Should the United States Have Intervened in the Rwandan Genocide?

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On April 6, 1994, all hell broke loose in Rwanda after a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down leading to well-coordinated and planned genocide that filled the streets of Rwanda with dead bodies. The six weeks that followed the April 6 date would witness the death of approximately 800,000 Rwandese as the two biggest tribes in the country, Hutu and Tutsi rose against each other to execute a bloodbath of extreme margin . The most disturbing issue of these occurrences was how the world sat down and watched the events unfolding without taking an initiative of stopping the happening and controlling the damage before it went too far. Among the observers who did not do anything to intervene with the Genocide is the United States which possessed both military and political power that would rapidly stop the slaughter of the hundreds of thousands in Rwanda. Despite the fact the Clinton administration was aware of what was unfolding, they came to a decision not to act and stayed oblivious of the damage that the genocide would bring to the country. However, I believe that with the influence that the U.S. has over the world as well as its military and political influence, the Clinton administrations should have intervened in the Rwandan Genocide before the situation elapsed to the scale it did.

Sometime after the Rwanda Genocide had ended, President Clinton claimed that the main reason why the United States did not intervene was that they were not aware of the true scope and scale of the killings. He also claimed that the speed at which the genocide spread throughout the country barred America from coming up with an effective response to the issue . However, it would later be revealed that while the Genocide continued for over three months, it had also been planned in advance and the hierarchy in the U.S. was aware of these proceedings to the detail. Therefore, it is correct to state that the inaction of the U.S. was not as a result of lack of information or inadequate resources to arrest the issue, but rather a conscious act policy directed by those in power . Prior to the Rwanda Genocide, the U.S. had just pulled American troops out of a devastating peacekeeping mission in Somalia and vowed never to engage in a conflict that it could not understand especially those between tribes and clan it did not know and in countries where the U.S. has not national interests. While the humanitarian workers and the diplomats in hotels and embassies in Rwanda gave daily tolls of the demises, mainly the Tutsis, the Western world and the US failed to respond and most experts feel that they failed to engage in an action that could save lives and ultimately world peace.

The idea that the US should only intervene where it has vital interests is morally bankrupt and should be scrapped. At the same time, leaders may feel that they should be able to justify intervention in order to caution the public about their interests. In the latter case, the leaders in high offices in the US could have pointed out the interest in stopping violence to ensure that it did not spill over its borders and threaten the regional stability which would be catastrophic to the regional stability. While Rwanda may not offer any commercial interests to the U.S., the neighboring Congo, which is resource rich would be affected and therefore the interests of the U.S . would be affected.

Therefore, by doing a cost and benefit analysis, the U.S. would have a push in favor of intervening with the Genocide before it escalated to uncontrolled levels. In fact, the US spent a lot of aid for the refugee issue in Kenya and Congo following the genocide in Rwanda that it contributed to the peacekeeping mission in Rwanda when the killings were being executed. According to Thomas Weiss, the US has a tendency of allocating and disbursing billions of dollars as humanitarian aid following the eruption of violence in different areas as they find it easier than committing armed forces or risk-averse policies following the eruption of the conflict . Additionally, as opposed to what elites think, the public tends to support moral compelling interventions as opposed to basing their case on interests. According to a study by the University of Maryland, leaders tend to misread the public who are highly supportive of intervening to civilians facing deaths and suffering such as the case of the genocide as opposed to national interests.

According to a research done in the US in 1994, 65% of the public supported the intervention of the US to stop genocide at any time while 23% believed that the US should only intervene in a genocide in case the national interests are at stake while only 6% believe that the US should never intervene in case of a genocide . Based on the results of this pile, it is clear that the public was highly misunderstood by the leaders who believed that they should only intervene when the national interests are at risk whereas more people in the public supported the intervention where people were suffering or facing deaths.

There is also an issue of last resort condition for just a war where one could claim that by delaying intervention and coming up with other measures first may end up being too late especially in case where the genocide moves too fast as was the case of Rwanda where almost 10,000 people could be killed in just twenty minutes. However, as Kuperman argued that intervening cannot be termed as a substitute to prevention. Given that there was advanced knowledge regarding the impending case of Rwanda, prevention measures would have been key in ensuring that the issue did not begin at all. However, no measures were put in place to prevent the occurrence of the genocide despite increased knowledge regarding the issue. According to Des Forges, there were many forms of intervention that the US could have put in place especially to prevent to the escalation of the issue.

For example, the U.S. would have stopped the hate radio which was key in the instigation of the genocide. Instead of swinging to a decision of barring the hate radio from corrupting the mind of the people, the State Department assigned a team of a lawyer to examine its viability which they concluded that jamming the transmission of the radio would be a form of free speech rights violation . The latter was a mistake given the role played by the radio in perpetrating the genocide, especially in the beginning. While the commission cautioned that jamming the transmission would be a violation of the freedom of speech, they would have taken another option of controlling the type of message that was being transmitted by threatening to withdraw aid money in case the radio continued to propel hate messages. Such a move would have been effective given the country’s high level of aid dependence but the commission ignored this fact and proceeded to do nothing among the impending issue .

Taking a more direct approach to intervening the Genocide may have produced better results and may have deterred the death of the people who perished during the genocide. According to Peter Uvin, four years before the genocide, there was a diplomatic pressure on the government to stop violations of human rights which was key in changing the behaviors of the government officials albeit temporarily. Additionally, an arms embargo appeal meant to ensure refraining from the provision of military assistance and arm to the country that has would in case it was implemented earlier.

In case the embargo was put in place and enforced earlier in a more rigorous manner, it would have pushed the interim government to end the genocide as opposed to just change the way it was done. Furthermore, the U.S., as well as the international community, could have denied the legitimacy of the interim government in case they felt that it did not protect the lives of the people in the country. The latter would have been key in ensuring that the government did more than just perpetuate the genocide to the loss of the people. Instead, the US and the international community allowed the Rwandan representatives to remain on the Security Council thus giving them a legitimacy that continued to push the resisting group to engage in heinous acts against humanity.

The frail response of the US government to the Rwandese Genocide cannot be debated over the definition of genocide as there is a consensus in the fact that what happened in Rwanda can be fully referred as genocide. In his 1996 book, Rwanda and Genocide in the Twentieth Century, Alain Destexhe examines the genocide concept and its application in the twentieth century using the case of Rwanda as a reference point. In the book, Destexhe claims that as established in the Genocide Convention of the UN, it is clear that the Rwanda case fit the definition of a genocide.

According to this definition, a genocide can be termed as an act that is committed with intent to destroy in part or fully, a racial, religious, national or ethical group. Such acts may include the killing of members of a group, imposing measures meant to bar birth rates within a group, causing serious mental or bodily harm to a group or forcibly moving children of a particular group from their home to a place where they are not protected or are out of reach from their parents. For the case of Rwanda, the Tutsi population was clearly an extermination target which thus follows the genocide definition made by the UN . It is clear that the Hutu population used the army as well as their connectivity to weapons to destroy the minority Tutsi.

While the United States continued to blame their lack of action to fail to understand the extent of the conflict and the misunderstood conflict in Somalia, it is clear that the Rwandese case was a shouting Genocide that required swift action. While the U.S. as a superpower was able to collude with the United Nations to enforce the post-Somalia foreign policy, the Rwandese case should have been given thought and acted upon before it escalated to dangerous levels . The main motive of the intervention would have been the thought of the children who were forced to leave their parents while others were forced to fight as child fighters and therefore the government failed by standing down.

While some analysts claim that the damage would still have occurred even with the intervention of the U.S upon learning that the genocide was about to occur, it is clear that some lives would have been saved. Saving some lives would be a justified intervention as opposed to staying put and trying to rectify the effect. The belated minimal response that was proposed by the U.S . in May 1994 would also have saved a few lives. It is impossible to know the number of lives that would have been saved in case the U.S. intervened but it is not right to assume that just because the extent of the war was too much at the time, absolutely nothing would have been done. While the U.N. seems to have been ill-prepared to what erupted, it is clear that their efforts were not directed to help any of the victims in the country given that over 1000 heavily armed Belgian and French troops flew in Kigali by April 10 as they sought to evacuate their own nationals from perishing . In fact, even without any reinforcement, the UN troops could have used their weapons to suppress the violence which was mostly perpetrated using machetes. Furthermore, bearing in mind that 456 UN peacekeepers successfully saved at least 25,000 lives by guarding them in hotels, churches and stadium show the extent to which a well-organized army such as that of the U.S. would have gone to ensure that the issue was duly dealt with.

Given that the U.S has a huge impact on the western world and the superpowers, its intervention would have come in handy in ensuring that other countries were wooed towards helping the victims in Rwanda. Therefore, it can be argued that the whole burden would not have fallen upon the U.S. but upon the whole world in case the country used its resources and powers well to push the others towards arresting the issue at hand. It is clear that the intervention of the world has benefited the cause in more than one way as the international community including countries like Belgium and France that were aware of what was happening, would have done something to deal with the impending danger.

While the story of U.S. policy during the Rwanda genocide cannot be termed as a story of willful complicity with evil, it is clear that by sitting around without doing anything should not happen again. While examining the way the United States reacted to the issue, it is clear that having weak leadership forces the system to incline towards risk-averse policy choices. Basing on the number of casualties in the Rwandese case, it is clear that a lot that should have been done at the top-level was not done. It is also clear that the domestic political forces that would have pressed for action were inactive while those that were opposed to the involvement of America in Rwanda thought that they were doing all that they could do .

As seen in the above discussion, it is clear that the United States should have intervened in the Rwanda Genocide right from before it ensued to the point where ended up losing their lives as opposed to coming in with humanitarian aid while the disaster has already occurred. It is also clear that President Clinton and his advisors failed to acknowledge the magnitude of the issue given that they were highly informed on how the issue was unfolding. While the decision not to intervene was based factors like the Somalia intervention some few years before the Rwanda case, sitting down on the issue was not the right decision and it should not be repeated. First, the United States had enough resources and military power to limit the number of casualties if at all the policymakers followed the right path in ensuring that this was achieved. Having discussed the hate radio that played a central role in perpetrating hate among the Hutus against the Tutsi, the U. S. should have taken a prompt decision to ensure that the radio waves were closed before the organizations and co-ordinations of the deaths were achieved . Furthermore, the intervention would have wooed other countries to join the course and therefore the whole cost would not have fallen on the U.S. alone. All in all, the few lives that would have been saved following the intervention of the United States would have been worth it bearing in mind that that cannot be quantified now that nothing was done.


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Cite this paper

Should the United States Have Intervened in the Rwandan Genocide?. (2021, Oct 03). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/should-the-united-states-have-intervened-in-the-rwandan-genocide/

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