian violence. Then on the flipside, I’m not sure there’s a discrete military task called “genocide prevention.” You might, in an effort to halt a genocide, bomb some buildings or troop formations somewhere. Alternatively, as part of a war to overthrow the Taliban you might wind up policing the streets of Kabul and taking responsibility for the safety of the city’s residents. So you want some military forces who specialize in bombing, and others who specialize in policing, but you don’t have some troops who specialize in genocide prevention and others who specialize in attacking hostile governments.

At any rate, though the mass killing of civilians is certainly awful on US foreign policy should seek to minimize violations of the international prohibition of such tactics, I do think pursuit of such a goal needs to be put in a broader context [UPDATE: what follows here is an excerpt from Ye Olde Book Drafte]:

Unfortunately, to many liberals and many members of the administration, Kosovo came to be viewed not as an unusual case — an outlier defining the limits of when liberals would endorse the use of aggressive force absent U.N. authorization — but as setting a baseline for an ill-defined new era of humanitarian militarism. Michael O’Hanlon, a Brookings Institution scholar thought to have been in line for a top post in a hypothetical Kerry administration, penned a 1999 article advocating military intervention “whenever the rate of killing in a country or region greatly exceeds the U.S. murder rate, whether the killing is genocidal in nature or not” utterly without reference to the United Nations or any other sort of multilateral authority. He listed ten countries — Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Angola, Bosnia, Chechnya, North Korea, and Kosovo — where interventions would have been warranted by this standard during the Clinton administration alone. Mercifully, he conceded that fighting the Russian Army in Chechnya was not a very pragmatic option (as he says, it “would have risked a major-power war between nuclear-weapons states with the potential to kill far more people than the intervention could have saved” ) but gave no consideration to the possibility that launching unprovoked unilateral military strikes at the rate of one every nine months or so would destabilize the entire international system. Indeed, despite O’Hanlon’s demurral on the Russia front, later that year The New Republic was lamenting that “Milosevic-like deeds by Milosevic’s allies will provoke only scolding followed by winking” rather than some unspecified more robust action.

I don’t think a 20,000 member division is going to be able to meet the ambitions of a policy like that.