Some lessons about humanitarian intervention

James F. Miskel

In a speech delivered in Kigali Rwanda in March 1998, President Clinton eloquently reminded the world of the terrible atrocities that occurred in Rwanda four years earlier in 1994. There were, as the President made clear, many profoundly disturbing aspects of the genocide in Rwanda. A particularly disturbing aspect of the Rwanda crisis--but one that was not emphasized by the President during his grand tour of Africa in the spring of 1998--is that Hutu-Tutsi violence did not end in 1994. Indeed there continue to be serious instances of Hutu-Tutsi violence in Rwanda, Zaire (now Congo) and Burundi.2 With respect to the latter country, on January 20, 2000 the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that " no other country is it so easy to imagine a repetition of what we have all sworn must never be repeated: ethnic killing on a genocidal scale".3

According to President Clinton and the President of Rwanda, the 1994 atrocities were not a spontaneous and thus un-anticipatible paroxysm of mysterious tribal rivalries. Rather, the massacres were planned by Hutu extremists in the government and in other leadership positions in Rwandan society. The extremists evidently did what Hitler and Stalin had done earlier in the century; i.e., embitter the general public against a minority group, in this case the Tutsi, by blaming them for some or all of their country’s economic and social woes. President Clinton and Secretary General Annan have also acknowledged that the United States and the United Nations did not respond as quickly as they should have to the crisis in Rwanda. Initially, the claim was that leaders in the west did not fully appreciate the genocidal nature of the violence in Rwanda until very late in the crisis and thus were slow to intervene. This in turn, lead to recommendations that a better early warning system be established4 and the United States has committed itself to working with the United Nations to build such a system.5

Since then Secretary General Annan has conceded that ample warning information was actually available to western leaders6, thus implying that calls for an early warning system amounted to a polite fiction, a fig leaf for UN inaction during the first months of the Rwandan crisis. Indeed, in September 1999 the Secretary General went so far as to say that the west's delayed response to the genocide in Rwanda was unrelated to the issue of warning information. He stated that the UN tarried because of "the reluctance of Member States to place their forces in harm's way where no perceived vital interests are at stake, a concern over costs, and doubts-in the wake of Somalia-that intervention could succeed."7

The Secretary General's statement is well informed with respect to both the warning information issue, the role of perceived national interests, and doubts about the prospects for success. The embassies of the United States and other nations operated in the Rwandan capital throughout the preliminary phases of the crisis. Moreover, North American, European, Asian and other African countries maintained embassies in the states bordering Rwanda (i.e., Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, and Zaire--now Congo) which functioned throughout the crisis. It is frankly inconceivable that these embassies would have omitted the escalating slaughter in Rwanda in their reports, particularly since there were concerns at the time that the violence would spread across national borders. Indeed, if the US and European embassies in Kigali and in neighboring capitals did not apprise their respective ministries of developments in Rwanda, this would raise very serious questions about the overall value and competence of the embassy system and, of course, about any early warning system that would in any way depend upon the embassies for information or analysis.

Numerous United Nations agencies and private humanitarian organizations also maintained operations in the region before, during and after the 1994 crisis and their reports were replete with compelling information about its extent and severity.8 The UN even had a military mission (UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda, or UNAMIR) in-country that reported on the early stages of the crisis and was, perversely, reduced in size after it reported that the violence was escalating.9 Indeed, UNAMIR was the originator of the infamous "genocide fax" of January 1994 which provided the UN’s Department of Peace Keeping Operations with detailed information about the plans being made by extremists for anti-Tutsi violence.10 There was, as well, enough contemporary media coverage in the United States and Europe to have encouraged policy makers and legislators to commission special inquiries into events in Rwanda, or at the very least to consult the data available from embassies, UN agencies, and private humanitarian organizations.11

Professor Richard J. Norton and I have conducted a review of early warning information from recent humanitarian crises. Our assumption was that due to their guilt or sensitivity to criticism for the slow response to the Rwanda crisis, leaders in the UN and in western capitals would be unusually receptive to early warning information during the 1995-7 time frame. We hypothesized that if ample early warning information was available during this period and if the UN and individual western nations nevertheless failed to respond, then it might be unrealistic to expect that the UN or individual western nations would ever respond to early warning about complex humanitarian emergencies. From this it would also follow that building early warning systems for complex humanitarian emergencies would be a poor investment. Indeed, building an early warning system when warning information is already available and when this warning information is consistently not acted upon, is a superfluous activity, akin perhaps to buying a boat to launch on a dry lake.

Our study appeared to demonstrate that substantial and credible early warning information was available during the aftermath of Rwanda for crises in Burundi and Zaire. The absence of early action in response to this warning information appeared to confirm our hypotheses.12

Indeed, the Rwanda, Zaire and Burundi humanitarian crises illustrate two paradoxes inherent in the concept of early warning systems. One is that the states with the greatest incentive for taking early action in humanitarian emergencies are the very nations that would benefit least from a formal, international early warning system. These are the states whose national interests are directly affected by the emergency; i.e., neighboring states or more distant states with major investments in or security commitments to the affected state. These states already monitor and evaluate developments like communal violence that may jeopardize their interests or destabilize their borders. For example, as demonstrated by its participation in contemporaneous regional conferences and commissions, Tanzania already possessed a deep understanding of the Zaire crisis and would not have benefited significantly from information generated by a UN early warning system based in Geneva or New York.13 At least in some parts of the world--notably including central Africa, neighboring states often seem to lack the physical wherewithal to act effectively upon early warning. Angola, Tanzania, the Central African Republic, and Uganda each had obvious interests in the inter-related crises in Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire. However, their own economies and military capabilities were too fragile to support the kinds of action that might have been necessary to prevent the crises from worsening. Tanzania, the Central African Republic, and Uganda are among the lowest income nations in the world with per capital annual income of $410 or less and declining or static rates of economic growth.14 Often what these neighboring states do have is considerably less helpful--a history of disputed borders, ethnic-political entanglements, and economic rivalries. Histories of this sort not only make suffering nations reluctant to invite their neighbors to intervene, they also make it difficult for the neighboring states to cooperate with each other in humanitarian intervention.

The second paradox is that the states that might conceivably derive informational value from an early warning system are the states that are normally the least likely to act on early warning because they have no important security or economic interests at stake. For example, with respect to Rwanda and Burundi some western nations might conceivably obtain useful information from a UN early warning system. (As long as the embassies in the region continue to function and both media and relief organizations continue to operate in the region, it would however be easy to overestimate the genuine, incremental value that the United States and other major powers might actually derive from an early warning system.) However, because it has no important economic or strategic interests in either Rwanda or Burundi, the United States and presumably other major western powers will always be reluctant to act upon information from a UN early warning system until the public or legislature demands it. Or, until national leaders have been personally affected by the moral issues at stake and have managed to convince the legislators and/or voters that intervention is necessary. Ordinarily, by the time public and legislative support is mobilized the early stages of humanitarian crises will have long passed. This was the case in the 1996 Zaire crisis and the 1994 Rwanda crisis. One could argue that it was also the case in Bosnia during the early 1990s and in Kosovo in 1998.

Early Warning Actions and the Prospects for Success

In his 1998 remarks, President Clinton asserted that agitation by extremists had provoked the Hutu citizenry and that Hutu extremists had made extensive, tangible preparations for the violence.15 It is generally agreed that extremists actually did pave the way for the violence by: a) whipping up anti-Tutsi frenzy through inflammatory radio broadcasts and street corner agit-prop; b) distributing hit lists of Tutsi and their moderate Hutu sympathizers; and c) providing machetes and other small arms to their supporters. In the context of western guilt over ignoring early warning signs from Rwanda, these judgements suggest an obvious conclusion--that a well-timed, modestly-sized military intervention could have disrupted the preparations of the extremists and saved many thousands of lives. In effect, there could have been a surgical strike against the extremists--a series of quick, low cost actions with minimal collateral damage. As noted above, there seem to have been doubts among UN Member States in 1994 that quick, surgical actions would succeed in actually stopping in the Rwandan violence. Nearly a decade later, the justification for those doubts still seems valid.

For one thing, focusing narrowly on the preparations of extremists as the cause of the tragedy in Rwanda is misguided. It is analogous to analyzing Nazi atrocities without considering their context; e.g., anti-Semitism, German nationalism, anti-Bolshevism, popular resentment over the World War I settlement, and the economic turmoil of the Great Depression, which spawned fascist movements all across Europe. The context in Rwanda is that it is one of the world’s poorest, most densely populated countries with a long history of civil wars and bitter ethnic tension, some of which--perhaps most--being the product of the colonial powers having played the Hutu and Tutsi against each other for decades. Surely these conditions helped to create a medium for violence and, just as surely, such conditions will be little affected by foreign intervention to confiscate machetes, burn hit lists and shut down "hate radio" stations.

It is also surely true that by virtue of their relative lack of national interests in central Africa that the major western powers have relatively slight incentives for acquiring a more sophisticated understanding of these conditions. It would seem, furthermore, that a sine qua non for surgical, precise strikes of the kind envisioned by proponents of early warning actions may be the very sophisticated and detailed information about conditions and factors in-country that the western powers have little incentive to collect. Except, of course, when the crisis occurs in the west.

Moreover, by virtue of its small size, Rwanda may not even be an appropriate model for estimating the ability of an intervention force to successfully disrupt extremist preparations for violence. Rwanda is only about the size of the state of Maryland. Most other African countries where humanitarian intervention has been undertaken or considered are substantially larger. The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) where intervention was considered in 1997 has more than eighty times Rwanda’s square mileage. Somalia is more than twenty times as large. Even small "failing states" like Liberia and Sierra Leone are, respectively, four times and two and a half times the size of Rwanda. Suppressing extremist movements in such expansive territories may prove physically daunting for an early intervention force unless it is extremely large, in which case the effort of fielding and deploying such a force from the west would certainly preclude its arriving early.

Furthermore, suppressing ethnic agit-prop (particularly "hate radio" broadcasting); confiscating weapons, and detaining extremist leaders may prove to be difficult tasks and might only yield temporary benefits. Intervention--early or late--even against seemingly small groups of extremists or their leaders could amount to picking sides in a nascent civil war. This often has adverse consequences. For instance, in Somalia, the UN decided to take action against one of the warring clans that was interfering with the distribution of humanitarian supplies. The result was the loss of 18 US soldiers and the loss of public and congressional support for the Somalia policy. Moreover, little damage was done to the targeted clan and its leadership. The US-French-Italian intervention in Lebanon in the early 1980s had even more tragic and fruitless consequences. Because the United States forces were perceived as siding with the minority-dominated government, the American Embassy and the Marine Corps barracks at the Beirut airport were attacked by terrorist truck bombs.

To really be effective an early intervention would likely have to decapitate the extremist leadership; otherwise the violence might only be postponed until the extremists have time to re-organize. Getting extremist leaders out of circulation and bringing them to justice have often proven to be a complex and time consuming tasks. United Nations forces tried and failed to decapitate the most troublesome Somali clan in the early 1990s. Cambodia’s Pol Pot died a free man in 1998 almost twenty years after his involvement in some of this century’s most heinous atrocities. In Bosnia, alleged war criminals have eluded capture for years and have continued to foment tension.

It is true that many Rwandan extremists have been captured and brought to trial. In fact, some have been found guilty in the Rwandan courts and been summarily executed in public settings starting in April 1998.16 But it was not until January 2000, almost six years after the crisis had ended, that the first private citizen was convicted of "genocide-related" charges by the United Nations tribunal system.17 Thus, the Rwandan experience may be an exception that proves the rule about the difficulty of decapitating extremist groups. It is, moreover, in practical terms a case of victor’s justice. The Rwandan war criminals were captured and brought to trial only after their forces had been defeated in the civil war and even then only after the victors assumed full control of all of the reins of government. Some of the war criminals fled to refugee camps in other countries during the waning days of the civil war and were able to evade justice for years. Many were eventually repatriated to Rwanda under sustained pressure from the United Nations agencies, the governments of the nations hosting the refugee camps, and non-governmental aid organizations. (The private citizen convicted by the UN tribunal in January 2000 had escaped to Switzerland where he was arrested in 1995.)

Roughly the same points can be made with respect to the idea of weapons confiscation. During the 1992-3 intervention in Somalia, US and UN peacekeepers adopted a policy of weapons confiscation. Two classes of weapons were involved. The first was relatively large weapons like rocket propelled grenade launchers which did not figure prominently in the Rwandan violence. The second involved small arms like pistols and rifles that are analogous to the side arms and machetes used in Rwanda. Trying to reduce the supply of both kinds of weapons could have had the same effect as picking sides in a civil war as the reductions could tilt the local balance of power, e.g., by reducing the advantage of the most heavily armed group, or increasing the disadvantage of poorly armed factions. Moreover, efforts to reduce the supply of small arms in Somalia proved to be administratively cumbersome, time consuming and ultimately futile.18

As noted above, inflammatory radio broadcasts were widely judged to have contributed heavily to violence in Rwanda in 1994. In 1995 "hate radio" broadcasts were also thought to be inflaming tensions in Burundi. The Secretary General took the matter so seriously that UN operatives were dispatched to the region to evaluate whether the UN should establish its own broadcast facility in or near Burundi for counter-programming purposes. As it turns out, the UN decided against getting into the broadcasting business in Burundi for practical reasons, principally the difficulty of staffing the station with skilled translators and the risk that the UN facility and broadcasters would be attacked. This episode points out two things. One is that derailing ethnic agit-prop is not the kind of thing that can be accomplished in a surgical strike, or at a single stroke. The second is that humanitarian officials and the military forces that provide them security are increasingly likely to become targeted by extremists or criminal elements acting under the cover of ethnic strife. In the context of a civil war or civil disorder, even the subtle art of positive propaganda amounts to a political action that will be perceived by one group or another as a cause for retaliation.

To effectively disrupt ethnic agit-prop, considerably more is required than pulling the plugs and seizing the microphones at a hate radio station or arresting assorted street-corner orators. Given modern technology, "pirate" radio stations can fill in for a closed station in a matter of days, if not hours. Pirate radio stations can also change locations fairly easily, thus committed propagandists might be difficult to actually keep off the air. For any such measures to have lasting effect, they might have to be accompanied by extended monitoring of radio broadcasts in-country and, as the UN decided against doing in Burundi, the establishment, operation and protection of more responsible media outlets. Here, too, experience in Bosnia may be instructive. Even after three years of intense peacekeeping activity by NATO forces, radio and television stations in Bosnia continued to broadcast inflammatory statements about various ethnic factions in the country and about the motives of the peacekeepers themselves.19 Further complicating this issue is the fact that the offending radio stations are at least occasionally operated by the national government itself or owned by relatives or business partners of government officials. This was the case in Rwanda. A more recent example occurred in August 1998. According to UN sources, a Congo government station was broadcasting calls for the Congolese people to kill Tutsis with "machete, spear, arrow, hoe, spades, rakes, nails, truncheons, irons, barbed wire, stones and the like".20

In January and February 2000, the United Nations and its leading members appear, yet again, to have indirectly acknowledged how unlikely it is in the present order of things that early warning will be effectively acted upon. (Diplomatic efforts to peacefully arbitrate issues or to negotiate cease-fire agreements can be and, of course, are attempted by the United Nations, by neighboring states or by western sates with an interest in the region. When these efforts succeed, the fighting stops. My focus is on situations where the diplomatic efforts either failed or were not undertaken.) It may also be an acknowledgement of how dim the United Nations and its leading members think the prospects for success really are for early warning actions.

On February 8, 2000 a resolution was introduced in the Security Council to authorize a small peacekeeping force of 5,500 troops to intervene in Congo.21 The resolution was introduced after many months of early warning and specified that the intervention would take place only after the fighting had ceased. In other words, the intervention would be the opposite of early and the peacekeeping force would be so small that it can only be thought of as a token gesture. Congo is, as previously noted, eighty times as large as Rwanda--yet the United Nations peacekeeping force for Congo would only be slightly larger than the force that was sent to Rwanda before the 1994 genocide to monitor a cease fire accord. The Rwanda peacekeepers (UNAMIR) numbered 2,500 troops--only 3,000 less than the number of troops that would be sent to a country eighty times as large.

The relationship between early warning and early action

The record seems clear that the major western powers and the UN decline to act during the early stages of complex humanitarian emergencies for reasons other than ignorance about disturbing events in remote places like central Africa. In fact, whatever ignorance exists in Washington, Paris, London or the headquarters of UN agencies about general trends in human suffering and violence in those regions must be willful, given the information channels that exist with national embassies, UN aid missions, non-government organizations and the media. This means that the "problem" of inaction during the early stages of crises like those that have erupted in places like Rwanda, Somalia, and Bosnia will not be solved by greater investment in early warning systems.

It does not necessarily follow that inaction by the UN and its leading members in the face of early warning information is inherently immoral or even ill advised. It may be that the reluctance of the UN and its leading members to intervene forcefully in the early stages of a complex humanitarian emergency is a function of the costs of the tools available to them. The costs referred to here include more than the monetary price tag associated with the intervention tools. Although finances are obviously an important consideration, all forms of intervention cost substantial amounts of money. In addition to the direct financial costs, there are important opportunity costs and political risks to any intervention. These other costs and risks vary considerably for different intervention tools. Thus one might assume that decision-makers in the United Nations and in the national capitals of its leading members would be much more reluctant to approve intervention actions that entail high opportunity costs and great political risks, than they would approve intervention actions with low cost profiles.

Based on international community's response during the early stages of recent humanitarian crises, the evidence appears to validate the hypothesis depicted in Figure 1. This, in turn, suggests that the solution to the "problem" of inaction during the early stages of an emerging humanitarian crisis lies in developing intervention tools with lower opportunity costs and political risks.

The following are examples of intervention tools or actions with relatively low costs:

  • donations of food and medical supplies to the government of the affected state;
  • donations of equipment or supplies to non-governmental organizations in-country;
  • financial grants to non-governmental organizations operating in-country;
  • financial contributions to UN agencies operating in country;
  • dispatching human rights monitors or other observer missions; and
  • hosting./brokering cease-fire negotiations between warring factions.

Low cost actions such as those listed above are, of course, routinely taken during the early stages of complex humanitarian emergencies, at least in part because the opportunity costs and political risks of these actions are relatively slight. As to opportunity costs, food, medical supplies and money are not in such absolute short supply worldwide that donating food to Rwanda necessarily means that food would then not be available for donation to Somalia or some other impoverished land. Or that if funds are contributed to Burundi, then the international community would automatically forfeit the opportunity to contribute relief funds for Kosovo.

Human rights monitors and diplomats capable of brokering negotiations are, of course, in much shorter supply, than money, food and other commodities. However, there is no absolute shortage of either observers or diplomats and their use is presently limited more by insufficient demand than supply. Political risks could be a more significant consideration in that a state's prestige might conceivably suffer if the negotiations it sponsors or facilitates prove fruitless. On the other hand, whatever such damage occurs is likely to be inconsequential over the long run. There could also political risks to the sending state if the members of an observer mission fall victim to violence in-country. However this cost pales in comparison to the political risks that governments incur when deployed military forces are attacked and casualties occur.

The most important high cost/risk options involve the employment of professional, national military forces to: provide security for relief efforts, physically protect safe havens in civil war zones against attack, disarm warring factions, confiscate weapons stockpiles, and to directly attack or arrest the perpetrators of violence. Because they are absolutely limited in size and budget, genuine opportunity costs are entailed whenever professional, national military forces are employed. The opportunity costs should involve missions that must be foregone and training that must be missed while forces are engaged in a humanitarian intervention. The value of this cost varies by time and location. For example, during periods of international tension, the opportunity cost could be considerably greater because threatened states would put a high premium on military readiness for self-defense. Presumably the opportunity costs would also be greater for states with small military forces, military forces that are already heavily engaged in other missions or for states with transportation and logistics capabilities that are so limited that they would have difficulty re-deploying forces to meet emergent needs elsewhere.

The political risks associated with the employment of military forces are both international and domestic. On the domestic side there is the cost that a President or Prime Minister would incur in the form of public and legislative criticism if the military force takes casualties. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that public opinion, at least in the United States, is not actually casualty-phobic. That is to say that there is no overwhelming, knee-jerk demand by the American public that peacekeeping forces be withdrawn immediately after the first American soldier is killed. This does not, however, mean that the public will not begin to question the humanitarian mission and to re-evaluate its objectives. For example, after the 18 Rangers were killed in Somalia, even though the American public did not demand the immediate withdrawal of forces, it did apparently began to question both the wisdom of U.S. policy towards Somalia and the judgement of the leaders responsible for that policy.22 Criticism from the public and the legislature may also create risk to other policies and priorities. It may at least temporarily reduce the President/Prime Minister's ability to garner support for other foreign or domestic initiatives. Roughly the same risk exists internationally. Humanitarian interventions that are perceived as failures or that result in domestic criticism (e.g. due to military casualties) create risk to future multi-national initiatives. A state like the United States or the United Kingdom that "lead the charge" for a mission that failed may find that other states will become less willing to follow its lead again.

The high cost-high risk associated with employment of professional, national armed forces is one reason to suspect that the responsiveness of the United Nations system may not be materially improved by increasing the readiness of military forces designated in standby commitments to the United Nations. Even if these forces acquire rapid deployment capability as recommended by the Secretary General,23 the more crucial issue for responsiveness is the amount of time that Security Council states and the states that own the forces to decide to commission a humanitarian intervention. This decision-making time frame will be determined more by the potential opportunity costs and political risks to the sending states than by the readiness of the forces to deploy.

The Lesson: We Need New Tools

If it is true that there is a relationship between the willingness of states to intervene and the costs/risks associated with the intervention tools, the solution to the "problem" of inaction during the early warning period must lie in the development of new, lower cost-lower risk tools. It is, however, important to note that the case for new tools does not depend exclusively upon early warning. Lower cost-lower risk tools will have value in all phases of complex humanitarian emergencies. As suggested by the 1999-2000 crisis in Congo and other crises, the United Nations and its leading members seem sometimes to be as disinclined towards intervening late as intervening early. Further, if less financially expensive tools can be developed, resources would be freed up for expanded or improved relief programs. After all, military intervention to protect aid deliveries and aid workers and keep the peace often costs far more in financial terms than the aid itself.

The most effective way to lower costs and decrease risk may be to develop tools that do not rely upon the professional, national armed forces of the leading members of the United Nations. One way to accomplish this might be to rely upon regional peacekeeping capabilities. Regional organizations are closer to the scene and could eventually be capable of intervening on a more timely basis and without the expensive overhead and political baggage that attend NATO forces or UN units that are composed of West European and North American forces. There are a number of regional organizations that could be considered as potential candidates; e.g., the Organization for African Unity (OAU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), or the Organization of American States. Consideration could even be given to developing new organizations at the regional level. As guarantors of the Rio Treaty, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile have served as peacekeepers along the disputed Ecuador-Peru border and could perhaps form the core of a new South American humanitarian response organization. Rather than attempt to invest in and certify all potential regional organizations simultaneously, it would make more sense to concentrate on a single organization first. The program could then be expanded if the pilot test is successful and if other regional organizations volunteer to participate.

This would require a concerted, long-term effort by both the regional organization's members and the United Nations and its leading members. Substantial investments may have to be made in the capabilities, infrastructure and professionalization of regional organizations. The United Nations would have to certify the professionalism and training of the regional forces before appointing that regional organization as the lead responder to a humanitarian crisis in-region. Provisions would also have to be established for UN and media oversight of peacekeeping operations conducted by regional organizations. Without steps such as these, the population of a state affected by a humanitarian crisis and the affected state itself might refuse to cooperate with the regional peacekeepers.

Another approach would be to develop "information offensive" programs--specifically, the systematic collection of information about complicit individuals and organizations involved in fomenting ethnic violence. The information could then be used to organize long-term economic sanctions against complicit organizations and governments. The information could also be used to apply international boycotts against the private organizations and government agencies that might in the future employ complicit individuals.

Information offensives might also include an aggressive "psychological operations" program to undercut local support and sympathy for human rights violators. The United Nations or a regional organization could, for example, broadcast information in-country about the culpability of specific individuals. It could also broadcast information about the long term effects of violence on the economy and the value of the economic aid that is lost when violence causes relief organizations to withdraw or when donors decide to invest in aid to other poor, but peaceful countries.

Building new tools for humanitarian response will take time. The effort may make the international community less responsive in the short run if resources are diverted from ongoing aid programs to building new capabilities. Admittedly, investments in new tools will do little to mitigate the suffering in today's complex humanitarian emergencies. Some may argue, indeed, that the very effort of developing new tools will only create another reason for decision-makers in the United Nations to decline to act decisively in today's humanitarian emergencies. This may appear to be a plausible argument. However, it overlooks the fact that the United Nations and its leading members have demonstrated that they already have all the reasons they need for not taking effective action. In my view, these reasons are sound given the high costs and risks associated with the tools at hand today.


1 This chapter elaborates upon some of the themes addressed in James F. Miskel, "Are We Learning the Right Lessons from Africa's Humanitarian Crises?', Naval War College Review, Summer 1999, Vol. LII, No. 3, pp. 136-147.

2 Integrated Regional Information Network for Central and Eastern Africa (IRIN), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs IRIN No. 25-97 covering the period 3-9 Oct. 1997, p. 3; IRIN No. 31-97 covering the period 14-20 Nov. 1997, p. 1; IRIN No. 32-97 covering the period 21-27 Nov. 97, p. 3. IRIN No. 21-98 covering the period 15-21 May 1998, p. 4; IRIN No. 22-98 covering the period 22-28 May 1998, p. 3; IRIN No. 32-98 covering the period 31 July-6 Aug. 1998, p. 1 and 2. IRIN No. 2-98 covering the period 2 Jan.-8 Jan. 1998, p. 1. IRIN No. 14-21 covering the period 8-14 May 1998, p. 3; IRIN No. 30-98 covering the period 17-23 July 1998, p.1; IRIN No. 33-98 covering the period 7-13 August 1998, p. 3. (IRIN reports are available through the internet at

3 IRIN Update 843 for the Great Lakes (Thursday 20 January 2000), p. 1 and 2.

4 For example, a study funded by the Belgian government and conducted by the University of Ghent Research Group Study of the Third World advocated an early warning system explicitly oriented toward conflict prevention, but implicitly addressing the full range of humanitarian crises. The report, "Early warning and crisis prevention: Minerva's Wisdom?" is posted on the internet by the Journal of Humanitarian Assistance at The document was posted on July 1, 1997. A similar point has been made in after-action analyses of the 1994 Rwanda intervention sponsored by the Danish government and conducted by an international steering committee composed of representatives from the United States, numerous European states, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations. The "Steering Committee of the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance In Rwanda" conducted several studies of the Rwanda crisis, the most pertinent study of which concluded that an early warning system should be developed. The studies were self-published in five volumes by the Steering Committee. Volume II addressed "Early Warning and Conflict". It was written by Howard Adelman of York University, Toronto and Astri Suhrke of the Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway with contributions by Bruce Jones of the London School of Economics. Their conclusion about early warning was re-iterated in the Steering Committee's "Synthesis Report" (Volume V). A copy of the Steering Committee report has been reproduced on the internet by the Journal of Humanitarian Assistance at

5 White House Press Release, "Remarks by the President to Genocide Survivors, Assistance Workers, and US and Rwanda Government Officials", March 25, 1998. Available at the White House internet home page (

6 IRIN No. 19-98 for 1-7 May 1998, p. 1.

7 IRIN-West Africa, September 9, 1999.

8 Many 1994 documents are archived on the internet at It has been speculated that the internet availability of current field reports from places like Rwanda could have an impact on government policy. Some have even proposed that the internet become the backbone of an early warning system. An example is Gavan Duffy, "An Early Warning System for the United Nations: Internet or Not?" Mershon International Studies Review (1995), Vol. 39, p. 315-8.

9 R.A. Dallaire and B. Poulin, "UNAMIR Mission to Rwanda," Joint Force Quarterly, Spring 1995, p. 66-71.

10 Philip Gourevitch, "The Genocide Fax", The New Yorker, May 11, 1998, p. 42-5.

11 The New York Times ran articles and editorials on Rwanda during March-April-May 1994 before the international community intervened: "State Department Issues Warning Against Travel to Rwanda," March 13, 1994 V3; "Anarchy Rules in Kigali, Rwanda," April 14, 1994, A1 and 3; "Lull in Rwanda Fighting Allows Aid Deliveries" May 13, 1994, p. A5; "Tribal Fighting Flares Again Around the Rwandan Capital", May 16, 1995, p. A3. Similar coverage was provided by The Economist in Great Britain: "The bleeding of Rwanda," Vol. 331, April 16. 1994, p. 45; "Genocide in Rwanda" May 21, 1994, Vol. 332, p. 45.

12 James F. Miskel and Richard J. Norton, "Humanitarian Early Warning Systems", Global Governance, July-September 1998, Vol. 4, No. 3, p. 317-329.

13 This point is related to the "pivotal states" policy that was advocated by Robert S. Chase, Emily B. Hill, and Paul Kennedy, "Pivotal States and US Strategy", Foreign Affairs , Vol. 75, No. 1, January-February 1996, p. 33-51). This article calls for preemptive actions "to prevent calamity rather than react to it" (p. 49); but only in the handful of nations that are strategically important to the United States. An implication of this article is that the United States would unilaterally collect early warning information about pivotal states, instead of relying upon a UN system that would monitor humanitarian developments worldwide.

14 The World Bank, World Development Report, 1994 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), p.162.

15 White House Press Release, "Remarks by the President to Genocide Survivors, Assistance Workers, and US and Rwanda Government Officials", March 25, 1998. Available at the White House internet home page (

16 IRIN No. 17-98 covering the period 17-23 April 1998, p. 1. The first four were reportedly executed in a Kigali soccer stadium before a crowd of 100,000 cheering spectators.

17 "First Private Citizen Convicted by Rwanda Genocide Tribunal", New York Times, January 28, 2000, p. A9.

18 Refugee Policy Group, Hope Restored? Humanitarian Aid in Somalia 1990-1994 (Washington, November 1994) Center for Policy Analysis and Research on Refugee Issues, p. 74-5. Jonathan Dworken, "Restore Hope: Coordinating Relief Operation", Joint Force Quarterly, No. 8, Summer 1995, p. 17-8.

19 Philip Shenon, "Allies Creating Agency to Rule Press in Bosnia", New York Times, April 24, 1998, p. A1 and A8.

20 IRIN No. 33-98 covering the period 7-13 August 1998, p. 1.

21 Crossette, Barbara. "U.S. Offers U.N. Resolution for 5,500-Troop Congo Force," New York Times, February 9, 2000, p. A5.

22 Steven Kull, "Misreading the Public Mood", The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 1995, Vol. 51, No. 2, p. 52-59.

23 Kofi Annan, "In World Still Riven by Conflict, Peacekeeping Has Proud Role, Says Secretary-General, in Bangkok Address," UN Press Release, SG/SM/7297 PKO/84. February 11, 2000.