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December was the 60th anniversary of the United Nations's treaty against genocide. But despite six decades of efforts to prevent and halt systematic massacres, forced displacements, and mass rapes, such atrocities persist.
Why are we still lacking the necessary policies and strategies to prevent these atrocities?
It's not because the public doesn't care. We've seen a surge in interest in the U.S., galvanized by the crisis in Darfur and driven in large part by students and faith-based organizations. And it's not because our leaders don't care: Over the years, many in Congress and successive Presidents have demanded more action to stop genocide.
Barack Obama should demonstrate at the outset of his presidency that preventing genocide is a national priorityand not only for moral reasons, but also because it is in America's national interest: Left unchecked, genocide will undermine American security.
First, genocide fuels instability, usually in weak, undemocratic, corrupt states. It is in these states that we find terrorist recruitment, human trafficking, and civil strife.
Second, genocide and mass atrocities have long-lasting consequences far beyond the states in which they occur, with refugees flowing into bordering countries and then across the globe. Other nations, including the U.S., are then called on to absorb displaced people and to undertake relief efforts. And the longer we wait to act, the higher the price tag.
Finally, America's standing in the world is eroded when we are perceived as bystanders to genocide.
Preventing mass killings may require military intervention, but only as a last resort. We must learn to recognize the early-warning signs of genocide and put diplomatic and economic pressure on those who violate the norms of civilized behavior.
Successfully preventing genocide will require that the President summon political will not only during a crisis, but also before one emerges, persuading the nation of the importance of acting, and taking the risk of doing so.
We are keenly aware of how daunting the President's agenda is. But preventing genocide and mass atrocities is not an idealistic addition to our core foreign-policy agenda: It is a moral and strategic imperative.