Ending Atrocity Crimes: The False Promise of Fatalism

| September 2018
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Abstract: How should the international community respond when states commit atrocity crimes against sections of their own population? In practice, international responses are rarely timely or decisive. To make matters worse, half-hearted or self-interested interventions can prolong crises and contribute to the growing toll of casualties. Recognizing these brutal realities, it is tempting to adopt the fatalist view that the best that can be done is to minimize harm by letting the state win, allowing the status quo power structure to persist. Indeed, this is how many commentators and states have responded to the tide of human misery in Syria. Could a policy of letting the state perpetrator prevail be a viable alternative to other options, including military intervention? This essay suggests not. It explains the logic behind the fatalist approach and shows that problems of recurrence, precedence, and rights mean that such an approach cannot offer a plausible alternative to measures designed to resist and increase the costs of committing atrocity crimes.

Keywords: atrocities, diplomacy, humanitarian, war, victory, Syria, states, protection

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Category: Essay, Issue 32.3, Roundtable: Alternatives to War, The Ethics of War and Peace

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