Responsibility to Protect Whom? Strategic Challenges in Confronting Genocide

  • Colonel James H. Harrell II

Viewed in terms of the role of the state and the complexities of intervention, the record of the United States in the face of genocide is defensible; it is the result of a deliberate and rational balancing between the role of the state to serve its own people, its domestic and international functions, and the state’s moral obligations as a member of the global community. As horrible as genocide is, American decisions to stop genocide unfold in the context of navigating difficult decision terrain; they have not been and will not be fait accompli. The U.S. system is not ruthlessly effective in preventing genocide, but that is not its purpose. The American system is designed to ruthlessly pursue the national interests of the United States. The paper examines the moral and legal roles and responsibilities of the state, the nature of strategy, and the idea of the United States as a unique state, describes the crime of genocide and the complex and frangible international legal and moral framework surrounding it, the context, complexity, and calculus of U.S. policy and actions during three genocides, and offers suggestions to assist future strategic leaders confronting the crime.