The Will to Intervene (W2I) project, co-developed by retired Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire and the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS), was presented at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University on Nov. 26.
Prof. Frank Chalk, director of MIGS, created the research initiative with Dallaire, who served as force commander of the United Nations intervention during the Rwandan genocide of more than half a million people in April 1994. The project has put forward a new report, Mobilizing the Will to Intervene: Leadership and Action to Prevent Mass Atrocities, to the Canadian and United States governments, which includes 20 recommendations to "develop practical tools to generate sufficient political will to prevent genocide and other crimes against humanity."
One of these recommendations is greater military presence in politically unstable countries.
"Countries in Africa and elsewhere have crucial elections coming up in 2011 and 2012," Chalk warned at the Vancouver presentation. "Now is the time for Canadian leaders and civil society leaders to be preparing for what I think is a very serious crisis that is coming down the road."
Chalk outlined four major contributing factors to foreign policy-making – moral, financial, national interest and partisan politics. Chalk stressed that those who appeal to political morality only are "spinning their wheels" because military and economic interests are still the biggest selling points in strategic election campaigns.
One reason that North America is politically disengaged from the developing world, Chalk said, is that, historically, investing in African foreign aid hasn't served the national interest.
Even the UN tenet of protecting human rights is often overshadowed by political agendas, he said, referring to the international organization as "a club of states" who "will only vote if it's in their interest." He added, "Humanitarianism is not the way we're going to get this done."
The traditional focus on protecting the security of a country's "own people" is now becoming an outmoded view, Chalk continued. National interests have changed as our world has become more interconnected, causing governments to reconsider their approach to foreign policy.
Chalk said "soft powers" – nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), foreign aid agencies, media and religious groups – need to get in league with "hard powers" – military forces – to combat the problem. The presence of a coercive force protects peace-keeping initiatives from "spoilers" – people who lose power in a peaceful climate, he said.
"Soft power is the single most important and single most effective instrument that Canadians and Americans can use to prevent mass atrocities. It's not enough to say if you don't behave the way we want you to behave we're going to invade your country and bring you to international criminal court, etc. All of that reflects our past desperation and failure to learn how to use soft power effectively.... But at the same time it is a huge mistake to say that all we should be doing is using soft power," he said.
And, without military support, soft power won't be taken seriously, he said, citing the genocide in Rwanda as an example.
Getting governments to pay attention, he said, lies in highlighting three key threats to Canada and the United States that did not exist in any significant way prior to 1994: the increasing number of international travelers spreading infectious diseases at a faster rate, the rise of terrorism bred from mass atrocities and warlordism that threatens commercial prosperity.
Leading public health officials studying tropical diseases have also acknowledged that politically ignored regions become target areas where "refugee camps become Petri dishes." Chalk cited the Sept. 11 attacks as an example of how not intervening can lead to unstable countries becoming safe havens for criminals. And, not intervening also results in greater financial loss to the respective countries.
"It costs a lot more to let the genocide happen and then having to deal with feeding millions of refugees and trying to reintegrate them and rebuild society than sending aid or military assistance before the mass atrocities took place," Chalk concluded.
The report has garnered attention from top levels of government, he said. W2I follows on the heels of a 2001 report put out by the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, an international organization that brings together NGOs from all over the world to prevent and halt genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
For more information on the W2I, visit migs.concordia.ca.