Bureaucracy and the U.S. Response to Mass Atrocity
National Security & Armed Conflict Law Review, 2011
18 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2010 Last revised: 9 Sep 2011
Date Written: December 12, 2010
The U.S. response to mass atrocity has followed a predictable pattern of disbelief, rationalization, evasion, and retrospective expressions of regret. The pattern is consistent enough that we should be skeptical of chalking up the United States’ failures solely to a shifting array of isolated historical contingencies, from post-Vietnam fatigue in the case of the Khmer Rouge to the Clinton administration’s recoil against humanitarian interventions after Somalia. It is implausible to suggest that the United States would have acted to mitigate or end mass atrocities but for the specific historical contingencies that happen to accompany each outbreak of violence. This essay proposes a supplementary explanation for the United States’ history of failed responses to mass atrocity. The explanation is based on a widely accepted model of bureaucratic behavior, according to which bureaucracies follow standardized routines, bureaucrats operate according to a "logic of appropriateness" rather than a "logic of consequence," and seemingly irrational results often follow when a bureaucracy is confronted with a problem for which it has no preset response. The essay concludes by endorsing the recent recommendation by Madeleine Albright and William Cohen of various bureaucratic reforms aimed at preventing genocide, including the establishment of a permanent Atrocities Prevention Committee.
Keywords: bureaucracy, organizational theory, human rights, genocide, mass atrocity, U.S. government, United States
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