WarningThis information has been archived for reference or research purposes.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats on the "Contact Us" page.

Humanitarian Intervention



The daily gathering of water in a Rwandan village by children.

Learning From The Rwandan Genocide Of 1994 To Stop The Genocide In Darfur – part two

by Major Brent Beardsley, MSC, CD

Print PDF

For more information on accessing this file, please visit our help page.


In the last issue of the Journal, Part One of this article defined the crime of genocide within the construct of the Genocide Convention, including its imposed obligations to prevent, suppress and punish that crime. The Canadian policy initiative known as The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was introduced, and a bi-polar strategy was presented for effectively implementing R2P with the goal of stopping genocides. In addition, a synopsis of the failure of the international community to prevent or to suppress the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was presented. In this issue, the lessons to be learned from our failures in Rwanda will be examined. Specifically, this article will attempt to identify some of the major lessons that can be gleaned from the Rwandan genocide with a view to providing Canadian policy makers and their advisors with those lessons that could then be applied as Canada and the international community continue to wrestle with our response to the current genocide in Darfur. What can we learn from our mistakes in Rwanda to ensure that we do not fail there? Readers please note, these lessons reflect the research, analysis and opinion of the author and are humbly offered to encourage a debate on how Canada is going to implement R2P in the 21st Century. That said, I believe that The Responsibility to Protect offers the best policy base for the future development of the Canadian Forces (CF) available since the end of the Cold War, and, therefore, it merits a serious and detailed professional and academic debate on its interpretation and transformation from policy into practice.

Lessons Learned from the Rwandan Genocide of 1994

Are there, in fact, concrete lessons that we can learn from the Rwandan genocide to assist our policy makers and advisors as we consider our response to this latest genocide in Darfur? This is the central question of this article.

The major lessons of the Rwandan genocide can be categorized into five key groups under the headings of Will, Justification, Knowledge, Means and Time. In addition, these lessons can be framed in terms of questions for policy makers and their advisors.


CMJ Map by Monica Muller

Map of Sudan showing regions of Darfur.


The failure to prevent or suppress the Rwandan genocide has often been blamed on a lack of will by the international community to risk casualties in a conflict within which they had no vital national security interests at stake. The failure to respond to the Rwandan genocide, especially during May and June of 1994, when sufficient evidence confirmed that genocide was taking place, demonstrated the inability of the international community to marshal the will to intervene. This lack of will was apparent, not only in the international domain, but also within nations, in public opinion and within the military hierarchies of various nations. In order to prevent or suppress the crime of genocide, the necessary international, national, public and military will must be marshaled and mobilized.

The first lesson one should take from the Rwandan genocide was the failure to mobilize the will of the international community. That community of nations was divided into “nations that lead” and “nations that follow,” and it remains largely so to this day. In 1994, the “leading nations,” primarily the Big Five on the UN Security Council, failed to provide the expertise, information, mandate and force required to prevent the genocide. Once it commenced, leading nations abdicated their moral and legal responsibilities to stop the genocide, and, instead, paralyzed UNAMIR with a weak mandate and impotent force that failed to suppress it. Follower nations hid behind the apathy of the Big Five and could not, on their own, rise to the challenge of forcing an international response. Before any such response can be conducted, there must exist the international will to recognize that genocide is morally wrong and that the international community must accept its legal responsibilities and obligations to act against it. If a leader nation chooses not to lead, it is up to follower nations to join together and confront the challenge. An old saying in the infantry best sums up the requirement: “Either lead, follow or get out of the way.

In addition to this lack of collective international will, there was also the absence of individual national wills, as it appeared easier for the political leaders of many nations to make pretty speeches, but then to abstain from committing the means to actually conduct an intervention. It appeared easier to lay the blame on the UN, on UNAMIR and later on the United States than to make the hard decisions and assume the risks of intervention. Whether a leader or a follower nation, each sovereign nation on Earth is a full and equal member in the community of nations, and, as such, has moral and legal obligations to support the prevention and suppression of genocide. While most follower nations cannot unilaterally provide the means to prevent or suppress genocide, they can provide a national will and join with like-minded follower nations in a coalition to either force a leader nation to act through a broad range of persuasive efforts, or they can multi-laterally set the international example by coming together and providing the means to prevent and suppress genocide.

In many cases, that absence of national will was largely due to the assessment by national political leaders of a lack of public will within their respective nation for humanitarian intervention. Governing by reaction to opinion polls appears to have become a normal mode of governance, especially in the modern, western developed nations. However, political leaders, while conscious of public opinion, also have an obligation to lead and to shape public opinion.

The general consensus of most historians of the Rwandan genocide is that the United States did not act because President Clinton did not believe the American people would support a humanitarian intervention to suppress the genocide in Rwanda. However, polling conducted at the time does not support this assessment. In a 1994 poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, 63 per cent of respondents said that the United States and the United Nations should “always” or “in most cases” “intervene with whatever force is necessary to stop acts of genocide.” Only 6 per cent said this should never occur. A full 80 per cent favored intervention if the United Nations determined that genocide was taking place in Rwanda. Even when asked to consider a hypothetical humanitarian intervention with several thousand American casualties, 60 per cent believed that the United States would have done the right thing by stopping the greater genocidal carnage. Polling at the time by the Pew Research Center provides similar findings. What these polls demonstrate is that even without Presidential leadership and lobbying, the American people are far more in tune with their moral and legal obligations than are their leaders. Public opinion could only have been raised by effective political leadership, which was sorely lacking in 1994. Thus, political leaderships have to be prepared to expend political capital in support of intervention to prevent and suppress genocide.

Finally, the lack of military will at the Pentagon and other national military headquarters for engagement fundamentally opposed American or any other international or national military involvement in Rwanda, as did the overwhelming majority of American and allied military officers. To summarize the widespread immediate post-Cold War view of the period, armed forces exist to fight and win a nation’s wars, and they must train, equip and prepare for major wars against definable enemies in support of vital national security interests. They believed that military forces should not be squandered on sideshows, such as peacekeeping and intervention operations in a perceived unimportant area of the world, and becoming involved in someone else’s conflict. This attitude was certainly prevalent in the armed forces of most major nations in 1994, and, in my view, it persists to an extent in some quarters, including within the Canadian Forces, to this day.

However, in the 21st Century and within the construct of a bi-polar strategy, armed forces do not just exist to fight and win a nation’s wars. Armed forces, including the Canadian Forces, exist to apply lawful and ordered military force to achieve government policy objectives. While fighting and winning a nation’s wars will always remain a task for national armed forces, they have been and will increasingly be called upon to conduct a wide range of tasks, such as unarmed and armed humanitarian assistance operations, traditional military observer and peacekeeping missions, peace enforcement operations and humanitarian interventions. Their mandate will also include anti-terrorism operations and all-out war fighting, usually conducted within the umbrella of an inter-agency, joint and combined coalition.

Any significant 21st Century military force must have the leadership, doctrine, equipment, organization and training to perform all of these tasks, sometimes simultaneously, as best described in the term “Three Block War,” coined by United States Marine Corps General (ret’d) Charles C. Krulak. Within one block, a section of soldiers could be supporting an Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) delivering humanitarian assistance. A block away, a second section will be inserting itself in a traditional peacekeeping manner between two hostile mobs intent upon seizing the humanitarian aid offered by the NGO for their own group, and in the third block, a third section could be fighting a pitched battle with a militia group also intending to seize the aid. Three different operations, three blocks, minutes apart in time and space, with three sets of rules of engagement, all under the command of a 22-year-old lieutenant platoon commander. Further, that lieutenant and his troops are in full view of the media, and his political masters and the entire chain of command are looking over his shoulder with information age technologies. This is the operational environment of the 21st Century. No military force will get to choose which tasks it wants to accept, nor which tasks it wants to reject. These forces will increasingly be placed in complex and dangerous combat or near-combat situations where traditional war-fighting skills, while still the absolutely essential building block for a worst-case scenario, will not be enough to ensure an appropriate response to the situation on the ground. Such a force must be trained, educated, experienced and developed “to fight if necessary but not necessarily fight.” The days of the Cold War warrior focused solely on war fighting are over and banished to the dustbin of history. Armed forces must embrace the current and future security environment and build the internal will to operate in both the non-battle and battle poles with equal effectiveness. The failure to marshal international, national, public and military wills to intervene in Rwanda directly contributed to the failure to prevent or suppress the genocide of 1994.


DND photo ISC94-2597 by WO Blouid

MCpl St. Germain giving toys to orphans of the Rwandan genocide.

The Lessons of Justification for Intervention

While nations and peoples may be outraged by genocide, before one can use force that will ultimately involve fighting, killing and injuring others, while simultaneously incurring the inevitable friendly casualties, one must be able to justify the use of force and the concomitant loss of life that will inevitably result from a humanitarian intervention. Additionally, humanitarian intervention into the internal affairs of another nation violates the Westphalian system, which, for 400 years, has governed international relations. However, the days of the Westphalian system have become numbered, as international law and international standards are increasingly challenging and replacing it. Nevertheless, before a humanitarian intervention can be launched, the reasons for the intervention must be transparent, credible and justified in accordance with the new accepted norms for international behavior.


DND photo TNC 94-405-96

The UNAMIR lifeline was two CF Hercules whose crews braved fire to sustain the UN force and saved the lives of tens of thousands of Rwandans with humanitarian aid.

The first lesson here is the moral lesson. Genocide is morally wrong and every effort must be made by the international community to eradicate it. In Rwanda, the genocide, even when it was virtually universally confirmed to be occurring, did not prompt the necessary action to suppress it. Nations abdicated their moral responsibility and focused instead upon ignoring the situation, or restricted themselves to exclaiming moral outrage without committing the necessary resources to actually stop the genocidal process. When and where genocide occurs in our world, we must accept our moral obligation as ethical human beings within the world community of nations to prevent, suppress and punish this crime against all humanity.

The second lesson is the legal obligation to stop genocide. The Genocide Convention is firmly embedded in international law and provides the legal obligations to prevent, suppress and punish the crime of genocide as committed by the perpetrators. In Rwanda in 1994, a deliberate policy of avoiding the use of the “G Word,” and, therefore, the legal responsibility to intervene, was adopted by most nations in the international community, particularly the United States. What this conscious action demonstrated was that nations fully understand their legal obligations under the Convention but ignored them out of apathy or concern for the costs of suppression, or subordinated them to other vital national interests. The Genocide Convention provides the legal justification for humanitarian intervention to suppress genocide, but it will only be effective if nations fully accept their obligation to act, within the law, to stop it.

In Rwanda in 1994, there was no internationally accepted policy that defined the principles and methods governing when a humanitarian intervention was justified in violation of state sovereignty. In the aftermath of both the Rwandan and the Bosnian genocides, the Government of Canada, through a working panel of eminent members, drafted, sponsored and later accepted the R2P policy. Our government has tabled R2P at the United Nations, and continues its lobbying efforts to have R2P accepted by the international community as international policy for governing global response to preventable human catastrophes, such as genocide. In my view, this policy is essential to establishing the governing norms of global response to genocide, which were so lacking in 1994 in Rwanda.

The fourth lesson is the adoption of an appropriate strategy in response to genocide. Without international leadership in 1994, particularly after the genocide had begun in Rwanda, a coherent and effective strategy was never developed to deal with it. As previously tabled in Part One of this article, a widely understood and accepted bi-polar strategy that seeks to pursue non-use of force methods first will be the best initial approach for stopping genocide. And only when those methods have failed will it then turn to the use of force to achieve the moral, legal and policy objectives of a counter-genocide strategy. Such a bi-polar strategy is consistent with our traditional Just War theory, since it conforms to the legal requirements to first attempt prevention before suppression and it is perfectly aligned with the use of force policy of R2P as a tool of last resort. The absence of a coherent and accepted strategy in 1994 doomed the Rwandans to slaughter, since politicians, diplomats and soldiers expended more energy in avoiding the creation of an effective bi-polar strategy than in actually developing such a strategy.

The final lesson here is the requirement for an international mandate to authorize the use of force in the suppression of genocide. The absence of such a mandate in Rwanda directly contributed to the continuation of the genocide, since the perpetrators never seriously considered that the international community would actually intervene and risk the blood and treasure required to stop the killing. The best mandate for suppressing a genocide remains one approved and provided by the United Nations Security Council, since it remains the most legitimate, credible and transparent body in the world to authorize the use of force to respond to threats to international peace and security and the obligations of international law.

However, in some cases, such as in Kosovo in 1999, a United Nations mandate may not be obtained, due to intransigence or use of the veto by one or more of the Permanent Members on the Security Council. In such a case, a next-best approach to obtaining a mandate would be a General Assembly agreement, followed by a regional organization mandate, such as the African or European Union, or a security organization mandate, such as CSCE or NATO. Finally, at the bottom of the list, would be an ad-hoc coalition of willing nations. As one descends this ladder of sanctions, it must be recognized, however, that each level provides less international credibility and legitimacy. But, ultimately, a clear and enforceable mandate must be obtained from some legitimate source to govern the use of force in the suppression of genocide.

Any international humanitarian intervention must be justified to the world in the form of legitimacy and credibility. It must be morally right and legally grounded in international law, in compliance with an accepted international policy governing intervention in violation of state sovereignty. It must be guided by an effective bi-polar strategy and be created and governed by a clear, enforceable and achievable mandate. These lessons of justification were sorely lacking or ignored in Rwanda, with devastating results.


The second major group of lessons learned can be grouped under the heading of knowledge about the past, the present and the future of Rwanda. The lack of knowledge with respect to the history and culture of Rwanda, of the false “Hamitic myth” of Tutsis and Hutus as two tribes in perpetual conflict, coupled with the failure to understand the political and economic roots of the turmoil directly contributed to the failure to understand the very nature of the conflict, which subsequently escalated into genocide. The ignorance of Rwanda demonstrated by virtually every non-Rwandan decision-maker during this crisis could hardly provide the foundation upon which to build a solution to the problems in Rwanda. Decision makers cannot expect to be part of the solution if they do not understand the problem.

In order for a decision maker to do so in a timely, accurate and relevant manner in order to generate effective actions, he requires timely, accurate and relevant information, commonly referred to as intelligence. The failure to effectively gather, expertly analyze and disseminate to all concerned even the most basic pieces of information or intelligence placed UNAMIR and international decision makers in the position of never seizing the initiative and always being caught in an information decision cycle that was reacting to the extremist perpetrators of the genocide. Knowledge of present conditions and educated analysis of those pertaining to the near-future is essential to any decision maker, and the failure to acquire that knowledge in Rwanda directly contributed to the genocide. Again, decision makers cannot solve a problem without timely, relevant and accurate information.

A skull

DND photo ISC95-1315 by Sergeant Snashall

One of the hundreds of thousands of skulls unearthed from the Rwandan genocide.

The final lesson under this heading was the lack of a comprehensive operational level campaign plan for the future of Rwanda. Peacekeeping has been, in too many cases, an attempt to treat an infected ulcer with a band-aid, if you will. While it covers up the infection and can provide the appearance of normalcy, the infection, if not cured, will only resurface. Haiti is a classic example of the failure to address the underlying economic, political and social causes of violence in that society, and how the failure to address those causes has led to yet another intervention in 2004, when the operations of the 1990s were supposed to have cured the disease. Such an effective campaign plan must include political, economic, humanitarian, human rights and military/security components. The campaign plan in Rwanda was largely a military/security plan, and it did not address these other critical areas due to a lack of expertise in those subject areas. Inter-agency as well as joint and combined planning must characterize the development of the operational campaign plan.

Rwandan villagers

ECHO photo http://europa.eu.int by Peter Holdworth

Waiting for water.

In order to effectively suppress genocide, the root causes of the genocide must be determined, and they must be vigorously addressed, not just the suppression of the acts of violence themselves. Those root causes must be tackled with a comprehensive, long-term political, economic, social, humanitarian and human rights plan that incorporates and subordinates a military/security component. In other words, these concomitant operations will be joint, combined and increasingly inter-agency in organization, planning and in the conduct of the operation. The failure to bring together the experts with the knowledge to create and implement such a plan only places a band-aid on the conflict, and the underlying infection will resurrect itself at some point in the future. The current genocidal conflicts and wars in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, which have claimed the lives of at least four million people since 1996 and which still have no end in sight, owe some of their roots to the failure of the world to address the fundamental causes of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. There has to be an effective solution in the form of a long-term plan to solve the underlying causes of the problem.

The Means

An anonymous spokesman during the Rwandan genocide stated: “Where political will is absent the means will seldom be found.” Even if political will can be marshalled, an effective bi-polar strategy, and, particularly, an appropriate and timely shift to the battle pole can only take place if the means to intervene are available. There were five key means that were absent before and during the Rwandan genocide.

Non-battle pole means, such as diplomacy, aid and peacekeeping, cost money. Intervention will cost even more money, as will rebuilding after genocide. The financial resources must exist to conduct the strategy decided by the decision makers. Such activities cannot be done ‘on the cheap’ without risking mission success and the lives of the rescuers and the victims.

The second lesson within the means group is the requirement for the actual military force to conduct a humanitarian intervention. Three requirements became apparent in Rwanda and these are that the force would need to deploy rapidly, operate effectively in a complex combat and near-combat environment with protection, mobility and firepower, and the force would need to be sustained indefinitely. With the exception of the United States, and, to a lesser degree, a few other major powers, no other nations possessed such a capability in 1994. Their “heavy” or conscript forces could not be mobilized with the speed needed to deploy in days or weeks, they were not trained to roll right into a combat environment in the middle of Africa, and they could not be logistically sustained indefinitely that far from home plate. The reluctance displayed by the Americans to intervene, and their withholding of means such as equipment, training and transport from poorer but willing nations, prevented the shift to a timely and effective humanitarian intervention.

A multi-purpose, combat-capable air, land and/or sea force in being, that can deploy rapidly, operate effectively in a complex, combat environment and be sustained indefinitely, is the essential component of a credible humanitarian intervention. The reorganization of our conventional land, sea and air general-purpose, combat capable force, focused upon the worst case scenario of war fighting, to a land, sea and air multi-purpose combat capable force focused on the most likely operational scenarios, based upon our experience over the last ten years, remains an essential transformation requirement for the Canadian Forces. However, it is unlikely that Canada will ever have the means to conduct a unilateral humanitarian intervention. Therefore, the CF must be organized, equipped and capable of joining an established rapid reaction force, such as the multinational Standby High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG) of the United Nations, or “plugging and playing” with an ad hoc coalition of forces to effectively conduct these types of operations. Canada will have no credibility in the world if it cannot make meaningful military contributions in support of operations of this nature.

The third means that was lacking in Rwanda was the reluctance to use force to prevent or suppress the genocide. From UNAMIR I to UNAMIR II, the international community did not want to use force to prevent or stop these atrocities. The demonstration that the international community was prepared to use military force to stop the genocide might well have deterred the genocidiares and halted the slaughter. However, in a worst case scenario, the use of force may have actually been required to protect human beings at risk, stop the killers, disarm militias, open humanitarian routes, defend against attacks, and so on, and, in each case, would have involved the spilling of blood. The reluctance to approve the use of force bound the arms of UNAMIR and turned it into a ‘toothless tiger’ that could not even bluff the killers. The overall lesson from Rwanda should be that humanitarian intervention to suppress genocide will require the will and the means to use force when it is required.

The final means that was denied in Rwanda was the generalized global abhorrence displayed towards taking casualties in a humanitarian intervention. The death of eighteen American soldiers in Mogadishu, Somalia, in October 1993 hung over UNAMIR in what was termed in Rwanda, “The Somalia Syndrome.” Force protection and not taking risks that could endanger the lives of soldiers was an imperative constantly pressed upon General Dallaire. The withdrawal of the Belgians after losing ten soldiers, the withdrawal of other national contingents fearing for their lives, and the reluctance of the international community, especially the northern developed nations, to risk incurring casualties essentially doomed to elimination the option of moving to the battle pole.

If a force is prepared to use force and to spill blood for a mission, that force may also be required to shed blood, and the international community, individual nations, their public constituencies and the forces on the ground must understand and accept this risk. With respect to Rwanda, the international community was more comfortable with words and warnings than with shedding blood to stop genocide. Most national leaders, with the notable exception of those from the African states, were terrified of the thought of justifying casualties to their citizens and possibly facing a domestic backlash. We must overcome our allergy to casualties in modern combat or near-combat operations. Casualties are the price we may have to pay to effectively ensure human security. If we are not prepared to accept this risk, then our responses to humanitarian catastrophes will remained focused on force protection at the expense of mission success, and the arms of commanders will be bound so tightly that they will not have the flexibility to be effective on the ground.

The Element of Time

In business, it is often stated that time is money. In genocide, time is lives. The killings in Rwanda, when at their peak in late-April and early-May 1994, reached the level of 8000 to 10,000 murdered souls each and every day. Every day of delay in genocide costs lives.

However, if it is our intention to use a bi-polar strategy, what is the exact decision point when we must confess that non-battle or preventive means have failed and we must shift to the use of force with battle means to suppress the genocide? Is it measured in terms of time, in terms of lives or in terms of the preparation of an intervention force? These questions continue to haunt policy makers and their advisors as they wrestle with the concept of an escalating response to genocide. Additionally, in many cases, such as Rwanda, the genocide only came to the attention of many (but not all) policy makers and their advisors after it was well underway. Should this mean that when we discover a genocide in progress, our response must still be governed by the exhaustion of all non-force methods at the expense of the loss of human lives until we can finally determine that we have to transition smartly to a battle pole? Just because the military is the force of last resort, does that necessarily mean that it must always be used last? Clearly, the response to genocide must be appropriate to the stage to which the genocide has progressed. Prevention ends when genocide commences, as it must be acknowledged that we have failed to prevent genocide and must therefore change our strategy. The only acceptable response once an actual genocide has commenced is the suppression of it. This decision point of when to turn from non-use of force methods to use of force methods remains elusive and difficult to isolate. It will require the visionary and global moral leadership of policy makers and their advisors, and it will challenge them in each and every case of genocide.

The second lesson within the time group of lessons to be gleaned from Rwanda is the near-term requirement, once the decision to conduct a humanitarian intervention has been made, to be able to deploy the intervention force and to launch it into operations on the ground in a time frame of days and weeks, not months. Rapid reaction in the near- term is the key to success.

In the mid-term, stabilizing and commencing reconstruction after genocide will take years, not the usual three or six month mandates normally envisioned. UNAMIR II lasted for two years in Rwanda before it was withdrawn, and it never even came close to fulfilling its mid-term mission.

Finally, in the long-term, in order to solve the underlying root causes of genocide, it will take decades, not years, to reconstruct a viable and humane society in an affected area. The failure during the 1960s to address the early outbreaks of genocide in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Congo with a long-term reconstruction and nation-building plan, has sentenced the Great Lakes Region of Africa to semi-annual genocides that have claimed millions of lives and will continue to claim lives until the root causes of genocide in this region are vigorously addressed.

In summary, in the near-term, we need to react within days and weeks as opposed to months. In the mid-term, our tasks will take years, not months, and in the long-term, our engagement will require decades, not years, in order to be effective in preventing future genocides.


Policy makers and their advisors need to marshal the international, national, public and military will to conduct humanitarian interventions. They must be able to justify their use of force in violation of state sovereignty morally, legally and in accordance with a clearly articulated and universally accepted policy, such as that articulated in The Responsibility to Protect. They must also develop and implement an effective bi-polar strategy and obtain an internationally sanctioned mandate to justify their actions. In order to do so, they must understand the situation on the affected grounds with knowledge of the past and the present in order to develop an effective operational level campaign plan for the future. They must both possess and commit the means to accomplish the mission. These include the financial resources, the clear understanding that the use of force may well be required, the military force capable of providing the necessary force, and the acknowledgement that, despite all efforts, friendly casualties are inevitable. These decision makers must also understand the importance of time. In the near-term, they need to act rapidly, but the mid-term and long-term, requirements must be realistically measured in terms of years and decades of commitment.

We should not launch into a humanitarian intervention out of naïve and unrealistic idealism, but only after we have exhausted all non-battle pole efforts to prevent genocide and are left with no alternative other than to use force to suppress genocide. The decision to use force should not be taken lightly. It will inevitably result in the deaths of human beings, including possibly our own troops, and such a decision should only be taken with the full awareness of what is required to ensure that such use of force is ultimately successful.

This article, presented in two installments, has argued for the use of force in a humanitarian intervention to suppress the crime of genocide. However, it must be realistically acknowledged that humanitarian intervention may not be possible in all cases. If, for example, the current government in Russia decided to use genocide to suppress the insurgency in Chechnya, or the United States decided to use genocide to suppress the insurgency in Iraq, it is extremely unlikely that an option of humanitarian intervention could be considered due to fear of a wider war, possibly involving weapons of mass destruction, with immense destruction and greater loss of life.

Opponents of humanitarian intervention frequently argue that because it cannot be universally applied, it should never be utilized. This argument is wrong on two counts. First, it is highly unlikely that major, civilized and reasonably stable world powers would, in the 21st Century, resort to genocide to achieve policy objectives. Second, just because humanitarian intervention cannot be universally applied, this does not mean that it should never be conducted. The effort to save the lives of our fellow human beings at risk in genocide is always morally and legally justified in trying to do the best we can with what we have in the service of human rights and humanity. We should leave the exceptions as unique challenges and strive more for a world order that banishes genocide to the dustbin of history.

CMJ Logo

Major Beardsley is a staff officer in the Lessons Learned Cell at the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute in Kingston. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross for his gallant actions during the Rwandan genocide.