Provoking Genocide: Dangers of War and Intervention
Although historically war has been the major context of genocide (for example, the Holocaust was perpetrated by Nazi Germany through its conquests of Poland, the Soviet Union and other regions of Europe), dominant ways of thinking in both war and genocide studies treat the two questions separately. War studies does not consider genocide a major problem of its field; genocide studies sees genocide as a very distinctive form of violence, not necessarily linked to war. And military power is often seen as an answer to genocide: didn't the Allied armies liberate the Nazi extermination camps, the Vietnamese overthrow the Khmer Rouge, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front end the 1994 genocide? This lecture looks at this problem from the opposite end: the dangers of genocide in war and military interventions, especially in the twenty first century. First, I shall explore the difficult question of whether some actors in regional conflicts intentionally seek to provoke genocidal violence against the people they claim to speak for, believing that this could be a lever for Western and UN intervention. Second, I shall ask whether Western interventions to halt violence may sometimes lead, because of inadequate political and military framing, to the very genocide that they aim to prevent. Third, I shall investigate whether armed campaigns which are not themselves genocidal may nevertheless provoke genocidal violence by other parties. This lecture will involve discussions both of the meaning and scope of genocide and of major cases in the recent past, including Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo and Iraq. The lecture will conclude with a discussion of the structural roots of the problem of genocide-in-war: the unavoidable involvement of civilians in armed conflicts, and the probability that in many political contexts they will be defined as an enemy. This conclusion raises sobering questions for those who wish to use military power to protect civilians.