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Research Report

Preventing Identity Conflicts Leading to Genocide and Mass Killings: In cooperation with The Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, United Nations

I. William Zartman
Copyright Date: Nov. 1, 2010
Pages: 32

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. [i]-[i])
  2. (pp. [ii]-[iii])
  3. (pp. 1-1)
  4. (pp. 1-2)

    Genocide is extremely rare, mass killings much less so.¹ Genocide and mass killings do not break out unannounced; they are preceded and prepared by identity conflicts that escalate into targeted mass killing. These conflicts can be instigated by rebel movements, but frequently they are the work of the sovereign state, making external intervention difficult.² More strikingly, such conflict does not generally stem from an aggressive action, but a pathologically defensive reaction against a perceived existential threat.³ Instigators of identity conflict feel themselves targeted, ultimately for extermination, by another identity group who they feel must be defeated and ultimately exterminated, and...

  5. (pp. 2-6)

    First, one has to step outside the problem and consider the legitimacy of getting involved. What gives outsiders the right to intervene to prevent identity conflict leading to genocide, how—including how early—can and should this right or duty be exercised, and what can be done to preempt the need for physical/military intervention before it becomes the only remaining resort? After the end of the Cold War, in the last decade of the past millennium and the first of the current one, intervention in internal situations that could give rise to identity conflicts and genocide far from matched the...

  6. (pp. 6-15)

    The best way of accomplishing early prevention would be to remove the structural or root causes that give rise to the motivating fears. Such policies would remove the tinder to which political entrepreneurs bent on identity violence throw the match. Not only is such a goal utopian, but the relation between structural weaknesses and identity conflicts leading to genocide is not conclusive or direct. When accepted standards of behavior are in place, however, they can be used as guidelines for states to deal healthily with their own challenges and problems, and also for third parties to assist them in achieving...

  7. (pp. 15-22)

    Regimes, and the pressures and encouragements they legitimize, have been helpful in the innumerable cases where identity conflict was averted by introducing standards and accountability, and one must remember that countless potential conflicts have been prevented: we just don’t know about them because they never happened. But early prevention has not been sufficient in all cases. On occasion, more direct and immediate measures in the early part of the overt phase of conflict are necessary to make the situation sound and equitable, lest the conflict move to violence between identity groups and then to genocide. These include policing, dialogue, ripening,...

  8. (pp. 22-23)

    It may seem odd to talk of prevention after conflict, but to do so recognizes the need both to close the current conflict and to prevent it from recurring. In the same way, Boutros Ghali spoke of peacebuilding as both healing and preventing. Additional measures used beyond those discussed above include monitoring and reconstruction, and reconciliation and remediation, once violence has been brought under control.

    Monitoring and reconstruction constitute crucial and neglected links between successful pre-crisis prevention and “normal politics.” The natural human tendency is to declare victory, with self-congratulation, and to go on to other conflicts, leaving the previous...

  9. (pp. 23-27)

    International regimes have provided a growing set of regulations, rules, norms, principles, and expectations that has played an important, if indeterminate, role in the early prevention of identity conflicts that could lead to genocide. These standards serve as guidelines both for state governments seeking guidance in conflict and for external agents—other states, organizations, and NGOs—working to keep states healthy. But, as safety nets, they have holes, since actors at times become preoccupied with interests, definitions, and procedures in the place of a timely and substantive response. “Early-late” or pre-crisis prevention through diplomatic and even physical intervention provides specific...

  10. (pp. 28-28)