Charles J. Brown, Managing Director of Strategy for Humanity and former Senior Advisor on Atrocity Prevention and Response in the Office of the Undersecretary for Policy in the U.S. Department of Defense, spoke with Dr. Eamon Aloyo, Senior Researcher in the Conflict Prevention program at The Hague Institute about challenges and successes in U.S. mass atrocity prevention and response policies.
What are the most important steps the US has taken to mitigate mass atrocities in recent years?
CB: I think the biggest challenge for the US has been how to build the infrastructure to take on mass atrocities when they happen, and then how to implement that infrastructure. The US has done a very good job of developing infrastructure. We have the new Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), which is an attempt to bring together all the different agencies within the US government that work on these issues to coordinate their policies across the board. One would think this is something the US would do naturally, but that’s actually not something that happens. We have this problem of stove piping, where agencies work within themselves and don’t focus on what others are doing. What the APB has done is bring all those agencies together to coordinate responses. It’s a separate issue to ask whether or not that coordination has led to more effective atrocity responses.
In your view, what are the main successes and challenges to implementing these policies?
CB: I think you have to divide it into two different groups of responses: the first is prevention and the second is response. I think in many situations the US has actually responded quickly to the threat of mass atrocities – we saw that in Central African Republic (CAR), in South Sudan, in the early days of the Rohingya crisis in Burma and in the lead up to the elections in Kenya. In all those cases the US responded quickly and effectively when there was a threat of mass atrocities. What I think the US government and the Obama administration is struggling with is the actual act of prevention. It is a much more difficult task, it’s much harder to respond to it and it’s much harder to figure out whether you do it right and whether you succeeded at it.
As part of your work on CAR, what do you think are the main lessons learned from that crisis and the response to it?
CB: Prevention, prevention, prevention. I think the US was quite effective in responding to the crisis when it happened in December 2013. It responded quite effectively by moving quickly, moving a lot of money and troops, providing humanitarian assistance. However, prior to that, despite the best efforts of the Atrocities Prevention Board to draw the rest of the government’s attention to CAR, what happened is that essentially the existing bureaucracy working in the area of Africa was not interest in CAR, and the APB did not have the weight to convince it to pay more attention. In terms of prevention and preparedness for crisis, the US did not do that well. In large part because CAR was not viewed as part of the US sphere of influence, it was viewed as a French area of influence. When it came to the actual crisis, however, the US responded quickly – in part with the APB, in part with NGO activism and in part because Samantha Power got to use her pulpit in New York to draw attention to the issue.