Back in August, President Obama signed into existence PSD-10, a Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities. When it was first released, PSD-10 was well-received by liberal interventionists and those who believe that preventative diplomacy and coordinated action can head-off mass killings, Anne-Marie Slaughter and myself included. Paul States of the Council on Foreign Relations noted that PSD-10 had the potential to make it so “the inertia and neglect that has often characterized U.S. responses in the past can also hopefully be lessened, if not eliminated”. Granted, not everyone was convinced about the necessity for further study into mass atrocities, but you can’t please everyone.
The language used in PSD-10 strikes a tone of hope for the future, while acknowledging missteps of the past, and a desire for an early warning system against mass atrocities:
In the face of a potential mass atrocity, our options are never limited to either sending in the military or standing by and doing nothing. The actions that can be taken are many they range from economic to diplomatic interventions, and from non combat military actions to outright intervention. But ensuring that the full range of options is available requires a level of governmental organization that matches the methodical organization characteristic of mass killings.
Sixty six years since the Holocaust and 17 years after Rwanda, the United States still lacks a comprehensive policy framework and a corresponding interagency mechanism for preventing and responding to mass atrocities and genocide. This has left us ill prepared to engage early, proactively, and decisively to prevent threats from evolving into large-scale civilian atrocities.
And it’s true. The bureaucracy involved in identifying, let alone taking action, on potential acts of genocide is ridiculous in its scope and the length of time it takes to run its course. The Directive determined that an interagency study, led by the National Security Advisor, would be complete within 100 days, to determine the full mandate and make-up of the body, as well as its processes. The resulting Atrocities Prevention Board was to begin its work 120 days after the signature of PSD-10, on August 4, 2011. It has now been 147 days.
Since August 4th, precisely nothing has come out of the White House on the matter. There have been no stories written, in the mainstream media on the development of the Board since late August. None. Nothing on interagency squabbles that would prevent its creation, nothing on how close it is to launch, nothing on how David Pressman’s War Crimes, Atrocities and Civilian Protection directorate at the NSC is proceeding. Nothing. Certainly outside groups [PDF] haven’t forgotten about the promise of the Board. Even the Senate has been more interested in putting the Board in the spotlight; Sens. Coons and Collins are circulating a letter that welcomes PSD-10 and the coming Atrocities Prevention Board.
Silence is certainly not helping the Administration look like it is taking the lead on actually securing human rights abroad. The ad-hoc approach determining the level of aid to be given to the Syrian opposition, as being reported by Josh Rogin at The Cable, is how the government has always worked in the face of potential disaster, a process the Atrocities Prevention Board was meant to change. Ad-hoc processes have their time and place, but a formal mechanism to target and collaborate on responding to massive human rights violations is needed to codify those processes if anything is to get done the next time a crisis rolls around.
If the Board is, in fact, up and running, an announcement needs to be made to the world. If there are delays in its launch, they need to be overcome quickly. Actually granting potential mass killings the level of attention they deserve is more than just good posturing and a bolstering of arguments of moral standing in the eyes of the international community; it’s good policy that actually enhances the security of the United States.