Politics and Governance (Nov 2015)

Genocide Prevention and Western National Security: The Limitations of Making R2P All About Us

  • Maureen S. Hiebert

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 3, no. 4
pp. 12 – 25


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The case for turning R2P and genocide prevention from principle to practice usually rests on the invocation of moral norms and duties to others. Calls have been made by some analysts to abandon this strategy and “sell” genocide prevention to government by framing it as a matter of our own national interest including our security. Governments’ failure to prevent atrocities abroad, it is argued, imperils western societies at home. If we look at how the genocide prevention-as-national security argument has been made we can see, however, that this position is not entirely convincing. I review two policy reports that make the case for genocide prevention based in part on national security considerations: Preventing Genocide: A Blue Print for U.S. Policymakers (Albright-Cohen Report); and the Will to Intervene Project. I show that both reports are problematic for two reasons: the “widened” traditional security argument advocated by the authors is not fully substantiated by the evidence provided in the reports; and alternate conceptions of security that would seem to support the linking of genocide prevention to western security—securitization and risk and uncertain—do not provide a solid logical foundation for operationalizing R2P. I conclude by considering whether we might appeal instead to another form of self interest, “reputational stakes”, tied to western states’ construction of their own identity as responsible members of the international community.