Saturday, August 25, 2007

American Responses to Genocides

American Government Responses to Genocides: Pakistan and Burundi

The Americans and Pakistan

Many factors influenced the decision-making process of the Nixon administration regarding the Pakistani genocide in 1971. The most important of these was the China detente strategy. Authors Morris and Pilkington both argue that Nixon feared his Detente negotiations with China would be jeopardized by taking action against Pakistan for its behavior; not only was Pakistan the go-between but was putting down a secessionist threat, one that China did not want to to see happen in its own country.

Other factors that influenced American foreign policy are of an institutional or bureaucratic nature. Congress and the State Department had lost some influence in setting policy and the Nixon administration's penchant for secrecy further alienated them from any effective power. Thus, Kissinger emerged as the prime theorist and engine of U.S. policy towards Pakistan. On the theoretical plane, bureaucracies also tend to be biased towards the status quo which in turn often help guarantee their own survival. This resulted in a hands-off policy.

Finally, we can point to the American animus towards India as a reason for Nixon turning a blind eye towards the genocide: Pakistan's territorial integrity was valued as a counterbalance to any perceived Indian interests in the region.

American Response to the Burundi Genocide

In Burundi, many of the same factors (and others) were involved. Author Rene Lemarchand has described, as if to emphasize the brutality of the Genocide, that even churches were not spared from the violence. In fact, the U.S. bureaucratic machine sought to placate the many American missionaries in Burundi, who feared reprisals, by not pushing for condemnation of the Tutsi government. Notwithstanding the effort of some scholars, who seek to shift the blame for Burundi from the Nixon/Kissinger executive to the State Department, the president and his advisers generally had little interest in this area of the world, and this was not about to change given Nixon's many domestic problems that were unfolding.

Others have pointed to a subtle racism in their attitudes towards Burundi, that somehow blacks killing each other in such numbers was normal. Most importantly, the lack of any concrete interest in the region as defined by various foreign policy imperatives, guaranteed no effective solutions could be put into place to deter or further prevent the genocide.

A Few Remarks on American Responses to Genocide

American attitudes towards the genocides was tailored from a series of realist calculations whose ultimate goal was the fulfillment of the government's foreign policy objectives. While humanitarian motives are always a factor that policy makers consider in deciding on a course of action in international affairs, one can argue that they rank low on the priority scale. This observation, while noted throughout the history of American foreign policy making, need not solely indicate a failure in personal devotion to humanitarianism but rather the success of a system that devalues the ongoing "rights revolution," instead favoring absolute self-interest as its overarching end.

American humanitarian intervention can conceivably happen when two conditions are satisfied: first, any potential action must not conflict with (or oppose) the perceived interests of the government as defined by it and second, there must be overwhelming response from other power centers (such as the populace) in support of a particular action, given the inherent government bias for inaction.

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