Ronald Reagan, the Genocide Convention and the Historians: a Brief Introduction
After World War II, the Genocide Convention was brought before the United Nations Security Council as a consequence of the Nazi Holocaust against Europe’s Jews, Gypsies and many others. While the United States was one of the initial signatories of the treaty, the domestic ratification by Congress required to make it binding only took place in 1988 under the Reagan administration. While most historians agree that Reagan’s personal support helped convince a reluctant Senate to approve the Convention, the relevant historiography is relatively thin in regards to Reagan’s motivations for pursuing the ratification. In fact, the ratification of the Genocide Convention is often neglected in historical accounts of the period.
Nonetheless, the prevailing view is that Reagan sought ratification of the Genocide Convention to mollify the American Jewish community which was angered in direct response to Reagan’s visit to and subsequent comments at Bitburg cemetery in Germany. The impact of the Jewish communities influence on the Reagan’s calculations cannot be denied, but it also can be argued that Reagan was predisposed towards ratification before the Bitburg incident.
In addition to the Cold War and domestic politics as the accepted reasons for Reagan’s agreement to support the treaty, historians should consider Reagan’s own belief system as well as other factors that led him to support ratification.