This post was co-authored with Lee Feinstein, founding dean of Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies.
In 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement underscoring a commitment to prevent crimes against humanity. He declared that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.” Soon after, he established the ambitiously named Atrocity Prevention Board, a group of U.S. officials convened by the National Security Council that includes representatives from the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Treasury, as well as from the U.S. Agency for International Aid (USAID), the intelligence community, and other groups. The board meets monthly to assess the risks of atrocities and to strategize on how to mitigate them.
Since then, Obama’s commitment to atrocity prevention has come into question, especially because of U.S. inaction in Syria—even though the purpose of the Atrocity Prevention Board was never to deal with major unfolding crises such as the one in Syria but, rather, to assess longer-term risks and devise “upstream” preventive measures.